Supporting Members

Supporting Members

AUCU supports its members in a number of different ways:

Personal Case Assistance

Individual members are supported by AUCU when they have an issue at work that they are uncomfortable dealing with on their own. Over the past year AUCU has supported over 70 individual members in a number of ways including:

  • Bullying
  • Disciplinary/Grievance hearings
  • Avoidance of Redundancy issues
  • Redundancy meetings
  • Stress due to workload, culture and other work-related issues

Personal casework - supporting members

Background:

Personal case support is one of the most important trade union activities and access to support services is often cited by members as the number one reason for joining.  Aberdeen is more fortunate than many other UCU branches in having a reasonable number of trained caseworkers. These are members within the branch who offer their time and expertise on a voluntary basis to help colleagues going through formal processes such as disciplinaries, grievances and capability procedure – and all thanks to those who give up their time and energy on behalf of colleagues in need.  We are keen to recruit additional caseworkers to ensure we can continue to provide a timely and effective service to our branch members so would urge you to consider volunteering to be a caseworker.

What can members do?

Our caseworkers offer their time as volunteers to help colleagues who are struggling with a workplace problem.  Sometimes all that is needed is a gentle reminder to the University to follow the relevant policy correctly, sometimes it can involve supporting a member through a formal process up to Employment Tribunal.  Every case is different.  The one thing that is consistent in all cases is that our caseworkers report a feeling of great satisfaction in helping colleagues to resolve their issues, whatever they may be. If you are interested in joining our team of caseworkers, you can sign up for free training sessions which are provided by UCU. 

As a workplace representative you are entitled to reasonable paid time off and facilities to undertake union duties and attend UCU training. These rights come from the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992 (TULR(C)A 92) which states that 'the amount and frequency of time off ... are to be those that are reasonable in all the circumstances.'

What sort of things can we help our members with?

We had almost 100 cases in the last academic year and we have had 50 cases logged in this academic year to date – and they cover pretty much every workplace issue you can think of… redundancy, probation, promotion, student complaints, stress, bullying, zero hours contracts, grievance, ill health retirement, disciplinary, workload, sickness absence, discrimination...

Other useful resources...

  • The UCU (national) website: Getting Support: advice and information resources.
     
  • University Policies: University Policy Zone: the University's current approved policies, procedures, plans and guidelines.
     
  • Line managers: May be able to offer support and assistance with respect to workplace issues – in particular, issues relating to working hours, conflict with a co-worker, annual review, health issues etc. 
     
  • University Support including access to Counselling:
  • Mediation: An option for members not looking to take any formal action. You just contact a mediator and they then take things forward and set up mediation meetings. Mediation service section gives a list of qualified mediators.
     
  • Human Resources Dept: ccording to their webpage, HR Employment Services is the “first point of contact for any general HR issues including HR policies and procedures” and the “First port of call for assistance with casework (such as discipline, capability, attendance management and dignity at work) at the early/informal stages of procedures.” If in doubt, consult AUCU for further assistance and we will go over the HR advice to ensure it is comprehensive and appropriate. Find out who your HR Partner/Advisor.
     
  • Grampian Regional Equality Council – Counselling Service: GREC’s Adult Counselling Service.  The service provides counselling to individuals who have been the victim of prejudice, hate crime or discrimination on the basis of any of the protected characteristics (including their race/ethnicity, sex, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief, age, or gender re-assignment).  The service is supported by qualified counsellors who volunteer some of their time to deliver counselling sessions with those individuals impacted by prejudice and discrimination.  The service is available for trade union members (referred by caseworkers or through self-referral).
     
  • Occupational Health service: All staff are entitled to consult the service for advice on health matters. While staff are encouraged to discuss any work-related health problems in the first instance with their line manager, you may wish to consult the occupational health service for medical advice and assistance if:
    • You are concerned that some aspect of your job is making you ill
    • You feel that you cannot perform at work to the best of your ability because of a health problem

The service is staffed by occupational health physicians and advisers. All consultations are in strict medical confidence and details of discussions will not be supplied to the University or to any other person without your consent. Referrals to OH can be made through a line manager (they ask Human Resources to refer you to the Occupation Health Service) or you can “self-refer” by contacting OH personally - 01224 553663

  • Education Support Partnership: The Education Support Partnership is a free, confidential support service for those working in education – available by email, online chat, phone… 
     
  • Mental Health Support: Need someone to talk to, someone to listen to you?  You are not alone, unless you choose to be.  So, if you need to discuss your situation and how it’s affecting you then UCU and other organisations can help… particularly if you are feeling low, anxious or depressed.
     
  • UCU Education Support Partnership (see no 10 above) provides independent, confidential 24/7 support, to help you deal with stress and anxiety, bullying, career and money worries, and a range of other issues. Tel. 08000 562 561 (free, any time from any phone) or email support@edsupport.org.uk
     
  • Breathingspace Scotland: www.breathingspace.scot. Tel. 0800 83 85 87 (free, any time from any phone) Mon-Thurs 6pm to 2pm & Friday 6pm to Mon 6am
     
  • Samaritans: www.samaritans.org (you don’t have to be suicidal – help is available for anyone coping with any sort of mental distress or anxiety). Tel. 116 123 (free, any time from any phone) or email: jo@samaritans.org

Note, Samaritans and Breathingspace numbers won’t appear on your phone bill, contact is confidential and an alias can be used if you wish.

If you would prefer to speak to someone in confidence about a work related problem please complete this Casework Assistance Request Form and send it to the Casework Co-ordinator at ucu@abdn.ac.uk 

What our members say

"I have found UCU support absolutely invaluable: not only are UCU colleagues supportive in a practical sense, helping navigate often practically, legally and emotionally thorny issues, but their very presence helps break that sense of isolation and powerlessness which one can experience when workplace relations break down. UCU have been exceptionally supportive. Both these elements – practical and emotional – are vital, and the Aberdeen UCU branch does a great job at both."

"Thank you so much for all the work you have put in on my behalf, it’s made a real difference knowing that I had UCU behind me and that there were options available to me if things didn’t work out for me. It’s been a really awful couple of months but having the union with me really helped."

Postgraduates

 

Employed Postgraduates

Do you work as a tutor, teaching assistant, researcher, demonstrator, invigilator or do any other paid work for the university? Know your rights!  Any postgrad who teaches is entitled to Full Membership of UCU FREE for up to four years.  No strings attached - just a brilliant offer and our way of supporting our most vulnerable group of workers.  As a full member you have access to all of the benefits of membership including personal case support.

National UCU support

Teaching Assistants represented by the UCU have won better pay, more reasonable estimates of the hours they work, regular wage rises experience, reductions to the number of students in tutorials, and more stable employment contracts.

UCU is the main union representing hourly-paid teaching staff - including at the University of Aberdeen.

Nationally, UCU negotiates annual pay increases which are applied to all staff, including those on hourly-paid contracts. We also negotiate local terms and conditions of employment.

Local AUCU support

Locally AUCU supported a campaign by postgraduates employed as Teaching Assistants in the School of Social Science. This resulted in a major pay rise because the School was forced to recognise all the marking, administration, preparation and course evaluation work that Teaching Assistants undertake. Now, a Teaching Assistant teaching 3 tutorial groups will be paid for 88 hours of work instead of the previous level of 62 hours.

Teaching Assistants in that School now also receive a pay rise for each year of experience and the School will pay for TAs to become an Associate of the Higher Education Academy (a teaching accreditation). The School also agreed to reduce the number of students in each tutorial, which will benefit everyone.

Young Members

UCU now has 10,000 folk signed up to the ‘Young Members Network’.

Young members have their own section of the UCU website called ‘All In it Together’ This page is designed to be an easily accessible 'one stop shop' for young members who want to get more active in the union and also to provide members at the start of their careers with useful professional support and career development resources.

Resources for young members

Hourly Paid Staff

UCU's hourly paid survival guide uses the experience and advice of our hourly-paid members to provide a practical resource for staff on these kinds of contracts.
It outlines the rights of hourly paid staff and what they can expect from their institutions

  • offers practical advice on how to survive difficult employment conditions
  • suggests ways in which to seek improvements
  • explains what UCU is trying to achieve
  • offers a range of support options.

The guide provides a great opportunity to recruit new members and organise so that hourly paid members are better-represented in their union and increase UCU's ability to achieve much-needed improvements for hourly paid staff in your branch.

Training

UCU offers specific training for postgraduate and early careers members. Example from last year in Scotland are:

Course 1: There's no need to shout!

This 1 day practical interactive workshop is aimed at members who are involved in teaching. It looks at how to boost vocal capability and clarity in your learning environment. Advice is also given on how to use the voice in a positive, calm and assertive manner to help manage student behaviour.

Course 2: Assertiveness

This course is aimed at members who want to develop their understanding of what constitutes effective communication and behaviour. The course seeks to help individuals create a tool kit of assertiveness techniques and skills that can be drawn on in challenging situations.

Course 3: Managing student behaviour from the start!

This 1 day course is aimed at UCU members starting off in their careers in tertiary education. The course is specifically for those who are involved in teaching and face challenging student behaviour.

If you would be interested in any training, please contact ucu@abdn.ac.uk | 01224 272377

Teaching Fellows

AUCU commissioned a survey of Teaching Fellows at the University of Aberdeen because of the number of casework issues being raised with the branch by this group of staff.

The results of the survey are available here.

Fixed Term & Casualised

Open-ended contracts

As a result of a tribunal won by a member (supported by UCU) against University of Aberdeen all staff at the University who are employed for longer than 9 months are now employed on 'open-ended contracts'.

Key points

  • The open-ended contract does not specify a termination date for employment at the University. If you are engaged on a project that has a specific timeline then consultation will begin before the end of your expected project completion date to assess future employment opportunities beyond that project
  • You will receive notice that your post is at risk of redundancy at least 5 months before the activities that you are engaged on are due to conclude. During these 5 months you, your line manager and University's HR department will investigate opportunities for you to continue your employment at the institution
  • If your post is at risk of redundancy you will be placed on the University's Redeployment Register and be able to apply for any new posts that are due to be advertised at the University two weeks in advance of other internal and external candidates
  • As part of the redeployment process you will have at least two meetings with your line manager where you will have the opportunity to discuss your circumstances. The University provides career development advice and support, both internally via HR and the Careers Service and externally with third party consultants
  • If you are offered a position which is considered to be suitable alternative employment you will need appropriate justification for declining it. The University has a statutory obligation to mitigate redundancy and you may jeopardise your redundancy payment if you unreasonably reject redeployed positions. You are strongly advised to participate in the process by attending meetings with your line manager and HR
  • All individuals facing redundancy have the right of appeal under the University's appeals procedure
  • Any member of staff could be at risk of redundancy if the work for which they are initially engaged ceases or diminishes or if institutional funding diminishes

Is your post or your funding coming close to an end?

If so, you can apply for other posts, and be interviewed, in advance of the general job advert going out.

This is a significant advantage negotiated by UCU and has helped many people retain employment here.

But the time window for those applications is extremely short, so you should try to keep checking the list of redeployment vacancies on the website.

Sometimes there are suitable posts organised through different Schools.

Several people have recently lost out on these redeployment opportunities because the deadline passed before they noticed the suitable post.

If you are a UCU member and would like support with this issue you should contact ucu@abdn.ac.uk | 01224 272377 so that you can be provided with help through personal casework assistance.

A full copy of the Employment Tribunal Report can be read here.

Group Issues

AUCU offers support to specific membership groupings with concerns. Examples include:

  • Fixed Term Staff: As a result of confusion over the form of contracts offered to colleagues on external, limited funding and the associated redundancy avoidance of process, AUCU organised open meetings for all affected staff across the University to clarify the nature of these contracts and hear members' concerns about the process.
     
  • Teaching Assistants: AUCU recently supported a campaign by postgraduates employed as Teaching Assistants in the School of Social Science. The campaign resulted in a pay rise for these staff because the School was forced to recognise all the marking, administration, preparation and course evaluation work that Teaching Assistants undertook.

 

Organisational Negotiation

At an organisational level AUCU has negotiated numerous policies and procedures with the University including:

  • Promotions procedure
  • Avoidance of redundancy
  • Staff contracts
  • Discipline
  • Grievance
  • Health and Safety
  • Environmental issues
Severance

Protected Conversations

  1. I have just had a protected conversation, what do I do?

    Come and seek help from us and we will support you – email ucu@abdn.ac.uk and we will arrange to get casework support in place ASAP.  Please note, this service is ONLY AVAILABLE TO MEMBERS.

    Next, have a read of the ACAS guidance on protected conversations – this is a useful resource and covers everything you need to know.  For a simple guide to protected conversations, have a look at this legal blog – written in clear English, it is also very useful.
     
  2. Is this even legal for the University to have these conversations?

    Yes, it is.  We understand that Heads of School and senior line managers have been given specific training on holding Protected Conversations.
     
  3. Where can I find information about protected conversations?

    The Acas guidance is very helpful and we recommend you have a read of it.  In addition, there is a useful and clearly written legal blog which explains key points on protected conversations.
     
  4. Can I refuse to take part in a “protected conversation”?

    You can refuse to take part, and you can leave the meeting at any time if you feel that you are being put under pressure or bullied in any way.
     
  5. When a manager / HoS initiates a protected conversation, is it the case that they are obliged to give the staff member a chance to have another member of staff in the meeting to support them?

    It is just “good practice” and they are not legally obliged to allow you to have a colleague or TU rep with you for support. Paragraph 13 of the Acas guidance covers this.
     
  6. What if I’m away at a conference abroad and my Head of School insists of having this conversation by phone?

    We can’t see any explicit reference to telephone meetings being ruled out in either of the above sources. Paragraph 13 of the Acas guide states that the parties may find face-to-face meetings helpful. Our feeling is that, if the member of staff is normally based on a University campus in Aberdeen, then it would be unreasonable to expect them to make a decision before they have returned and been able to make any consultation that they wish to make (see paragraphs 4(c), 12 & 18(e)(i) in the Acas guidance).
     
  7. What if I am still on probation?  Do I have any additional protection?

    We are awaiting guidance on this
     
  8. What if I am on maternity leave?

    We are awaiting guidance on this
     
  9. What if I am off sick when my HoS wants to meet me?

    If you are signed off sick you should not be coming into work.  Ask your HoS to defer the meeting till you are well and have returned to work. 
     
  10. If I refuse to sign off on an offer made in course of a protected conversation what will happen?

    If there is no extant dispute between employer and employee, and the employer has stated (bearing in mind that this will need to be proven) that the employee will be made redundant if the offer is not accepted, then that would appear to be undue pressure (paragraph 18(e)(ii)). Where that intention (will be made redundant) has not been stated clearly, however, the situation is not clear-cut. Your HoS might be able to argue, on the basis of paragraph 19 in the Acas guide, that they are simply laying out, in neutral terms, what might happen if you don’t take the package.

    The Acas guidance states unequivocally that “The employee must have received advice from a relevant independent Adviser” (paragraph 4(c)). Our reading is that no agreement can be binding if this is not permitted. If the employee was not able to take a colleague (who does not have to be a union member) to the meeting, then it might be worthwhile asking the HR rep who was present to draw up a note of the meeting and to send it to both parties for their approval. UK law covers these matters - the relevant legislation is “section 111A of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (ERA)”.

    Our understanding of the Acas guide suggests that any agreement could possibly be invalidated if it was improperly arrived at (eg if you were put under unde pressure to accept the offer), but we suspect that doing so would be very difficult.
     
  11. I understand that any settlement will be kept confidential.  I have agreed to the settlement package but I don’t feel comfortable lying to my colleagues about why I am leaving so is there a form of words I can use that lets people know why I am leaving without being dishonest, but also not breaching the confidentiality element of the settlement?

    Extract from Law at Work, 2018 (Labour Research Dept), p471

     “Settlement agreements often include promises to keep the terms confidential, especially the settlement sum, only disclosing it to immediate family.  A claimant who breaks this kind of term risks losing the whole settlement sum (Fahim Imam-Sadeque v Bluebay Asset Management Services Ltd [2012] EWHC 3511 QB)”

    It’s pretty clear – it is best not to discuss your exit from employment if that’s agreed via settlement, with anyone other than a spouse or your immediate family.  If you are leaving employment having signed such an agreement, you could explain it to colleagues by saying that it was a personal decision to move on… perhaps to take up new career challenges or completely change direction career-wise.

  12. Can I refer to a Settlement Agreement being offered to me if I reject the offer

    If you have a potential claim for any type of discrimination due to a “protected characteristic” – such as age, disability, maternity, pregnancy, race, religion or belief, sex, or sexual orientation – or claims for automatic unfair dismissal such as whistleblowing or for raising health and safety issues then these “off the record” conversations and documents can be brought to the attention of an Employment Tribunal.

    For example, if you are offered a Settlement Agreement because you informed the employer that you were pregnant, or because you are an older employee who has reached a certain age and the employer is trying to encourage you to retire, then all of your discussions would be admissible at Tribunal, however much the employer insisted they were “off the record” or “without prejudice”. In addition, if there has been “improper conduct” by the employer, then they cannot keep these offers and negotiations secret.

    Improper conduct covers a number of situations, including putting undue pressure on you. Examples of this are all forms of bullying, harassment and intimidation, all forms of victimisation, and not giving a reasonable period of time for you to consider whether to accept the offer of a Settlement Agreement – Acas recommends 10 calendar days.
  13. If I agree to a settlement offer, should I have it checked by a lawyer? How much will this cost?

    Yes, any settlement agreement should be checked by a lawyer.  UCU has a firm of lawyers that we recommend but you can use your own lawyer if you prefer.  It is normal practice for the University to agree to meet the cost of getting this check done so it shouldn’t cost you anything.

National Helplines

Free advice and support from The Education Support Partnership

The Education Support Partnership is a national charity set up to support all adult, further and higher education staff and their families, regardless of age, length of service or union affiliations, to improve their wellbeing and effectiveness.

Phone 08000 562 561, text 07909 341229 or visit the web site (live online chat available)

Personal Injury Claims

Every year thousands of injuries are sustained in the workplace. The union's specialist personal injury lawyers can advise and represent you to recover compensation.

Phone 0333 2400 474 or visit the UCU web site page.

UCU Support Centre

On this site you will find answers to many of the most common queries UCU receives, together with other useful material to inform and support you in your employment and union membership: https://ucu.custhelp.com/

Frequently Asked Questions

What sort of things can the union help me with?

Remember - you have to be a member before we can offer help, advice or support!


Dealing with problems in the workplace

Illness, stress and injury

Discrimination, bullying and harassment

Support for fixed term and hourly paid workers

Intellectual property rights

Disciplinaries, dismissal and redundancies

Employment tribunals

  • The UCU's Legal Support Review Panel may determine to provide legal representation by way of a solicitor or barrister.

I'm not a member - how do I join?

You can join online here.  Your membership starts as soon as you have completed the form.

I am a member. How do I know who to contact?

There are UCU contacts in most sections of the University:

The office email and answerphone are checked regularly, even when the office is closed, so you should always get a quick response to your enquiry.

I don't want anyone to know that I am having problems. Can you keep it "low profile"?

Yes, of course. All of our personal case workers are trained in handling difficult situations with sensitivity and discretion. If you prefer, we can arrange to call you on a personal phone rather than on your work number, and can organise meetings away from the workplace. If at all possible, we'll allocate a caseworker from outwith your own discipline too