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Strike action: Wednesday 1, Thursday 2 and Friday 3 December

With deep frustration, we are having to take our stance of last resort to get UUK and our employers back to the negotiation table over USS: we’ll be manning the picket lines on Wednesday 1, Thursday 2 and Friday 3 December – next week. This is a strange time to be trying to organise a picket line: so, for those of you who can’t make it to the real life picket lines for any reason, we’ll be running a virtual picket too, offering support, company, discussion and virtual tea and cake. On the main pickets, fancy dress – or, at the very least, bright colours – will be greatly welcomed.

We are going to hold a branch meeting on Thursday 25th at 1.00 to discuss more details. Meanwhile we are stocking up on posters, placards, hats and armbands, which we hope will reach us in time – it’s a tall order for HQ to send out everything in good time!

All input is greatly appreciated. We are on new territory: we would like to organise teach-outs (if we can get the spaces in time) but will want help with that. We need to know what you think, and how you are able to show your solidarity. Please come to the branch meeting: or if you can’t come, please email us, or contact your rep to make sure your voice is heard.

USS Ballot

We have received the results of the USS ballot. We have got over the 50 per cent turnout required, which is a great result given the very short window for this ballot process. You can see the details here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforuss). The runout across all branches was 53 per cent and the yes vote for strike action was 76 per cent and the yes vote for action short of a strike (ASOS) was 88 per cent.

A big thank you to our members for voting and taking part in this important ballot to defend pensions. I also extend a big thanks to our Get the Vote Out (GTVO) Team for their hard work during this short ballot period, including our departmental reps who have been working on the ground to talk to members.

What happens next?

The results of this ballot across the sector sends a clear message that members want to consider every type of action possible, including ASOS, to defend pensions. Now we need to consider the next steps in campaigning to defend our pensions from attack.

After the Branch Delegates Meeting, members of Higher Education Committee (HEC) will be meeting Friday 12 November in the afternoon, to decide on next steps in this dispute. HEC is one of the sub committees of your elected National Executive Committee (NEC) of UCU (https://www.ucu.org.uk/structures). They are responsible for implementing the decisions passed by our members in sector conferences and in ballots such as this.

Branch negotiations on impact of COVID: excellent news

Excellent news: at our most recent review meeting this week we negotiated the lifting of this year’s pay freeze, and you will receive your pay rise and accrued back pay in either the November or the December pay packet (details to be confirmed).

Last year, you voted for a Jobs First negotiating strategy, when the University was proposing up to 500 compulsory redundancies, and you voted to accept an agreement which showed your willingness to make a sacrifice in exchange for saving those jobs. The major sacrifice in that agreement was a potential pay cut – which we have since been able to avoid – and also to a pay freeze for three years – last year, this year and next year. This was a hard decision for everyone to have to make, but the reality is that we’ve now reached a stage where there has been no personal financial sacrifice to date, and the jobs were saved. Please congratulate yourselves on showing that solidarity and standing firm in support of jobs: you should be very proud.

In return for the sacrifices made by staff, we were able to negotiate that the VR scheme should be reopened, and a number of staff did take advantage of that. Critically, though, we negotiated some key items: one is that we now have greater transparency on governance, in particular that staff can all now request to see the papers which are being distributed to Council, and which offer a massive insight into the functioning of the University. We are also now being advised of spending proposals over £10m and this is a system which is already working. And we opened up negotiations on workload: this is a wider ranging discussion which is morphing slightly into the Phase 2 negotiations, and which is ongoing work. These gains are still ours, even though we are not having to make the sacrifices that had been called for. There is a lot of work to be done on workloads, and thank you for your input on this to date.

There are still rocky steps ahead. We’ll be aiming to avoid a pay freeze next year, which still falls under the agreement. Phase 2 is identifying a target of £10m in savings and £10m in revenue increase: we’ve had assurances on a number of occasions, though, that there are no plans for any forthcoming redundancies and the management are keen to work with us to maintain that position, whatever happens. Please rest assured we will continue to negotiate and fight on your behalf.

Lastly, of course, we all know that the pay rise is derisory and that our salaries have been devalued in real terms. We are not taking part in the Four Fights ballot, only the ballot on USS: this is because the University chose not to join JNCHES this year having argued that there was a temporary local pay agreement. Most other branches, though, are taking part in the Four Fights ballot, and their solidarity will support us in due course: this is another example of all of us working together for the benefit of all. Please do what you can to support the union in its fights.

Sally

Sally Pellow

Branch President, Reading UCU

Your pension, your fight

Here we are, at the start of a new year, gingerly feeling our way back to desks and onto campus. When we left our desks in March last year, we could never have predicted it would be for nearly a year and a half. You have been wonderful. You’ve coped with a complete change in your way of working: for people who thrive on teaching, helping students, and working with other researchers, this has been hard: talking to a tiny screen is not the same as addressing a lecture theatre of faces, or working through office spaces to bounce ideas off one another. Thanks to your efforts, life continues towards a normal university year, and despite everything – Brexit, pandemic, economic downturns and spiralling rates of anxiety – we are still standing, still striving for the best, still offering a very attractive proposition to new students from all around the world.

Unfortunately, some things never change and not everyone feels that you should be rewarded. And so it is with the USS pension: despite the massive efforts undertaken by many of you in 2016, and again in 2019, we still can’t count on our pensions being safe. Many of you have paid very close attention to the debates, but for those who haven’t, here’s a quick summary.

We managed to stop UUK and USS from dispensing with our highly enviable DB (defined benefit) pension, which gives us a guaranteed income for life: they wanted to shift to a DC (defined contribution) pension which basically means investing pension money to gain the income, with the risks that that involves. Then, as now, arguments raged about the valuation of the pension scheme. Because the scheme is there to support everyone who is currently in it, for the rest of their life, the payments into the scheme have to be enough to cover projected costs. It is currently valued at £80.6bn, and it has about 460,000 members. In other words, there is an average of £175,000 per member in the fund. It owns incredibly major developments – a recently advertised one was the new ‘green’ motorway services at Rugby (https://vimeo.com/597178109) and it’s a major investor in private equity companies too. But there are regular valuations of the funds, which assess both the potential amounts which will need to be paid out in the future, and the likely overall fund value. The most recent valuation was made on 31 March 2021. All that being said, the actuaries think it’s not doing well. They don’t think there’s enough money in there to pay us all. (Have they seen how much we’re paid? Really?! They think the average current fund of £175,000 each is not enough??) They want to put up the amount that we pay in, and the amount that the universities pay in. We think they’re talking out of their hats: and that they couldn’t have picked a worse date to value the fund – and support their own arguments.

Negotiations have now reached an end, and they ain’t budging. So, with a sigh of disbelief, I’m afraid it’s time to explain to them, clearly, that this is not a situation we’re happy with. At a Special Congress for HE, and subsequently at a Special HE Committee, it was agreed that we would now ballot for strike action. Expect a ballot paper in the middle of October. Before the papers are posted out, check your address details on MyUCU, because let’s face it, there’s no point in a ballot paper sitting in a pigeon hole on campus if you’re still working entirely from home. Check, too, that you’re on the right membership level – if your membership level indicates that you aren’t employed by Reading, you can’t withdraw your labour. And if you’re not paying the right subs, you won’t qualify for the related strike pay in due course.

I’ll send out updates over the next couple of weeks: meanwhile, see how much you will lose on the current USS proposals by going to https://www.ucu.org.uk/ussmodeller.

RUCU President

Notes on the Review of the Post Covid Recovery Plan Agreement

You, like us, will have received an email from John Brady. Following this there are a few matters which it would be helpful for us, as UCU members of the Consultation Group, to clarify.

As you will know, the University, UCU and Staff Forum came to an agreement with respect to measures to mitigate the impact of the Covid pandemic on the University’s finances. In return for a guarantee preventing compulsory redundancies, we agreed an element of potential pay sacrifice from all staff. This was either a three-year pay freeze or, if this is not sufficient, a graduated and time-limited pay cut. The agreement, as set out in the Memorandum of Understanding, includes regular review of the agreement, and, critically, requirements for these pay-related measures to be enacted only if and only for so long as is necessary.

Following the first review of the agreement in February, the updated financial impact on the University was assessed. The University had recruited home students in much stronger numbers than had been feared but there were still weaknesses in overseas recruitment. It was generally agreed that the proposed pay cut was not believed necessary at that time however all parties understood the need for prudence in the matter. The pandemic was still ongoing and a second wave, largely unanticipated last summer, was unfolding.

We have met the University on two occasions since February – in April and again in May. The May meeting was requested by UCU so it could properly respond to the financial information it had been provided previously. At these meetings it was again reiterated that a pay cut was unlikely, but again, rather than explicitly ruling this out, the principle of prudence was followed. In the matter of the pay freeze, it was noted that two important factors had impacted this. Firstly the 2020/21 national settlement for pay had been 0%. The proposed settlement for 2021/22 had been made for 1.5%, and although this had not been formally accepted by the trade unions, the imposition of this was thought likely.

TABLE 1 (Click here to enlarge)

Both of these facts impact directly on the financial justification for a separate, local, pay freeze. This can be shown in the Table 1, provided to us by the Chief Financial Officer as part of the review. It is important to note that the figure of £21M John Brady quotes comes from an assumption of a 2% pay increase for each of the three years from 2020. The impact of the 0% pay increase for 2020 and then 1.5% for 2021 (as opposed to the 2% figure budgeted), both compounded out over the three-year period, shows most of the ‘heavy lifting’ has been done by these nationally imposed pay awards. They have, as far as Reading’s financial forecasts go, already reduced the impact on the University by £13.5M without any local element of the pay freeze being required at all. John’s suggestion that the pay freeze has resulted in savings of £21M need to be understood in this context.

TABLE 2 (Click here to enlarge)

So a key question is as follows: With approximately £13.5M of ‘saving’ already accrued as a consequence of the prevailing national situation, will the remaining £7.5M still be required (second half of Table 1)? This was a matter we pushed the University on extensively. At the meeting we were advised the current projection for the direct financial impact for Covid stands £80.979M. Table 2 was also given, which shows the agreed mitigations updated with the April figures. This is taken from the Review paper which is available to all staff on the University website. We have changed the ordering of the mitigations here to better reflect the preferred order of application (pay cuts last) and a column has been added showing the shortfall after each mitigation has been applied. Where the figures go negative (and highlighted in red here), the mitigation has left a surplus. As it happens, the surplus left when the pay freeze is applied currently nearly equals this £7.5M. This means if we were to not implement local the pay freeze then we would still have mitigated the estimated £80.979 in full.

So why have we not done this you ask? Well the answer should probably not surprise you – prudence. It must be accepted that this is a very marginal call. We collectively agreed that it would be much more damaging to staff to give them assurances the pay mitigations were not needed, only to find they were. Crucially all eyes are on the 2021 recruitment round and its implications once both home and overseas student numbers are known. This is less than three months away.

Why has the University written to you now to inform you your contract has been changed? As we understand the situation, the University is only changing the contract to preserve the possibility of imposing a pay freeze, rather than the University having conclusively decided to actually impose the freeze. That possibility does form part of the agreement after all, so we are not really able to object to it. We did ask them to consider using other mechanisms to at least delay this step, such as using the facility in the JCNHES agreement to delay paying a pay increase for up to 11 months. The University were not prepared to do this and it is not clear it would be the sensible thing to do anyway. Even if some pay freeze is needed, we will ensure it is delayed as long and is as small as necessary and we have scope in the agreement to foreshorten the period if we are able.

Sally Pellow and Ian Bland

EGM 29 June at 1.00pm

The voting results from Congress and the Higher Education Sector Conference (HESC) 2021 have now come through, and you can see the full details at https://www.ucu.org.uk/Congress2021?utm_source=Lyris&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=reps&utm_term=broff-he&utm_content=UCU+branch+update:+pay+and+USS+campaigns

At both Congress (which is for FE and HE) and the HESC a number of motions were carried in reference to our response, as members, to the USS dispute and to the disputes over pay and conditions. For the full details of these motions, the ones I’d particularly draw your attention to would be the first dozen motions in the link to HE Motions on the above webpage. The Union is now preparing for balloting for industrial action, with a proposal that balloting should take place soon for action to begin in the Autumn. The Campaigns team is now starting to build a campaign. Please watch out for the Friday emails as usual, and also any other emails coming through from UCU as they will contain more information.

Our first task as a new committee for 2021-22 is to hear and gather your views on how we move forward on these disputes. We need to provide feedback from Reading to the next HEC meeting (which Deepa and I will be attending as usual): this will help to inform and shape the campaigns. We’ve been specifically asked to get answers to the questions below, and we will need to provide a summary of the branch responses by 30 June.

• as a branch are your members ready to take action?

• what type of actions are members ready to take?

• what does a win look like for members?

• what questions do members have about either the USS pensions dispute or the 4 Fights dispute to get campaign ready?

• what issues do members have and how can we help address them in the campaign?

• in what ways do members think we should combine issues of pay, casualisation, workload, inequality pay gaps and the USS pension dispute?

• what are members’ views on the best timing for a pay, casualisation, workload, inequality pay gaps campaign, and a USS pension campaign?

• are there any other issues in your branch which members consider important?

Timing is tight of course in giving this feedback, so we’re calling an EGM on Tuesday 29 June at 1.00. We won’t take motions at the EGM: this meeting will be for discussion only. At the EGM, we’ll work through that list of bullet point questions above, raising any member queries that have come through in the meantime in the relevant sections. Please consider the questions above, and let us know your responses. There are three ways to make sure your thoughts are heard: at the EGM itself, or via your department rep, or direct to me. I’ll collate all email responses and I’ll circulate any key questions and discussion points in advance of the EGM.

EVERY view is important. Please make sure your voice is heard.

Sally
RUCU President

RUCU AGM: 10th June 2021, 13:00

Dear fellow RUCU members,

I hope you’ve all had a decent and thoroughly well-deserved break over Easter. As you will probably know, the Branch has an Annual General Meeting every June, at which there are reports on the Branch’s finances, membership and activity over the year. The AGM also sees the announcement of the results of elections for its Officers and positions on the Branch Committee.

This is the formal announcement, required under local rules (https://reading.web.ucu.org.uk/local-rules/), of this year’s AGM, which will take place on Thursday the 10th of June at 13:00. I will circulate an agenda for the meeting 14 days beforehand, on the 27th of May, as also required under local rules, and so will need to have received any items for the agenda by 5pm on 26th of May. ​Any items for the agenda, including motions, received after 5pm on the 26th of May will not be included.

The Branch always needs more people to do the work that enables it to effectively represent, protect and promote your interests as members of staff at the University. That work is often very rewarding. I am very proud of the work we did last summer to protect jobs at the University and to get significant concessions from management over workload management and transparency. Similarly, those who negotiated an end to the worst excesses of casualisation among teaching staff that the agreement ratified before Christmas represents can justly be very happy with their efforts on the behalf of members.

If you would like to participate more in the Branch’s work, please consider standing for election as an ordinary Committee member or as one of the Branch Officers. According to local rules, our Returning Officer, Moray McAulay, one of our regional UCU officials, needs to receive nominations by the 13th of May. ​Please send your nominations to Colette Maxfield, our Branch Administrator, who will pass them on to Moray. Nomination forms are available on the Branch website at http://reading.web.ucu.org.uk/files/2020/05/RUCU-Nomination-form-for-Committee-and-Officers-2020-21.docx.

Each nomination should be supported by two members of the Branch. Please include the two members in your email to Colette, so that they can email her to confirm they support the nomination. Positions for which there is only one candidate will be elected unopposed, while any elections required will be carried out through an online ballot of members in the four weeks between the close of nominations and the AGM.

Please let me, Colette, Sally Pellow, our Branch President, or any other Committee member know if you have any questions.

Best,

Rob Jubb

RUCU Branch Secretary

Casework Orientation Session 27.04.21, 13:00

One of the most important services the UCU offers members is casework: if you have a problem in your employment, the union can allocate a specially trained caseworker to support you through it and attend hearings with you. But to continue providing that service after the retirement of certain key individuals, our branch needs more caseworkers. Would you like to join our team? Benefits include:

Membership in a strongly supportive, close-knit team who help each other as much as they help others.
The satisfaction of actively making the university a better place by protecting your colleagues against unfair treatment.
The availability of extensive training providing transferrable skills with applications well beyond casework — professional self-defence training, as it were.
For most caseworkers, complete freedom to accept or reject each case that comes up, with no obligation to take on work if you don’t have the time or the right skills.
For those able to commit to accepting cases on a regular basis, the possibility of a negotiated reduction in your regular workload to make time for the casework.

If you would like to find out more, we’ll be holding an orientation session on Tuesday 27th April, 13:00.

Current Reading caseworkers and representatives from the UCU regional office will be there to explain what the role is like and answer your questions. To register, please get in touch.

RUCU OGM 23rd March 13:00

Our termly General Meeting will take place in a fortnight’s time, between 1pm and 2 pm on Tuesday the 23rd of March. There are a number of issues to discuss, not least the difficulties the Branch’s health and safety officers are having in getting proper access to the University’s procedures to protect staff and students in the face of the pandemic that our Branch President highlighted in her email last week.

There has also recently been a new valuation of USS, which UCU nationally has described as relying on fundamentally flawed assumptions to endanger a healthy scheme (https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/11437/UCU-response-to-USS-trustee-update), and locally we are working to implement the agreement to improve and regularise the position of teaching-intensive staff at the University you overwhelmingly endorsed in the ballot before Christmas: (https://reading.web.ucu.org.uk/2020/12/18/rucu-claim-collective-agreement-ballot-result-18-12-20/ and https://reading.web.ucu.org.uk/2020/12/04/claim-agreement-ballot-enclosure/).

We will separately circulate an agenda and a joining link for the meeting closer to the time.

Reading UCU Survey Results: ‘New Grade 6 Job Title’

With reference to the Claim ‘Collective Agreement’, we now have the results of the ‘Reading UCU poll: New Grade 6 Job Title’:

Associate Lecturer 75.44%
Teaching Associate 15.79%
University Tutor 8.77%

Thank you for taking part in the survey.

Our next step is to press forward in constituting the Joint Panel as outlined in Appendix 1 of the agreement (Page 8): https://reading.web.ucu.org.uk/files/2020/12/201204-RUCU-UoR-Claim-Agreement-Final.pdf

We will be updating members with further developments

Reading UCU