ANNUAL REPORT: "The A-Z of Aberdeen UCU, May 2017 to May 2018"

Anti Casualisation. UCU believes that high quality education and fair working conditions depend on contracts that give staff stability and continuity of employment. At the University of Aberdeen, UCU have helped enhance employment practices, implement best practice and welcome that the University is now a Living Wage employer. We thank Masaru Nakamoto for the excellent work he undertook as elected Anti Casualisation Officer, prior to his recent dismissal on the grounds of redundancy. Masaru was one of 250+ staff placed at risk of redundancy during the last year, most of whom were on atypical employment contracts. UCU's intervention, including via the Joint Consultative Committee on Redundancy Avoidance, has helped secure better outcomes for many. This includes those affected by restructuring exercises in Digital & Information Services and the School of Biological Sciences, where UCU negotiations resulted in compulsory redundancies being avoided.

Bargaining. The University recognises UCU to represent Academic and Professional staff and we undertake collective bargaining on behalf of all staff in this category, whether a UCU member or not. This is the process by which an organised body of employees negotiate with an employer regarding terms and conditions and staffing matters. In the past year, Aberdeen UCU has put forward formal papers on subjects including Staffing Strategy; Human Rights; Partnership Working; Leadership and Organisational Change; Staff Survey; Transnational Education; Purchase of Annual Leave and the Framework of Academic Expectations. These papers are available on demand to any interested member and are a good example of the important work undertaken by committee officers on behalf of all members.

Casework. Members who have been with UCU for 90 days and encounter a new workplace issue can apply for personal casework support. In the last year, we supported 94 members. Typically, a caseworker is appointed from another school/section to provide confidential advice and guidance. Caseworkers are volunteers from within the Aberdeen UCU membership who have undertaken specialist training, and can help guide members through University policy and represent members during meetings with management. With permission of the member, caseworkers can also draw on additional support including via UCU HQ which may include consideration of legal support. Common themes for casework include stress, discrimination, bullying, harassment, disciplinary, dismissal, probation and redundancy.

Disciplinary (and capability). Concerns were first discussed at the Aberdeen UCU Annual General Meeting in May 2017 that a new tactic was being introduced by management to realise financial savings by targeting academic staff perceived to be underperforming in relation to factors like teaching hours, research income and PGR supervision. The mechanism being deployed was to use disciplinary procedures to threaten dismissal for under performance, overlapped by a "protected conversation" offering a severance package. UCU's intervention has helped ensure that perceived performance issues are dealt with in a more supportive way, where a standard is set and a timeline agreed. UCU continue to campaign to have the disciplinary and capability procedures updated to draw them apart, ensuring consistency and fairness in implementation.

 

 

Equality & Diversity. The Aberdeen UCU equalities officer has successfully established two UCU-only working groups, where members can openly discuss equality issues without fear of discrimination. This allows members to raise concerns which UCU can feed in anonymously to the University's Advisory Group on Equality & Diversity. One group focuses on issues affecting Black and Ethnic Minority Staff, the other - the Equality & Diversity Working Group - on all aspects of equality and diversity. These groups have been instrumental in organising well attended events including showings of the UCU HQ "Witness" film and "At the River I Stand". An ambitious week long programme is being planned for September. Overall, the groups hope to ensure that difference and inclusion are valued, seeking to identify and help remediate any institutional or cultural barriers standing in the way of the advancement of staff with protected characteristics.

Framework of Academic Expectations. UCU is committed to helping staff control workloads, eliminate the demoralising effects of performance management, and to eliminate occupational stress and bullying. University of Aberdeen management consulted UCU on implementation of a homegrown, single and uniform performance management model (FAE) for ranking the work of academic staff, linked to annual review; promotion; workload modelling and performance management. UCU's response was centred on a detailed paper prepared by committee. Constructive discussion led to the agreed outcome that a "Review of Annual Review", focused on personal development plans, would take place first. This outcome was well aligned to UCU's national guidance on responding to the challenge of performance management involving arbitrary metrics, unfair processes and recognition of the wide variety of valuable work staff undertake over time. The contribution of staff cannot be translated to a number in a spreadsheet.

Governance. The Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act 2016 has led to reform within the University's governing body ("court") including the establishment of two mandatory seats for trade union nominees, one pertaining to academic staff, one for support staff. Aberdeen UCU undertook an election process with four nominees expressing interest, the outcome being the election of David Watts. In October, David formally joined court as the Aberdeen UCU for the academic seat, commencing a three year term and undertaking valuable work on behalf of members.

Health & Safety - With "Workload & Wellness" established by members as a key priority for the branch in 2017/18, UCU have been championing positive action to reduce workplace stress. UCU officers have made representation at the Health & Safety Committee, including work to anonymise the staff survey and include questions in line with HSE recommendations. Management have also responded by consulting UCU on a new policy titled "Management of Work Related Stress". In turn, the Aberdeen UCU Policy Officer consulted with experts in UCU London and obtained invaluable feedback which is now being incorporated into the policy.

Internationalisation. Longstanding issues regarding changes to terms and conditions were finally concluded in January, with a form of words mutually agreed between management and UCU. Members are now better protected regarding detriment, should they decline an offer to work abroad. These simple contractual changes were but one part of an extensive "Transnational Education" paper submitted to management and the branch continues to advance issues such as human rights and slavery, in the context of a University actively engaged in opening international campuses.

Joint Consultative Committee on Redundancy Avoidance (JCCRA). Management have taken forward measures to reduce the period of time between staff being placed at risk of redundancy, and the redundancy taking effect. This is currently set as 5 months, which for most staff would mean 2 months of consultation followed by 3 months of contractual notice. Management have made a concerted effort to reduce redundancy to the statutory minimum, the impact of which will most be felt by those on atypical contracts. UCU have been working to oppose these changes, in a climate where job security is an important concern for existing and prospective staff. UCU call on the University to commit to the 5 month consultation period as a positive example of being a progressive employer, ensuring the University of Aberdeen remains competitive within the Scottish sector.

Kin. UCU's kin are other trade unions and related organisations. At the University of Aberdeen, four trade unions are formally recognised by the employer: Unison, Unite, Prospect and UCU. Local representatives meet regularly to discuss issues and improve partnership working. Aberdeen UCU is represented at the Aberdeen Trade Union Council and representatives also attend national trade union conferences at the Scottish and UK levels.

Lecture Capture. At the Aberdeen UCU Annual General Meeting on 23rd May 2018, there was extensive discussion and deep concern raised by members regarding the implementation of a Policy on Lecture Capture. Whilst the policy was approved at a meeting of the Senatus Academicus on 21st February 2018, management have recently confirmed the policy is now being implemented without negotiation with UCU, with members' recognising the policy as a significant change to terms and conditions of employment.

UCU has requested senior management enter into meaningful negotiation with UCU, over a period of time with a view to reaching agreement. Discussion points included:

  • Recorded/filmed teaching sessions are useful for all students, and are an essential reasonable adjustment for disabled students;
  • The Lecture Capture Policy assumes that all members of staff have given their consent to be filmed and/or recorded, and puts a requirement on staff to publically explain their reasons for withdrawing their consent without regard for vulnerable staff-members and/or those with equality-protected and/or mental health concerns;
  • The Lecture Capture Policy obliges members of staff to assess all recordings for inappropriate or infringing material without any clear guidelines as to how this impacts on workload, or training, or clarity on the relevant legal responsibilities and the penalties, if any, for breach of these
  • The Lecture Capture Policy requires staff to accept a consent agreement with the third party provider Panopto, the content of which is not clear, but which may transfer ownership of staff’s own performance rights to this company, and may raise data protection concerns under the General Data Protection Regulation which include but are not limited to storage of data and transfer of data beyond Europe
  • Recorded/filmed teaching sessions are useful for all students, and are an essential reasonable adjustment for disabled students;
  • Some HEIs have unfortunately damaged the value of lecture capture by using it as a method of undermining legal strike action and thus eroding trust;
  • In their push to develop libraries of on-line content, other HEIs have passed policies which assume that all staff have consented to be filmed and/or recorded, or force staff to publically declare their reasons for legally exercising their rights not to consent to be recorded;
  • Further, some HEIs have chosen to use third-party software packages for the recording and distribution of teaching sessions which invoke tacit or non-transparent agreements which transfer the ownership of performance rights to those third parties;
  • Staff should be trusted to put the interests of their students first, and to judge where lecture capture is appropriate without unnecessary explanation;
  • HEIs should never presume that staff have given their consent to be filmed or recorded;
  • Staff should never be put in a position of being forced to explain their reasons for not consenting to be filmed or recorded
  • If HEIs choose to provide software packages that both create and distribute recordings, that it is clear that these instruments do not require the transfer of performance rights;
  • There should be a well-defined and clear procedure for challenging the inappropriate recording or filming of members of staff, or the inappropriate distribution of lecture capture materials by HEIs, staff or students.
  • The Lecture Capture policy has not been revised in light of assurances to Senate that the policy will not be used for disciplinary action against staff;

Marketisation. UCU is opposed to the privatisation of tertiary education. We think that the interests of our members, of the students and parents who are at the heart of education and of the wider society we serve, are best served by an education system that is funded and controlled by the public and that is democratically accountable to the citizens of Scotland and the UK.

New Leadership. We wish Professor Sir Ian Diamond a long, happy and healthy retirement and thank him for his contribution to our University. Particular thanks go to Sir Ian for his helpful interventions in disputes, including taking questions at a UCU general meeting during the 2016 SMMSN redundancies and co-authoring the joint letter during the USS pension dispute. The past year has seen the appointment of a new Senior Governor, Martin Gilbert, with whom branch officials held a very constructive welcome meeting back in October. Similarly, the branch have extended a warm welcome letter to our new Principal, Professor George Boyne and look forward to working with him in the best interests of the long term success and sustainability of the University.

Organisation. In 2017, Aberdeen UCU approved new local rules which established a revised committee structure, aimed at spreading out work, improving effectiveness and ensuring that all key roles were filled. The election process in May 2017 saw the establishment of a strong and diverse team. It can be challenging and hard work being a volunteer Union rep, however it can also be incredibly rewarding. It is a testament to the committee being organised and effective that this year there is much continuity between the roles - and so many positive developments to report on.

Pensions (or perhaps pickets). With the USS pension scheme already lagging behind sector equivalents (such as the TPS), employers sought to end the guaranteed, defined benefit element of USS, which UCU calculated would leave the average lecturer £10,000 a year worse off in retirement. The issue was eloquently summarised by BBC journalist Andrew Marr during the strikes: "a lot of these are people whose pensions wouldn't have been that big in the first place, so this is a really big chunk of their pensions, and they are suddenly not asked or negotiated with, they are just told you are losing all this money".

Aberdeen UCU has a lot to be proud of. At 70%, our ballot turnout was 5th highest in the UK. Of those voting, 86% supported sustained strike action. And sustained it was, 14 days of escalating strikes during snow, rain and sun. This strong show of support by UCU members gave rise to the "Not Aberdeen" campaign to challenge management's punitive approach to the industrial action. Initially all 14 strike days were to be withheld from one monthly payroll (this was improved to up to three); no employer pension contributions would be paid for strike days (they were) and pay would be withheld at 100% for actions short of a strike (in the end, the situation "could not be envisaged", without UCU making any concession regarding the highly contentious rescheduling issue).

The picketing was incredibly well mannered and well supported, even during the "Beast from the East". The good nature of the strikes are clearly evident in two videos prepared by Aberdeen UCU, accessible here and here. Few will forget the rise of #NoCapitulation following the highs and lows of the ACAS "agreement" on day 11. The lunchtime teach outs were very well received and a special mention must go to Susan Melvin, our Branch Administrator, who went above and beyond the call of duty throughout. The response from students was amazing, in particular the support given by AUSA.

The University of Aberdeen withheld an estimated £363k of pay from Aberdeen UCU members participating in strike action. UCU fighting funds at local and national level were prioritised to support applications from lower paid members; those on atypical contracts or suffering hardship. Thanks to all those who donated to these funds.

And the outcome: UCU members voted in favour of suspending industrial action and supporting the creation of a Joint Expert Panel (JEP) comprising an equal number of UUK and UCU experts and an independent chair; and for existing pension benefits to be maintained until at least 1st April 2019. The JEP will review the methodology and assumptions in the current valuation, hoping to build confidence, trust and increase transparency in the valuation process.

Quorum. This year Aberdeen UCU established a series of dates for general meetings at the start of the academic year. These regular meetings have been supplemented with emergency meetings as required, for example during the USS dispute. This has helped ensure all meetings have been quorate and well attended. As a member led organisation, general meetings can pass motions - a formal proposal by a member - which is debated and voted upon, typically instructing the committee or branch negotiators to take action or adopt a particular position. Having the demonstrable weight of the membership behind a particular issue is invaluable.

Reward. UCU has been engaging in the Reward Strategy Working Group, setup to review the University's reward and recognition practices, and to ensure a modern and competitive strategy is in place. UCU has ten seats for representatives: two on the overarching group and two on each of the subgroups: Review of framework agreement and pay structures; Career pathways and progression within and between grades; Promotions, contributions and recognition arrangements; Financial and non-financial benefits including flexible benefits and total reward. Outcomes will be subject to the usual collective bargaining process.

Staffing Strategy and the Staff Survey. Following the announcement of a £5.6m staff savings target in June 2017, Aberdeen UCU established a campaign titled "find a better way", aimed at encouraging management to find a more progressive strategy to achieve financial sustainability than continuing job cuts or fostering a "target culture". Although compulsory redundancies came agonisingly close, to date the campaign has been successful.

Staff survey - At the Aberdeen UCU Annual General Meeting on 23rd May 2018, there was extensive discussion and deep concern raised by members regarding the next staff satisfaction survey, which is understood to include questions related to sensitive issues such as stress and workload. Whilst UCU wish to contribute to a survey, concerns around anonymity of the responses are such that, with regret, Aberdeen UCU advise against participation in the Staff Survey until such a time as UCU's concerns have been addressed.

Discussion points included:

  • The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) suggests using a survey as a useful source of information on whether work related stress appears to be a potential problem in the workforce
  • The HSE suggests anonymity of responses encourages respondents to be frank and honest
  • Many other Universities use independent research companies to conduct staff surveys to ensure confidentiality; with nobody at the University having visibility of any individual response; with only aggregated results shared to safeguard against discrimination.
  • Anonymity and security of responses including both the proposed IT technical delivery mechanism of the survey, and the demographic data captured meaning respondents could be identifiable.
  • The necessary consultation with trade unions including the finalised list of questions; the relevant privacy notice(s); a privacy impact assessment; an equality impact assessment; a list of key stakeholders which have been consulted
  • Confirmation that all data and analysis thereof made available to management is also made available to the recognised trade unions
  • Confirmation the University's Data Protection Officer has signed off on the survey
  • Full governance and ethical approval drawing on internal or external expertise, as appropriate

Training. UCU offer an extensive range of training courses and the past year has seen two courses run in Aberdeen: an introductory course for new representatives and a more advanced course for those involved in collective bargaining and negotiation. Aberdeen UCU reps have attended other courses in Scotland and the UK, helping representatives continually develop and to network with peers.

UCU Scotland. The annual UCU Scotland congress took place in March, with all Scottish branches coming together to discuss and approve motions to inform priorities for the year ahead. Aberdeen UCU submitted four motions: two related to USS pensions; one related to lecture capture; and one related to union decision-making. The elected Aberdeen UCU Secretary attends monthly executive meetings with all Scottish branches. Aberdeen UCU continues to be well supported by dedicated officials from UCU HQ, most noticeably Mary Senior, UCU Scotland Official. We extend a particular thanks to Mary and the UCU Scotland Team for their invaluable support.

Value. As part of UCU’s drive to support education workers at the start of their careers, from October 2017, free membership has been extended to enrolled postgraduate students contracted to teach. Other members pay a monthly subscription proportionate to salary, starting from a little as £1.02 per month. Subscriptions have a national and local element, both of which are eligible for income tax relief. The local element funds the invaluable part time work of Susan Melvin, our Branch Administrator. The national element includes the work of national officials and legal assistance, with details of national campaigns and policies available on the UCU website.

Workload. A survey carried out by Aberdeen UCU as part of recruitment week in February 2017 emphasised workload was the single biggest issue for all academic and academic-related staff. Feedback from department representatives and personal casework also emphasise the link between workload, stress and ill-health. Research conducted by UCU in 2016 involved surveying 12,000 UK academics. Results revealed an average workload of 50.9 hours per week. In this survey, the University of Aberdeen had an above average figure of 52.1 hours. Aberdeen UCU has responded by establishing a committee role of Workload Officer, who has prepared a detailed paper outlining proactive steps for management and UCU to work together to affect a positive difference. The paper will be discussed at a specially convened meeting scheduled for August. Constructive dialogue is taking place meantime, including at the “Workload” subgroup of the Health & Safety Committee.

Xenial. The Aberdeen UCU committee have strived over the past year to create a more positive employee relations culture, and will continue to do so. We have worked hard to develop a consistent, professional and evidence- based approach, in itself evidenced by the numerous papers committee have produced on behalf of members and our bargaining unit.

At the Aberdeen UCU Annual General Meeting on 23rd May 2018, members voted to campaign against the cessation of "Briefing meetings for trade union representatives are also held prior to each meeting of Court to discuss the agenda and papers". Moreso, that these meetings were lauded in the Outcome Agreement with the Scottish Funding Council 2017/18 – 2019/2020, as approved by Court. Discussion included that:

  • Good governance at the institutional level is underpinned by sector-wide principles and standards, which are set out in the Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance
  • The Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act 2016 stipulated that university governing bodies must contain academic and non-academic trade union nominees in an effort to increase the representation of the interests of staff on governing bodies;
  • Before this Act was implemented at the University of Aberdeen, senior management traditionally held briefings in advance of Court meetings, where Court papers were shared between officers of the UCU Committee and the leaders of the other three recognised trade unions;
  • These briefings have now ceased and, at a recent meeting of the University of Aberdeen’s PNCC, the University Secretary announced that it would be considered a breach of duty if the UCU nominee shared the contents of Court Papers with any other individual, including members of the UCU Committee, before the meeting of Court at which they are discussed;
  • The recent cessation of sharing of Court papers with trade union representatives (who are not court nominees) is against the spirit of the Higher Education Governance (Scotland) Act 2016 and the Scottish Code of Good Higher Education Governance 2017;
  • These changes make it extremely difficult for the UCU-nominated governor to consult, discuss, or in any meaningful way represent the views of UCU members (and therefore all staff within our bargaining unit) at Court.

Your support which is essential and much appreciated. UCU’s power has never been more apparent than in the USS dispute and it is by sticking together as a union that UCU can defend the most important asset of our university: its staff and students.

Zero Tolerance. Being part of the university community is a privilege that demands treating each other with respect at all times.Those in power have an obligation to set the bar high. All of us, staff and students, have the right to work or study in an environment free from violence and discrimination.