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President's Report: 2022 Branch AGM

The President's Report for UCU Sussex AGM 11th May 2022

By Chris Chatwin

Our big news is that Joanne Pawlik has come forward and volunteered to be our new President. Jo has been our lead negotiator for a while now and has developed all the skills necessary to successfully take on this role, I believe that Jo will be an exceptional president and wonder whether she my go onto higher things in UCU. I have enjoyed being president for 8 years and watched our Sussex branch flourish due mainly due to the active people that joined the executive after our first round of serious strike action.


I will continue on the Executive Committee and focus my energy on casework and improving our success rates in this area. Casework is one of the most important duties we have in supporting our members.

Our generic focus has been to fight against: marketisation, casualisation, exploitation, inequalities and curtailment of academic freedom. I would like to give a big vote of thanks to the team that produce the Sussex UCU newsletter; this is an important communication tool that allows members to see what Sussex UCU is doing for them.

Size and Shape

At an EGM 98% of members voted to support action against the UEG Size and Shape project, with your support we declared a dispute with the University. As a result of members resolve jobs have been saved as UEG confirmed that there will be no size and shape compulsory redundancies. It is important to celebrate our victory – especially when it comes as a result of collective action and the hard work of branch reps and ordinary members. It is now possible for us to withdraw from this local dispute. It is important to recognise that the avoidance of compulsory job losses at Sussex is a consequence, not of a new financial landscape, but of our own determined collective action.

Doctoral Tutors on their conditions of casualisation


PGRs at the University of Sussex represent the largest portion of casualised staff. Since September 2021, doctoral tutors (“DTs”) and other PGRs working as staff in the University have organised a university-wide network for PGRs, with the support of the UCU’s ‘PGR as Staff’ campaign team. This is the first university-wide UCU representation of PGRs working at Sussex. We are PGR-led and represent PGRs across the university. With the support of Sussex UCU, we have had the following victories for PGRs:

  • Regaining promised back pay for tutors across the University. After the success of their online petitions and email campaigns from doctoral tutors across the university, hundred to thousands of pounds in backwages long overdue to DTs who have obtained AFHEA credentials are being returned. These wages were long overdue to doctoral tutors who had gained AFHEA qualification but did not receive their promised pay rise.

  • Protecting Tutor’s Pay scale. DT organising has not only raised awareness over the failure to increment our pay scales according to previous UCU/HR agreements, but we have also helped DTs regain their wages from HR.

  • Ensuring the rights of DTs are recognized by HR as union members. Thanks to political pressure from DTs across the university, HR now has a ‘doctoral tutor hub’ and a group of tutor representatives meet with those in the tutor HR working group to ensure that HR is compliant in returning backwages for past and current tutors.

  • Renegotiating the 2016 UCU/HR agreement. Cuts to professional staff services have hurt us all and led to a failure to implement previous UCU agreements protecting the working conditions of PGRs. Thanks to our organising power, PGR reps from UCU submitted a formal notice to enforce and re-negotiate Sussex UCU/HR Tutor Agreement from 2016. We are working on union-backed renegotiations as we fight for contracts and working conditions that are equitable, address the diverse needs of Sussex tutors, and resists zero-hour like contracting that traps PGRs and other early- academics in precarity.

  • DTs and UCU in the Business School win fight over DT pay cut. On 8 September, the Business School announced a pay cut for all Doctoral Tutors (DTs), the youngest, most diverse, and most precarious of University staff. The cut consisted of a reduction of the hours paid to tutors for each repeated teaching hour from x3 to x2, a pay cut of up to 28%. But tutors and Sussex UCU fought back: on Friday 17 September, the Dean of the Business School received a formal complaint signed by 34 BS doctoral tutors and supported by Sussex UCU, asking for the withdrawal of the new pay scheme by Friday 24 September, before the beginning of the Autumn term. Almost 400 members of the University of Sussex expressed their support. A month of exchanges-- during which the Dean of the Business School failed to meet either UCU or the DTs in person or online -- ended with a meeting between UCU negotiators and HR and the withdrawal of the new pay scheme!

While we celebrate a victory for DTs and UCU, we are eager to engage in further discussion to make our University a fairer place for both staff and students. PGRs from the whole University and UCU are running a campaign to recognise the role of PGRs as members of staff.

On Sibling Branches

  • Sussex International Study Group gained union recognition, only the second Study Group private provider in the UK. They had their first pay offer 3%, have a recognition agreement and their membership is growing.

  • Not only did Institute of Development Studies get the highest ballot turn-out, they were the only institution to publicly support UCU’s proposals. The joint IDS and Sussex working group on pensions is continuing.


Racial Justice Work

  • UCU Sussex worked with our sibling unions, including the Students Union, to publish an open letter on Racial Justice at Sussex in the summer 2021. This letter, signed by over 1000 people, resulted in a series of challenging but constructive meetings with management this academic year, during which students and union Reps spoke passionately about what needs to change to tackle institutional racism at Sussex.

  • The full UEG statement responding to the open letter and the minutes of the September meeting with the unions’ Anti-Racism Working Group can be read here.

  • Thanks to this grassroots campaign, the UEG has now publicly pledged to become an explicitly anti-racist institution through collaboration with staff and student unions. You can read the 'Antiracist Sussex pledge' (published in Nov/Dec) here.

  • The cross-unions working group will continue to hold the UEG to account on these commitments and welcome further collaboration with members on anti-racist action at Sussex.

Pensions

On pensions the University of Sussex Council, following advice from the interim Vice Chancellor, voted in favour of significantly cutting Sussex staff’s future USS pensions. For early career, staff this means by a third or more. The reason given was that this was the ‘least worst option’. Sussex has not called for a revaluation of the pensionfund based on the finances as they stand in 2022. These devastating cuts, supported by Sussex interim VC and Council, are premised on a pandemic-hit valuation of £65bn of USS pension assets, which was conducted in March 2020. Since then, the fund has grown by £25bn to £90bn and completely recovered. Even by the standards of USS extreme prudence any ‘deficit’ is now insignificant. The national committee of VCs (known as UUK) has chosen to mislead everyone throughout the consultations. With CPI now projected to average 2.8%, UCU’s proposals would have prevented cuts of around 40% to future pensions of most early career staff. The percentage cuts are much lower for executive salaries. The VC and Council were given the opportunity to prevent these cuts as Sussex UCU argued in their paper to Council. UCU’s proposals were time-limited, affordable, reasonable and viable. These cuts are morally indefensible. They will hit early-career staff hardest. They will amplify the inequalities, which we are also fighting through the Four Fights dispute. They are also financially indefensible. This is a betrayal,not just of staff and students, but of the very idea of a university as a community of learning.


Staff and students have not yet been given sight of the analysis and recommendations that Sussex Council considered in voting to cut our pensions. We expect reasoned and evidence- based arguments from the governing body of a university; insteadwe are met with indifference, bordering on contempt. Our local pensions working group are very active and knowledgeable, so please read the blog and any e-mails that we send to you about pensions. It seems to me that there are forces in play that are trying to dismantle our pension scheme, this is undoubtedly driven by hidden marketization plans.


Four Fights

The Four Fights dispute is about demanding fair treatment for staff across the sector and a comprehensive remedy for the way in which your working conditions have been undermined over the past decade. The combination of pay erosion, unmanageable workloads and the widespread use of insecure contracts has undermined professionalism and made the working environment more stressful for staff. The average workingweek in highereducation is now above 50 hours, with 29% of academics averaging more than 55 hours. A UCU survey conducted in December 2020 saw 78% of respondents reporting an increased workload during the pandemic. The pay gap between Black and White staff is 17%. The disability pay gap is 9%. The mean gender pay gap is 15.1% and at the current rate of change it will not be closed for another 22 years. Finally, workload, pay inequality and casualisation are all directly interrelated and compound one another. The recent UCU workload survey found that women, BAME and disabled staff were all disproportionately likely to report that their workload had increased, and the same groups are also disproportionately likely to be on casualised rather than permanent contracts. UCU set out its demands in detail in the annual claim, which it presented to employers in March 2021, along with the other unions that represent university staff (UNISON, Unite, GMB, and EIS in Scotland). You can find the full claim, which sets out the issues in extensive detail and discusses the action, which the unions want employers to take, at this link. As you are all aware, we have engaged in significant industrial action that to date has not secured a victory. We are currently about to enter a marking boycott and possibly further strike action. At our recent EGM attended by 109 people, our members were not supportive of further strike action in the summer period and expressed the view that it would be more effective to delay this until the autumn term. Two of our negotiators attended a Branch Delegates Meeting meeting to present your views; these will be communicated to the HEC, who take the final decisions on industrial action.


COVID 19 Health and Safety


Locally we have a very active and a well-informed Health and Safety group who have done powerful work with the University to protect the Health and Safety of all staff. In recognition of this, the University granted us 0.3 FTE for a health and safety representative. It is vital that we continue to engage with the University to ensure safe working for everyone. We should all thank our negotiators for their contributions in what are frequently stressful negotiation meetings.


Financial Status of the University


It is the financial status of the University that is used to justify projects like Size and Shape. We have tried hard to understand the University accounts but without being given access to the Management accounts it is very difficult to achieve full transparency as they won’t let us have the management accounts. We have completed a useful analysis of the 2020 Sussex Financial statement, which you can read at: A run through the Sussex financial statements 2020 (ucusussex.org.uk) Financial headlines: The operating surplus for the year 2019 - 2020 was £12.7m. There are investment and cash reserves of £250 million. The covenant conditions were met on the outstanding loans of £180 million. Sussex is in a sound financial position, but there is a lot of interesting detail that shines a light on financial priorities. Most people find accounts very boring but actually they are the main driver for what happens in the University, so I really do encourage you to spend some time looking at them and understanding what they mean for you locally and to be active in requesting financial transparency. The surplus for 2020/21 was £22.6 million; total consolidated reserves were £405 million. Unrestricted reserves: £384 million.



Casework


As ever one of the most important activities that we pursue is casework. I can report that our success with casework is good but it can always be improved. The way to improve our performance on casework is to recruit more casework reps and give them training. It is not possible to say much more about this as it is always confidential to the people involved.




The Presidents report on behalf of Sussex UCU – Chris Chatwin 11th May 2022


Sources used to produce this report: Sussex UCU website and National UCU website

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