All posts by Colette Maxfield

Charter for the Staffing and Delivery of Open Days

In recent years, the University of Surrey has introduced some Open Days to take place on a Sunday, while also they were introduced in relatively recent days on a Saturday in the era of tuition fees and growing competition to attract applicants and students. The UCU Surrey branch notes the extra workload that this brings upon staff to give substantial parts of their weekend on Saturdays and/or Sundays in order to run Open Days. Furthermore, under UK law any staff member of an organisation has no obligation to work on a Sunday and that, if required, this must be agreed in writing. It is therefore very important to consult widely with academic and professional services staff who may be directly or indirectly affected by the introduction of Sunday Open Days and to respect their position in light of the law as is common practice amongst many employers.

Staff across the University may have differing views on whether Sunday Open Days are right or wrong in principle. However, legally the University is required to consult widely with all staff involved and seek their agreement to take part. Furthermore, organising a Sunday Open Day in the hope staff will willingly participate may indirectly put obligation on staff to participate, and such an obligation is illegal. This problem has undoubtedly been exacerbated by some staff choosing not to participate in a Sunday Open Day, which then obliges other colleagues to have to take their place. Therefore, a Sunday Open Day must only ever happen subject to the following conditions given in this charter in line with the law:

1. A full consultation is made with all staff potentially affected. They are to be asked to provide their formal agreement that they will participate on a given date. If an insufficient number and demography (i.e. from every department and relevant central services in the University) agree to take part, the Sunday Open Day must categorically not happen or be re-scheduled to another day.

2. On any consultation with staff, it must clearly be communicated to all involved that they are not under any obligation to support the proposed Sunday Open Day and that the University fully respects their right not to work on a Sunday.

3. No member of staff must be obliged to find cover for their role at a Sunday Open Day that they do not wish to participate in or for which they are unavailable. Staffing responsibilities should lie with the Open Day organisers and not individual staff members.

4. Consent to participate in Sunday Open Days must be sought annually.

A further issue that arises as a result of the Sunday Open Days in relation to the University’s employment policy is that academic staff and professional services staff above level 5 are not explicitly covered by the time off in lieu (TOIL) Guidelines and thus not entitled to it, which can be considered less favourable treatment. Staff at level 4 and below are entitled to two days time off in lieu for working on a Sunday. Therefore, with two Sunday Open Days and a Saturday Open Day, a member of staff can gain a week’s extra annual leave. This causes internal staffing problems to cover for extra time off. For academic staff it may be less within their interests of wellbeing to participate in a Sunday Open Day as any time off in lieu is unavailable and unlikely to be possible to take soon after due to substantial teaching duties the following days.

Additional to the legal requirements on Sunday working, it is also important to note the Equalities Act in light of a Friday, Saturday or Sunday Open Day requires the need to avoid discrimination in relation to matters including health, religion or belief, caring responsibilities in particular. This further emphasises the need for wide consultation with all staff affected. The University are requested to follow the above guidelines for the wider benefit of the University community which values our staff and in turn works for the better in running our Open Days.

Open Letter from the Campus Trade Unions re ‘Strategy Review’

1st March 2021

Dear Vice-Chancellor,

Open Letter from the Campus Trade Unions re ‘Strategy Review’

Thank you for your formal response (dated 11th December 2020) to the UCU open letter (dated 26th November 2020). We appreciated the direct communication from the Vice-Chancellor regarding the important issue of staff security.

In terms of the content of the formal response, the three campus trade unions, UCU, UNISON and Unite, continue to have concerns and we are writing to you as a collective to seek reassurances for our respective members. Our concerns relate specifically to the following statement:

 ‘You would appreciate that no organisation can guarantee what the changes will be needed or that there will be no redundancies in the future. However, the strategy refresh process has highlighted the need for University of Surrey to increase the total number of academic staff, in order to stay competitive.’

In addition to the lack of reassurances as to future redundancies, our concerns are as follows:

1) This response focuses on academic staff with no mention of the importance of, or planning for, staff providing essential services within the institution (e.g. Professional Services, Technicians, Estates).

2) It is unclear from the statement whether the University is planning to increase the number of academic staff in order to provide more courses. If this is the case, and no simultaneous increase in other functions is being considered, staff members within Professional Services/Technical roles will experience a consequent increase in workload and work-related stress.  

3) Furthermore, while we welcome the recognition that there is a need to “increase the total number of academic staff”, this needs to go hand-in-hand with protecting current academics’ jobs. Expanding some areas at the expense of others – even if there were to be a net total gain of academic posts  – would not be an acceptable strategy, and we need further assurances that this is not what is being considered.

4) On a related note, we have become aware that the institution has begun a ‘Professional Services Review’ but to date the campus trade unions have yet to be in/formally notified. We look forward to receiving information on the current thinking behind any such review, plus planned timescales for decisions and subsequent actions involving staff.

As we hope the above points will demonstrate, we believe all staff functions are connected, and deserve parity, within University of Surrey.

In order to understand more fully the remit of the Strategy Review/Refresh, we would like a second formal response which clarifies more precisely the current institutional position. We have identified the following options:

1) The Strategy Review/Refresh does not encompass plans for compulsory redundancies 

2) If there are to be redundancies, the university will offer a generous institution-wide voluntary severance scheme in the first instance

3) No redundancies will be made based on cost savings unless and until they are subject to full transparent audit of any financial justification, including alternative savings and measures scrutinised by UCU finance experts

4) No compulsory redundancies are to be considered until student numbers for 2021-2022 are known

5) Compulsory redundancies are only being considered in specific areas, not part of a University wide programme (please detail/list specific areas)

6) We cannot confirm or commit to any of the above as there is no formulated institutional plan.

Please could you clarify which option/s are closest to representing the Executive Board’s current thinking?

To summarise our joint campus trade union position, we are aware that student numbers have not been as badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic as originally predicted, and that we are yet to see any granular financial evidence that would justify the need for redundancy planning. In addition to this, any cost saving exercises that were proven to be necessary, should be made by focussing on non-staff costs (e.g. reviewing the cost of consultants and institutional software). 

We look forward to your further response and clarifications.

Kind regards

Surrey UCU, Unite, UNISON

Open Letter from Surrey UCU Committee re ‘Strategy Review’

Dear Vice-Chancellor,

We are writing with reference to the ‘Strategy Review’  (referred to as such by Martine Carter in her 19th October blog post on Surreynet) being undertaken by the University.  As you will understand, the prospect of a ‘Strategy Review’ raises questions regarding job security and staff working conditions, especially given the history and roll out of institutional restructuring programmes over recent years (for example, Operational Review 2016, Vision 2020, Continuous Improvement Programme 2019). 

We would like to stress, from the beginning, our appreciation of the more consultative approach that the University has taken this year to union involvement, with particular reference to your acceptance that staff/union input should be a key component of this review. As you may be aware, UCU is currently conducting a wide-ranging survey on institutional operation, and we will be presenting both the data and various recommendations which arise from it to senior management.

Further to this, at a recent joint fortnightly meeting with Provost and HR Directorate [26.10.20], we reiterated our request for more granularity on the institutional non-staff expenditure figures, and we place this request at a very high priority. No one could have foreseen the Covid-19 pandemic, and its subsequent impacts on our sector and our institution in particular, but it is vital that we do not see the staff body as a ‘cost’ that is compared negatively to other institutional expenditures. On the contrary, now more than ever, the staff body should be protected at all costs. This position is in line with the national UCU Jobs First / Fund the Future campaigns.

We are aware that ‘Strategy Review’ departmental consultations are taking place, and that staff have been advised that recommendations will go to Council early February 2021 for ratification. If this is the case, we are concerned that there may not be enough time for the staff voice to be properly heard and for full discussions to develop, particularly with the Christmas/New Year break. As a consequence, we are sending this open letter to formally seek reassurances that job security will be considered paramount and that compulsory redundancies and/or changes to staff contracts are not being considered as part of the current ‘Strategy Review’ process. This reassurance is all the more important as we have already lost staff to redundancy processes over the summer, including those who took enhanced voluntary offers in order to stave off the threat of compulsory redundancy.

We look forward to your response, and to working further with the senior management body on constructive discussions as to how we can all improve working conditions at our University; and therefore ensure the viability of the institution moving forwards.  We hope you agree with us that these are inextricably linked.

Kind regards

Surrey UCU Committee

Template letters for individual members with COVID-19 safety concerns – branch guidance

UCU has released further guidance to branches concerning negotiations and consultation with employers to ensure Covid-19 risk assessments are reviewed urgently and to ensure appropriate preventative and protective measures are in place. UCU’s position remains that the majority of teaching should be online unless risk assessments demonstrate that adequate control measures are in place to ensure face-to-face teaching can be undertaken with a low risk of Covid-19 transmission. In any event it is our view that a mix of face-to-face and remote delivery will be necessary as a minimum control measure.

In addition to the guidance on collective approaches to address Covid-19 health and safety concerns, we realise that individual members may also have particular concerns about the safety of a return to on site work and face-to-face teaching in light of their particular individual circumstances. We have also produced a series of template letters for use by members who reasonably believe that a request or demand that they return to on site working would place them in serious danger from Covid-19, in order to raise their concerns directly with their manager.

The letters are drafted for use by members in different circumstances; the relevant template will need to be tailored to the circumstances of an individual member and branches may need to support members to assist them in completing their letter.

There are two sets of templates – one for members working in higher education and one for members working in further education. For each sector there are nine template letters for use by members in the following categories:

-an employee who is clinically vulnerable or extremely vulnerable;
-an employee from a BAME background
-an employee with anxiety/depression related condition
-an older employee
-a pregnant woman employee from a BAME background
-a pregnant woman from a white background
-an employee with no particular relevant characteristics
-an employee with no particular relevant characteristics but with vulnerable household member(s)
-disabled staff at increased risk.

Each letter covers issues relevant to the circumstances/characteristics of the employee and includes reference to the employer risk assessment (or lack of one) to raise concerns with the member’s manager.

To be most effective the letters should include reference to the employer’s risk assessment, to highlight deficiencies in that and the reasons why the member considers it to be unsafe to return to onsite working in the current circumstances, until deficiencies have been removed and adequate control measures implemented

Members may not have seen the employer risk assessment and this element of their letter is likely to be the one that they will need assistance with. The key point for branch reps who are supporting members with drafting a letter is to encourage the member to identify specific factors that concern them in terms of risks to their safety, and to link these to elements of the risk assessment (e.g. If an employer’s risk assessment specifies that in-person interaction in enclosed indoor spaces should be limited, and yet a member is being told that their timetable involves hours of face-to-face teaching in rooms without ventilation or social distancing measures, then these elements should be highlighted in the letter).

When completed, member’s letters should be sent to their line manager, copied to their local branch for information.

Please log into the UCU website to download the template letters here:

Open Letter to Angela Richardson MP, from all Campus Unions

22.06.2020

Angela Richardson MP

House of Commons

London

SW1A 0AA

Dear Angela Richardson,

We are writing on behalf of staff and students working within University of Surrey to ask for your help in ensuring that the Government protects post-16 education and provides much-needed stability for staff and students in the face of the current Covid-19 crisis. Specifically, we would like to ask that you engage with the Secretary of State for Education and the Treasury to ensure that financial support is available to both higher- and further-education providers, and to clarify the Government’s plans to strengthen the UK’s post-16 education sectors following Conservative commitments in the 2019 manifesto.

At the University, we’re grateful to be a large part of the Guildford community; of the 77,729 voters in Guildford, it is estimated that 10,183 are students in further and higher education, and approximately 4,300 staff work in post-16 education within this constituency.

We believe that the post-16 education sector is a critical part of the social and economic fabric of the UK and will be crucial to our country’s recovery from the current crisis. UUK states that, in 2014-15 (the most recently available data), UK Universities contributed £95 billion gross output and supported almost 944,000 jobs.

In the early days of the pandemic, staff in the sector responded magnificently and continue to do so today. Unsurprisingly, though, the crisis is still causing huge uncertainty. Without urgent action from the Government, we risk losing vital educational capacity just when it will be needed most. The country cannot afford to push tens of thousands of teachers, researchers, and education professionals into unemployment at a time when we will need education to be a key driver of recovery.

The education unions have already called on government to take action and whilst there appears to have been recognition in Westminster of the importance of further and higher education, the very limited proposals and actions taken so far have been inadequate to the challenges the sector faces and to the crucial task of maintaining the confidence of students and staff: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-support-package-for-universities-and-students

The inadequacy of the government package is illustrated by the report by London Economics, which highlighted a potential £2.5bn loss of income from tuition fees and teaching grants for UK universities, an estimated loss of 30,000 sector jobs, with a further 32,000 jobs threatened throughout the wider economy. This analysis has been confirmed by the recent large scale study of international students’ intentions undertaken by the British Council. In the worst case scenario, the Council predicts losses to the sector of around £2bn from international students alone.

The sector needs a clear and coherent plan aimed at retaining capacity and maximising the positive impact that further and higher education can make. As part of a key community-based institution within your constituency, we would be grateful if you could, on our behalf, urge both the Secretary of State for Education and Treasury to take more action to protect these important sectors.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

University of Surrey Students Union Committee

Surrey UCU Committee

Surrey UNISON Committee

Surrey Unite Committee

Open letter from the Surrey UCU Committee to the Director of HR, 26.03.20. For the attention of the Senior Management Team.

The Surrey UCU Committee appreciates that the situation over the last two weeks has been unprecedented and fast-moving.


As a result, on behalf of our members, we wish to seek immediate clarification, reassurance and guarantees on the following points:


1 That to protect those remaining on campus, the University will use all appropriate safety measures across workspaces as outlined in point 6.


2 That all staff should be given the time to learn the processes required for working at home, without requiring excessive hours of work or undue expectations being placed upon them, and that the University ensures that students are made aware of the constraints within which staff are operating during this period.


3 That the University should not penalise staff members because they cannot complete the normal responsibilities of their job remotely, due to either the nature of their duties or due to personal circumstances including distress and stress caused by Covid-19 related concerns, caring responsibilities, or the fact that staff do not possess adequate access to personal technology or internet facilities. Staff are doing the best they can.


4 That the University will develop a working from home allowance to cover increased use of phones and other utilities, where necessary.


5 That the University will ensure there is no financial detriment, in terms of loss of contractual pay, hourly paid work, or regular overtime, to any member of staff, regardless of
contract type or visa status, as a result of COVID-19-related closures, cancellations, or self-isolation.


6 That the University confirms that any period of COVID-19 related sick leave or self-isolation, regardless of contract type, will be covered by paid leave and will not count towards either occupational sick pay entitlement limits or any trigger points.


7 That the University will ensure staff who are unable to complete the normal responsibilities of their job due to additional care duties caused by COVID-19 (such as caring for ill family members or children who are at home during this pandemic period) will not be required to take unpaid leave or suffer any financial detriment.


8 That the University recognises that altering course delivery methods and moving course content online increases staff workload. It is not a simple substitution or ‘alternative’ process.

9 That changes to online delivery will be done on a ‘without prejudice’ basis: (i) without prejudice to future course delivery (ii) without prejudice to future collective bargaining on institutional recorded delivery policy


10 That the recorded content requested will not be used in future, for other purposes, without the consent of staff members.


11 That staff members can adopt and use alternative online delivery options to recorded lecture delivery.


12 That staff will retain all rights in relation to any materials prepared for online delivery.


We look forward to your response, which we will be circulating to Surrey UCU members.


Thank you


Yours sincerely


Surrey UCU Committee

Open letter from the Surrey UCU Committee regarding the USS Pension and the ‘Four Fights’ [Pay and Equality] disputes

6th March 2020

Dear Vice-Chancellor,

Open letter from the Surrey UCU Committee regarding the USS Pension and the ‘Four Fights’ [Pay and Equality] disputes.

We are writing to you with a formal request for information. We believe that the present position of University of Surrey, in relation to the two national disputes, should be communicated as transparently as possible.

As you will be aware, the employer representatives have returned to national negotiations with UCU but with the caveat at present that they do not have a mandate from enough Vice-Chancellors to make improved offers. This is particularly relevant to the pay element of the Four Fights dispute, and the UCU position that the employers should cover member contributions increases in the USS dispute.

Please could you answer the following questions:

(1) How did this University respond in the recent USS consultation?

a) Did this University agree to increase contributions by 1%?
b) Did this University agree to increase its share by 0.5%?
c) Or was the University one of the 84% which are still unwilling to take on any more contributions?

(2) If the University is unwilling to pay RPI +3%, what improvements to the headline pay offer of 1.8% is it willing to make, in order to reverse over a decade of real terms pay cuts?

(3) Can the University commit to providing a workload model based in hours to all of your staff? If not, why not?

(4) Given that over a decade of data – gathered by, among others, yourselves – has repeatedly shown a systemic differential in pay, based on gender & ethnicity, is the University willing to commit to developing a concrete action plan to close these equalities pay gaps?

(5) Is the University willing to reduce the number of fixed term contracts it currently uses? What targets about when and how this will occur will you/the University set?

(6) We do not as yet have a formal agreement governing the contractual conditions of hourly-paid staff. What targets about when and how this will occur will you/the University set?

(7) Do you have a formal change management policy that involves meaningful consultation before announcing redundancies, either voluntary or compulsory? Are you willing to negotiate a redundancy avoidance agreement?

(8) Is there a staff or student representative on your remuneration committee that considers the salary of senior management including the vice-chancellor? Do you attend the meetings where your pay is established? If so, why?

We look forward to your responses, which we formally request to communicate to Surrey UCU Members and our UCU colleagues more widely.

Thank you

Yours sincerely

Surrey UCU Committee