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Birkbeck UCU August Newsletter

Newsletter Contents

Job Protection for Staff on Teaching & Scholarship Contracts

Strike Deductions Agreement

Branch Campaigning - TPP, Digital Transformation and Working Under Covid

UCU Elections: Vice President and LGBT+ Rep

UCU Consultative Ballot on the Four Fights

Solidarity with UCU SOAS

Jane McAlevey Event

New Committe

 

Job Protection for Staff on Teaching & Scholarship Contracts

Birkbeck UCU has been negotiating with management for several months over a Job Protection Scheme for Birkbeck staff on T&S contracts (demonstrators, associate tutors, and associate lecturers), beginning from the principles of the #CoronaContract campaign as supported by the branch. While our current agreement falls short of the blanket 2-year extension to all contracts that the Branch continues to support in principle, we have made significant progress, even though this has entailed delay in contracts being issued to T&S staff. Given the wider context and conditions at other institutions we believe that the agreement so far is a victory for workers on fixed term and casualised teaching contracts, but there remains more to be done. 

What we’ve achieved so far

  • Birkbeck has committed to a Job Protection Scheme as well as a ‘No Detriment’ principle, meaning that they have agreed to maintain employment continuity as far as possible for staff on fixed-term and other casualised contracts, without reduction in pay and conditions. This also means that permanent staff should not be used to undertake teaching work that would normally be done by T&S staff. 
  • The majority of T&S staff (approximately 450) are being offered work equivalent to the previous year. Of the remainder, approximately 120 staff are being offered work but with some reduction of hours, while approximately 40 staff currently do not have offers of work from the College. These offers are based on whether or not modules are running and teaching is available. Where teaching is available, we expect the College to make appropriate offers of employment. 
  • UCU and Birkbeck management are both operating on the understanding that letters making offers of employment are ‘effectively a contract’, and will be treated that way in practice. 
  • Staff who face a reduction in hours or no current teaching will be given the option to join a redeployment register and the College will actively seek to find suitable employment for them.
  • Continuity of service will continue to accrue as normal in this period. 
  • All staff who will be teaching online next term will be offered paid training.

What is still to be done

  • We need to monitor this agreement at School and Department level to ensure that it is being appropriately implemented. Members should contact UCU (ucu@bbk.ac.uk) or your department rep immediately if they believe practices in your school or department are not in keeping with this agreement.
  • We need to reach agreement on rates and hours of pay for Digital Transformation work, training, and online teaching. UCU’s position is that demands associated with online teaching mean that all staff who will be teaching in the upcoming academic year are undertaking additional work: on top of work equivalent to that of a normal term, staff will need to undertake training and ‘digital transformation’ work. This extra work must be adequately compensated. The work done in Summer to move modules online is also additional work. We are pushing this in negotiations but need members also to make this case strongly at School and Departmental level either by individually contacting the UCU committee or via their departmental UCU representative. 
  • The agreement is currently focused on the Autumn term, but we need to be putting in place measures to protect jobs for the entirety of the forthcoming academic year. 

 

Despite some members having received communications detailing how they will be paid for training, these issues are still subject to negotiation, as the College has acknowledged in negotiating meetings. UCU’s view is that members must be fully compensated for all work and training in keeping with current contractual arrangements and we are continuing to push forcefully for this. 

Strike Deduction Agreement

We have reached agreement with management over strike deductions for the 2020 strikes. The deductions will be limited to senior permanent staff - Senior Lecturer and above or corresponding grades for Professional and Support Staff (Grade 9, spine point 45). These staff will only have one third of their strike days deducted. This is a better outcome than we are aware of at any other branch, and a significant success for our members, as well as recognition of the work staff have undertaken during the current crisis. 

Branch Campaigning - TPP, Digital Transformation and Working Under Covid

The branch is aware that members have worked extremely hard over the last few months and that many are working under very difficult conditions. While the Covid crisis has an impact on all of us, we are also aware that it does not impact equally. While Birkbeck has taken some positive steps, there remain serious concerns in the Branch about the role-out of TPP and the ‘digital transformation’ of teaching and learning as well as the Health and Safety implications of remote working, the upward pressure on workloads, reduction in research time, and the effect of all of these issues on ourselves and our students. The Branch is beginning to enter negotiations with College over these issues, but we also want to involve members. 

 

Over the coming weeks we will be seeking to consult with all members through a branch survey and departmental meetings. We would like to call on members to get involved in figuring out ways to protect our working conditions and extend solidarity to each other during this period, so will be asking interested members to get involved in working groups, consider becoming departmental or school delegates and joining the committee. 

 

UCU Elections: Vice President and LGBT+ Rep 

Ballots to elect UCU’s Vice President (becoming President in 2023-24), and LGBT+ Rep opened on 28 July 2020. Many of you will have already received voting papers at your home address. If you haven’t received them by this Thursday, please request a replacement pack here. 

 UCU Consultative Ballot on the Four Fights

Last week, UCU announced the results of its consultative ballot on UCEA’s offer in our Four Fights dispute. Members voted to reject the offer by 61% to 39%, on a turnout of 30%. 

Birkbeck UCU members discussed the offer and the ballot in an online meeting on 23 July with Four Fights negotiator Robyn Orfitelli, who shared some background on the current offer and insights into the various stages of the negotiations.

UCU General Secretary Jo Grady has sent an email outlining the future of the Four Fights campaign in light of the consultative ballot, available here. You can read #CoronaContract articles on the Four Fights here. Grady has recommended an ‘aggregated ballot’, which if successful would lead to a mandate for strike action for all UCU members, rather than only specific branches that cross the threshold. Grady has also recommended careful consideration of timing and tactics for maximum impact, inclusive of non-teaching staff and post-92 universities.

Decisions on the future of the Four Fights campaign will be made at UCU’s Higher Education Sector Conference, to take place in the autumn (date TBD). Birkbeck UCU will be sending one delegate to this conference. We will be in touch in the coming weeks about a meeting with members for input and discussion on this important issue.

Solidarity with UCU SOAS

SOAS UCU is in dispute with management and facing massive job cuts. 

 

The UCU Solidarity Movement has called a day of action to coincide with the release of A Level results on 13 August and is asking UCU branches and regions to organise physically distanced protests at universities where members are under attack. In London, local branches will protest outside SOAS (WC1H 0XG) at 12.30pm.

 

At 2pm Fractionals for Fair Play will be launching a report and collective grievance on the treatment of fractional and casualised staff: https://www.facebook.com/events/237551113986872/

Jane McAlevey Event

As part of UCU’s ‘Fund the Future’ campaign, world famous trade union organiser Jane McAlevey will be running a series of workshops for UCU members on growing your branch, winning disputes and keeping workplaces safe. The first of these will take place on Wednesday 02 September, 7:00pm. More info will be available here.

New Committee

We would like to thank the outgoing committee members and negotiators for all the work and dedication that they have put into the branch. We would also like to welcome the incoming committee members (see a full list here)