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AGM Minutes 2019

Minutes: Birkbeck UCU AGM

Date: 27th June 2019

Present: Ashok Kumar, Rebecca Gumbrell- McCormick (chair), Yousuf Joodan (Students Union), Brad Baxter, Jonathan A Smith, Paddy McDaid, Ozan Kanioglu, Sean Hamill, Mike Bintley, Molly Flynn, Asuncion Lopez, Rebecca Whiting, Ron Smith, Mike Berlin, Richard Carabine, Eva Szatmari, Arron Phillips, Chatrakul Na Ayundhya, Trevor Fenner, Andy Young (HQ), Julia Ireland (minute taker)


Item 1: Branch report

President John Kelly ran through a report he sent out before the meeting (please find report attached) which highlighted the event and campaign of the previous year. He summarised a few points from this report.


Voluntary Severance –There have been a number of administrative grade staff taking VS across the college. As a result there is lots of reorganisation going on across the schools and most of those affected were Unison grade administrative staff. The Birkbeck UCU Committee works alongside Unison with this and discussions are ongoing.


We had a major success regarding Professorial pay in which new professors had their salaries increased only for the college to attempt to cancel the salary upgrade. The college backed down on this. This issues most affected female colleagues and though this particular campaign was successful, the college has refused so far to apply the same increase to staff promoted to the rank of professor this year. The Union and committee are still working on this, along with the broader issues around the gender pay gap at Birkbeck.


National news:

Jo O’Grady won the General Secretary election in spring and will be starting 1st August.

Congress voted in favour of 2 disputes in autumn over pensions and pay.


Local upcoming issues:

The college has agreed to update the old union recognition agreement. This agreement divides issues into those which the college negotiates with us and those on which they consult with us on. We aim to have more say in negotiations and committee are about to start conversations on this.


Three term teaching. Committee are not against this on principle though there are key points we want to be sure of:

That there will be no increase in work loads

That we avoid situations where people teach in all three terms.


T&S staff. Mike Berlin updated the AGM on negotiations with the college.

Fractionalisation of T&S staff – we are pushing for the majority of the700 people working on these contracts to have their contracts fractionalised, whereas the college is pushing for only a minimum number to be fractionalised. There will be a revision to existing contracts taking place alongside a process of fractionalisation.  There are ongoing talks about who will be eligible for fractionalisation and also what the revisions will consist of.

We want the multiplier to be increased and some standalone payment for marking.


We will keep you updated on developments.



The discussion was opened up to the group:

Some members wanted to know the rationale behind three term teaching.

From some present it was understood that spreading teaching over three terms may ease the pressure on room bookings, which are often not as busy over the summer period. The college has claimed it would be helpful for student experience and retentions, but some of those present felt it wouldn’t give students enough time to process earlier material or to complete coursework, and that being assessed immediately after teaching might lead to poor retention of information.


Yusuf from the Students Union added that three term learning/ teaching may mean that students do not need to be on site as often, which may be beneficial for some.


As all schools across the college are different, it may not be possible to have a standardised approach.



Health and Safety Officer Richard Carabine highlighted an increasing level of stress and mental health in HE.

The college has set up a health and well- being group.

It is thought that longer work hours, bullying and harassment and additional pressure as a result of changes in the college such as the Cubane Review are the cause of the rise in mental health concerns.


The Cubane review is a staged process: the first stage is in July and line managers need to complete documentation. Then in autumn individual staff members will need to document their tasks. This started in academia in Australia and led to redundancies and job losses there.

The purpose of the review is benchmarking and ‘efficiency’. Unison is concerned and we will be working with them on this issue.


Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick , Welfare officer , added that there have been more issues with stress related illness, sick leave, VSER, workloads and bullying. She is also the convener of the staff disability network and is prepared to use that avenue to press on this issue.


The college has said there will be training in identifying mental health issues for line managers grade 6-8 as they have the most managerial responsibility.



Industrial Action in Autumn

In response to congress voting in favour of two areas of strike action, some expressed concern that it is unsustainable for many members to strike for so long and that as a result fewer people will strike and our position will look weak.



Item 2: Tresurer’s report

  1. Income has gone down from 22.5k to 20k. However there are many new members, mostly PhD students (no fees) and T&S (low fees).
  2. The hardship fund received 2k in donations. We have spent 1700 so far and there are a few more to come.
  3. Overall, we are still spending more than we are taking in in income, and the bank balance is down. We should consider an increase in local subs.


JK – will produce some suggestions for a subs increase and model the impact these would have on the deficit, and send these to members for discussion.


It was agreed by those present that:

We need to increase subs in order to decrease the deficit.


Further info -- including the national increase, along with correct figures for local income and modelling -  will be sent out to membership and an eballot will be sent from UCU HQ.



ACTION: JK to model subs increases and send them to HQ for a members eballot


Item 3: Officer positions

Linda Milbourne, Kerry Harman and Brad Baxter have stepped down from the committee. The chair expressed thanks for their contributions.


Committee members staying on committee:

Sophie Hope, Trevor Fenner, John Kelly, Nick Pronger, Rebecca Gumbrell McCormmick, Richard Carabine, Eva Szatmari, Paddy McDaid, Paul Watt, Mike Berlin, Alex Colas, Andy Fugard, Simon Deville, Eleni Liarou.


Ashok Kumar wishes to stand.


All names accepted.


Officer positions.

Joint President - John Kelly – academic staff. Willing to remain president but would like to stand down from the role of Treasurer

Joint President  - Eleni Liarou – T&S and Joint president

VP – vacant but AC most likely remain

Branch Secretary - Simon Deville

Treasurer – John Kelly – see above

Joint Welfare Officer -  Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick

Joint Welfare Officer -  Andy Fugard

Equality Officer - Rebecca Gumbrell-McCormick. Willing to remain but would like to share this role

Health and Safety - vacant

Environment – vacant

Learning officer – vacant



We will write to all members asking if anyone is interested in these position



Item 4: Wider discussion

There are hugely important issues such as 3 term teaching being discussed at the moment and we need to get involved as much as possible.


This year the college cut studentships for PhDs – the total saving is not high and these were axed at the last minute with no consultation with the union. We don’t want Management to get comfortable with not consulting us and we need to push back.


A member present who used to lecture at Trinity College (whose staff have left the USS pension scheme) commented that the vast majority of lecturers will still be in USS – this break away only affects a small number of people. The reason Trinity left was because of concerns that someone could put a claim on Trinity’s assets if USS did default although this is unlikely.


JK will send out a members’ bulletin soon and asked if any member might be willing to help format it to make it more readable and interesting.



Item 5: AOB


Open Evenings and Senate House. All we can advise is act on your conscience as there is no clear union position. Senate House UNISON are continuing negotiations and do not recommend a boycott at this time

Andy Young (UCU Regional Office)–  there is an HEC meeting tomorrow about the practical implications of the boycott of Senate House, as staff are worried they’ve been asked to break their contracts without having been balloted.

Pay dispute and pensions ballots – we will be balloted in autumn on pay. May be indicative ballot but suspect there will be an Industrial Action ballot.

On USS – huge challenge – whistle blower at USS in the media and this is ongoing.

Likely both ballots would be disaggregated so we know what the result is at Birkbeck.


We will hold an all members meeting and invite one of the HQ pensions officers along.