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UUK obstinacy has forced UCU marking boycott | Opinion | Times Higher Education

UUK obstinacy has forced UCU marking boycott | Opinion | Times Higher Education.

THE PROPOSED CHANGES TO STATUTES, ORDINANCES AND PROCEDURES

Not sure what they mean? Not worried about their implications? Not convinced that they affect you?

The proposed changes to statutes, ordinances and procedures will affect ALL staff on a University contract (academic AND academically-related). It is vitally important that staff register their concerns and challenge these proposals before it is too late!

If we don’t engage in this process and challenge it, we will all be adversely affected. The proposals are not simply a case of small tweaks and ‘refreshing’ of existing procedures, but a wholesale transformation of employment procedures (including disciplinary, ill health, grievance, performance management and restructuring procedures), which will result in less protection for staff and limited powers of appeal.

Here are just a few specific examples of what the proposed changes will entail.

Disciplinary procedures 

  • Unclear who decides when a disciplinary action needs to be taken, or with what evidence.
  • Existing panel reviews will be removed, so there will be very limited external oversight.
  • You won’t have the right to bring a companion (e.g. a Union Rep) to an investigative interview (the University may allow you to bring a companion if it helps you to overcome any disability, or any difficulty in understanding English).
  • You won’t have the right to cross-examine witnesses.
  • No protection for academic freedom, no mention that it needs special consideration, and no independent person on any appeals hearing.
  • Some of the actions that would lead to instant dismissal for ‘gross misconduct’ are academic freedom issues.

Performance management 

  • Performance issues will be based on failure to meet undefined criteria. In contrast, current Statutes refer to breaches of acceptable performance, ie. ‘offences’.
  • No mention of the right to legal representation (originally in Statute 29:2(a)).

Restructuring /redundancy 

  • When fewer than 10 staff are affected, one person (eg. a Dean) can oversee the process. Currently, a panel must be set up and UCU consulted when 6 people are affected.

Ill health 

  • No medically qualified person involved on the appeals committee. In the past, appeal hearings at least were chaired by a medically-qualified person. This protection is removed completely.

…and these are just a few examples! Mmmm, ok, one more, for the road:

  • The proposed new procedures ‘may be amended at any time.’ This includes varying procedures for individual cases. There is no security in what happens and how it happens.

Do you think employment law will protect you? 

Sadly, employment law does not dictate that any set of procedures has to be followed. And academic freedom is not mentioned anywhere in UK employment law or ACAS guidelines.

Are you (more) worried now? You should be – and you should also take some action.

 THINGS YOU CAN DO 

Raise your questions and concerns! You can do this in a number of ways.

  • Talk to your line manager – raise your concerns and ask what the changes would mean for you and your team.
  • Ask an HR representative to meet with your department or section to explain the proposals and any changes to current policies – share your concerns and ask questions. The following questions might help to start the discussions:

– Where have the Statutes gone? What will replace them?

– What are the key differences between the old and new procedures? What protections will we lose?

– Can you tell me more about…? [Take your pick from the specific examples listed overleaf!]

  • Raise the issue at all relevant meetings you attend – let’s keep this issue at the top of the agenda so management can’t say staff are not concerned about it.
  • Take part in the official consultation (deadline 3 November). Further information and links to the relevant documents can be found here http://www.reading.ac.uk/charter-reform/. Submit your questions and concerns to erin.murphy@reading.ac.uk, copied to RUCU administrator Anne Ketley anneketley.rucu@gmail.com.
  • Register your concerns with the President of the Council, Mr Christopher Fisher. Council is the University’s executive governing body and is ultimately responsible for managing the University’s estate, finance and staff. Management’s proposals for changes to Statutes have to go to Council on 21 November, so it’s important that Council are aware of the concerns and questions of staff. Send an email to cfisher@penfida.co.uk, copied to RUCU administrator Anne Ketley anneketley.rucu@gmail.com. You could use the following wording:

Dear Mr Fisher, 

I wanted to make you, as President of Council at the University of Reading, aware that I have concerns about the proposed changes to statutes, ordinances and procedures. 

My concerns are that these proposed changes are not simply a case of small tweaks and ‘refreshing’ of existing procedures, but a wholesale transformation of employment procedures that will result in less protection for staff and limited powers of appeal, and therefore adversely affect both academic and academically-related staff. 

I would be grateful if you could take note of these concerns for the meeting of Council on 21 November 2014. 

Yours sincerely 

  • For staff on grade 1-5, in addition to the above, contact your Staff Forum representative. These changes will affect both academic AND academically-related staff, so raise any concerns and questions you have. Details of Staff Forum representatives are here: http://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/staffportal/news/articles/spsn-586089.aspx

Get involved in the campaign 

  • If you are not a member, join the union and get involved in the campaign: https://join.ucu.org.uk/ 
  • Keep up-to-date with the latest news and campaign actions here on the RUCU blog. If you want to join the campaigns team, please contact our branch administrator: anneketley.rucu@gmail.com
  • Show your support! Complete the forthcoming online survey: details will be circulated soon.

False assumptions of the USS | Letters | Times Higher Education

False assumptions of the USS | Letters | Times Higher Education.

Save our Statute!

The University is removing your rights as an academic

You will be aware that the University of Reading management wish to remove the current statute and replace the section that provides additional safeguards and employment protection for academic staff with much weaker policies. The additional protection within statute is recognised the world over and seen as necessary to avoid institutional infringement of academic freedom. However, the management at Reading see this extra protection as a bureaucratic burden that stands in the way of their ability to more easily dismiss academic staff. That is a stark truth that is borne out by even the most liberal reading of the management proposals.

What is the model statute?

The model statute or employment statute are internal rules that govern the procedures for dismissals and grievances of academic staff (and academic-related staff in some institutions). They have legal standing and can only be changed by an application to the Privy Council. Most chartered institutions still retain an employment statute based on the model developed by the Education Commissioners in the early 1990s. This model came about as a consequence of the Education Reform Act 1988 that introduced the idea of redundancies for academic staff – prior to that many academic staff enjoyed an element of tenure.

The reason that academic (and sometimes academic-related) staff are covered by the model statute is to recognise the importance of academic and related staff being able to exercise academic freedom without fear of dismissal. Thus the procedures are an attempt to ensure that any dismissals and grievances considered are undertaken in a transparent way with peer involvement and checks against infringements of academic freedom.

What protection does it offer?

The current model statute features:

  • detailed provisions within the statute itself – so it cannot be changed without approval by the Privy Council
  • academic freedom listed as a guiding principle
  • a redundancy committee – including academic staff – to be established by Council if management wish to make any academic (and related) staff redundant. The Committee must report back to Council
  • the need for a Tribunal – including a member of academic staff – to be established in cases of alleged serious breaches of discipline or capability
  • the right to representation, including legal representation at a Tribunal hearing
  • the right to a hearing by a Board – including a jointly agreed medically qualified Chair – for cases of dismissal on medical ground
  • the right to appeal against dismissal or disciplinary sanctions to a person who holds, or has held, judicial office or is a lawyer of at least 10 years’ standing. That person can decide to sit with 2 other persons – 1 being a member of Council not employed by the institution and 1 being a member of academic staff nominated by Senate
  • the right to representation, including legal representation, at appeal
  • the right to have a grievance heard by a panel including a member of academic staff.

Why are employers trying to change it?

Many employers are now seeking to make changes to the current model statute because they see the existing protection as old fashioned, cumbersome and restrictive on their ability to be ‘flexible’. Many see it as interfering with their right to manage and believe that current employment law is sufficient to protect our members and their right to academic freedom. UCU accepts that some changes would be desirable. However, we do not want to see these made at the expense of our members’ current terms and conditions.

In short, most employers want the provisions by which they dismiss academic (and related) staff to be streamlined, less restrictive and brought into line with other groups of staff. They also want to be able to change them without having to go to  the Privy Council and many want procedures to be removed from Council and Senate oversight. Of course, many just want to make it easier to dismiss our members.

The things that are important to protect and why

The need to go to Privy Council to make changes (i.e. to maintain protections in the statute itself), the involvement of academic peers in panels, the oversight by Council of redundancies, the need for a redundancy committee, the right to representation by any person and the right to an external independent appeal, are all measures to protect the academic freedom of academic (and related) staff and are therefore important to fight to retain. It is especially important in the current financial climate that these protections exist to ensure that academic freedom is not compromised when management decisions are taken.

It is usual for more detailed provisions to be found in ordinances, regulations or locally agreed procedures but having the main principles in statute offers additional protection for academic and related staff.

The way ahead

It is possible for management to work in partnership with UCU to amend the current statute but it is important that university management understands UCU’s position and how changes to the statute can threaten academic freedom. However, heavy handed attempts to detrimentally alter the statute can expect to be met with resistance from UCU.

What You Can Do

  • Talk to your UCU branch about what is being proposed by your institution. Contact anneketley.rucu@gmail.com
  • Talk to your colleagues about any threats to your current terms and conditions and to academic freedom.
  • Assist in any campaign being run by the branch in whatever way you are able. Contact anneketley.rucu@gmail.com
  • Make sure your employer knows how you feel about the issue.
  • Raise the proposed changes at any appropriate meetings and explain to others why they represent a threat to academic and academically related staff at the institution.
  • Keep yourself informed and WATCH THIS SPACE.

University of Warwick latest to criticise pension plans as university splits deepen

originally posted on: http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=7257&from=7224

The University of Warwick is today the latest institution to break rank and criticise the universities’ umbrella group Universities UK over its handling of changes to university staff pensions.

In a response to UUK’s proposals released to University of Warwick staff, the Russell Group institution criticises the lack of options put forward by UUK and says it would have liked to have seen a number of different scenarios.

It questions how attractive the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) will look when put alongside schemes at other universities, which are also undergoing reform. It also complains that staff at the UK’s most elite institutions who aspire to do well will be penalised the most under the changes.

Warwick is one of 69 universities that could face industrial action in a row over changes to USS after members of UCU overwhelmingly backed industrial actionearlier this week.

Warwick says it wants a compromise that leaves a scheme capable of attracting and retaining ‘the talent needed to sustain the university’s development in the future. Modelling done by UCU showed how radical changes to USS would leave members worse off than their contemporaries at other institutions.

UCU’s higher education committee is meeting this afternoon to discuss recent talks between the union and employers over the changes and will decide whether or not to call strike action. If the committee does back industrial action, an announcement on what form that action would take and when it would start will be made on Monday morning.

The University of Warwick is not the first to break rank and criticise UUK. Last week the University of Oxford described a briefing from the Employers Pension Forum (a group set up by UUK) as misleading.

Yesterday a group of statisticians said assumptions used by the employers in a separate briefing contained ‘misinformation and a mistake‘ and were not adequately justified. The employers had previously removed a whole section from a different briefing after it was revealed they had misused statistics.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘The list of people who are unhappy with the employers’ proposed changes to staff pensions grows by the day. Universities are now starting to break rank and express their concerns over the process, the limited options available and their damaging impact.

‘We are not surprised institutions have these fears as we share them. We would encourage other universities to go public with their concerns and lobby UUK to engage in meaningful negotiations with us about how we can improve the pension scheme and ensure it remains attractive to members and potential members.’

Universities UK wants to end the final salary element of the scheme for all USS members and move them to a career average (career revalued benefits or CRB) scheme. Under this model members would receive CRB benefits only up to a salary threshold of £50,000. After they hit the threshold, employers will pay only 12 per cent of income into a defined contribution scheme, which shifts the risk to scheme members, and would rely on successful investments.

UCU News: University staff vote overwhelmingly for industrial action in pensions row

originally posted on: http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=7250&from=7224

Staff have overwhelmingly backed plans for industrial action at 69 UK universities in a row over changes to pensions.

In the ballot, 78% of members of the University and College Union (UCU) who voted, voted for strike action and 87% voted for action short of a strike, which could include a marking boycott. The turnout of 45% was the highest in a national higher education ballot since UCU was formed in 2006.

Talks are scheduled on Wednesday between the union and the employers’ representatives. The union said if the employers continued with their proposals then the union would meet on Friday (24 October) to decide what form the disruption would take and when it would start.

The ballot made it clear to members that a vote for action would most likely lead to a marking boycott and a refusal to set exams. The action would stop students being set coursework or receiving formal marks and feedback, as well as halting exams.

The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) is the pension scheme for staff at the UK’s ‘old’ universities and covers the most selective institutions including the Russell Group of universities. The changes have been prompted by an expected deficit in USS. However, UCU says the methodology used to determine the deficit is too simplistic and doesn’t take account of the scheme’s underlying strengths.

Since 2011, when the last set of detrimental changes to members’ pensions were made, the fund’s investments have grown by £8bn, the number of members has grown by 18% and returns on investment have outperformed both average earnings and inflation.

However, Universities UK want to reduce the coverage of the defined benefit element of the scheme and introduce a riskier defined contribution pension scheme, with those in or aspiring to the highest academic grades suffering most.

Modelling done by First Actuarial has shown that academics would be thousands of pounds worse off if the changes did go through. Last week UUK was under fire for providing misleading information and using dodgy statistics in its pension briefings.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘UCU members at universities across the UK have made it quite clear today that they reject the radical changes being proposed for their pensions. We will go into talks on Wednesday hopeful that we can resolve the current impasse.

‘However, we will go into that meeting with a serious mandate from members that they need to see real improvements. If the employers do not address our concerns then we will meet on Friday to determine what forms of disruptive action we take and when they would start.’

USS reforms: income gap widens on redbrick v post-92 pensions | News | Times Higher Education

USS reforms: income gap widens on redbrick v post-92 pensions | News | Times Higher Education.

RUCU response to staff portal message about proposed changes to USS

There is a message from the university on the changes to USS on the staff portal of the University of Reading web site: http://www.reading.ac.uk/internal/staffportal/news/articles/spsn-598390.aspx . Here is OUR RESPONSE to the various points made by the university which are in our view not an accurate, but a biased representation of what’s going on.

1. No Formal Proposals. While the final proposed changes to USS have not yet been formally approved, the main features of these changes have been clear for some time.

2. Consultation. There is a legal obligation on the employers to consult the members, but when we were consulted on the previous changes in 2011, the result was a long running industrial dispute and threats of legal action against the five UCU members of the Joint Negotiating Committee. So much for consultation and negotiation.

3. Size of the Deficit. The calculation of the scheme deficit relies on forecasts of future asset returns, interest rates, longevity etc for the next forty or fifty years. Therefore there are a large number of possible estimates of the deficit, and USS itself produces five different deficit figures at each valuation using five different valuation methodologies. Therefore, any deficit figure is just an opinion.

4. Not Cost Reduction. The cost of providing the proposed pensions will be substantially lower than is currently the case because the proposed pensions are substantially inferior to our current pensions, and it is quite possible that the employers will be able to reduce their contribution rate.

5. An Excellent Scheme. First Actuarial have produced some illustrations of the effects of the proposed changes to USS. Someone who joined the USS final salary section at the age of 35 and retires at the age of 69 with a final salary of £70,000 will have a pension that is 45.3% lower than it would be under the existing scheme – a reduction of £18,551 per year. If this person had joined the current Teachers Pension Scheme (which covers the post-92 universities) their pension would have been £12,175 per year higher than their USS pension will be under the proposals.

6. Public Sector Scheme. USS is not a public sector pension scheme.

More information and resources are available on the UCU web site: http://defenduss.web.ucu.org.uk/ and http://defenduss.web.ucu.org.uk/resources/

Best wishes,
Reading UCU

Welcome

Welcome to Reading University UCU’s new web pages. Our previous site was in need of a new host server, so we are taking the opportunity to renew and revitalise our internet presence.  We will be providing information about the union’s activities on campus and will be covering issues that affect your working life at the University. To find out more, contact the Branch Administrator, Anne Ketley, a.m.ketley@reading.ac.uk, 0118 378 7245 or pop in to our office at Room 105 JJ Thomson Building, Whiteknights Campus.