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September Newsletter

Jobs Protection Scheme for T&S Staff

Survey – Workload and Teaching Preparation

The ‘New Normal’ and working at Birkbeck

Intellectual Property

Catering Staff Redundancies – Unison Campaign

UCU Organising Training Opportunity

Higher Education Sector Conference and National Disputes

Jobs Protection Scheme for T&S Staff

UCU, along with Unite and Unison, finalised a Job Protection Scheme (JPS) with Birkbeck management on Wednesday 26 August. Our work in this area has been driven by the concerns of our branch members around security of employment for our T&S colleagues at the College in light of the effect the Covid-19 pandemic has had on the Higher Education sector. The unions and management agreed on a principle of ‘no detriment’: that as far as possible staff hours, pay and terms of employment are no worse than in previous years.

 

We will be monitoring the implementation very closely. But overall the negotiating team think this is a very good example of a constructive process to reach an agreement that respects the needs of the institution and of staff in this difficult time. We appreciate the flexibility and willingness to compromise that the College has shown and will continue to communicate closely with the College in this difficult period.

 

Below, we provide our understanding of what the agreement means and what we believe colleagues should be looking out for in the time ahead. (You can view the full JPS agreement here). We would encourage affected T&S staff to also consult our full briefing here which we will keep updated with any new developments, concerns or information.

Basic Details of the Scheme

The scheme applies to all T&S staff who have lost some or all of their teaching for this year and who will be prioritised for employment and secondment at Birkbeck. This group of staff are divided into two groups.

 

  • Staff to whom the college has a contractual obligation.  If you have worked at Birkbeck for two consecutive years, teaching two terms per year, and are then contracted  to work in a third year, the college has a contractual obligation to you – whether you are on a fixed-term or open-ended contract. This group of staff have been placed in a redeployment pool.
  • Staff to whom the college doesn’t have a contractual obligation. If you’ve worked at Birkbeck for less  than two years on fixed-term contracts then the college has no formal  contractual obligation to you. However, if you have taught at Birkbeck in the past and have lost some or all of your teaching in 2020-2, the Job Protection Scheme means you will be added to a ‘bank’ of former staff whose contracts have now ended, who will be contacted by the College if similar work appears later in the academic year.

The JPS includes agreement that staff are paid for all training and for work involved in digital transformation, and as far as possible bases contracts and rates of pay on previous practice (More details available here). 

 

The JPS will be in force until January 2021, at which point it will be reviewed by the College and Birkbeck Unions. We would, therefore, welcome feedback from members about the scheme this Autumn. Please also let us know when and if you receive any communications about the allocation of work for the Spring and Summer terms.

Staff Who Were Not Employed in 2019-20

The JPS explicitly does not stop the College hiring new T&S staff, PhD students or staff who have worked in previous years where this is required. It cannot be used as a justification for freezing hiring nor can it be used to justify increasing the workloads of existing staff. What it does do is say that any new work opportunities are first made available to the two groups of staff listed above.

What Should I Look Out For?

Staff at all levels in Birkbeck have been dealing with a stressful and difficult situation, but this is especially the case for staff with precarious and casualised contracts. If you are confused about anything to do with the JPS, or other pay and contractual issues in relation to T&S staff, or feel that policies are not being properly applied to you please contact your union rep or the T&S Officers Eleni Liarou (e.liarou@bbk.ac.uk) and Robert Stearn (rstear01@mail.bbk.ac.uk). We have already assisted a number of T&S staff.

 

Payment for ad-hoc teaching work

We know that some T&S staff have received offers of ad-hoc teaching work. If the work involves live contact hours it should be paid at the multiplier (2.0x or 2.5x if marking is involved). If not it will most likely be paid at the plain rate. There may be cases where the type or work or rate of payment is not clear. If you require guidance on payment please contact UCU (ucu@bbk.ac.uk) or the T&S Officers.

Training

All staff who are responsible for ‘digitally transforming’ a module should be offered a paid place on the full TPP training course. All other T&S Staff teaching in the Autumn should be offered condensed training (3 hours). If you think that the training you received is not enough, or inadequate for the kind and/or amount of work you have been given, please

get in touch with a union rep or UCU T&S officer.

 

Core Hours and Variations

Staff who are on open-ended contracts should continue to be offered their core hours, within the usual practice of the variation in hours policy. The major new development is that digital transformation work prior to teaching may be taken into consideration when calculating your core hours. If you are concerned about protection of your core hours please contact the union.

Offers of work and Issuing of Contracts

There have been delays and technical issues around the issuing of contracts for the coming year. Birkbeck UCU has been strongly advocating for the finalisation of contracts as soon as possible. However, the College has reassured staff that offers of work made will be honoured and treated as ‘effectively a contract’. If you are concerned about a prior offer of work please contact the union.

 

All members of T&S staff who taught at Birkbeck last year should hear from their Department, with an offer of work or the opportunity to be placed in the ‘redeployment pool’ or ‘bank’ of former staff. If you taught at Birkbeck last year but have not been contacted by your Department, please get in touch with Birkbeck UCU.

 

Survey - Workload and Teaching Preparation

The Birkbeck UCU survey on workload and teaching preparation is live until September 30. The survey is particularly focused on staff involved in teaching.

Filling in the survey should take 20 minutes, roughly, and you can fill it in here.  

Once again, the survey is open to non-union members so please share. We have already received a large number of responses and the more we get the better we will do in negotiations.

 

The results of the survey to date have included responses about the conditions staff in relation to equipment, space and particularly widespread concerns about long-term effects on mental and physical health. A large number of staff discuss added strains of caring and family commitments, increased workloads, as well as a lack of communication and consultation on the part of the College (particularly in relation to plans around teaching for the coming year).

 

The committee has been contacted by several members who feel that it did not adequately reflect the needs of non-teaching staff, particularly Professional and Support staff. We apologise for this. We are keen to hear from all staff regarding workload and working during the current crisis. We recognise that these issues are manifesting differently for different groups of staff and are working with the other unions to develop a joint negotiating position around this. So please contact UCU (ucu@bbk.ac.uk) in relation to any issues around workload, home-working or working during the crisis that aren’t addressed in the survey or use the final question to voice your concerns.

 

The ‘New Normal’ at Birkbeck – Member Concerns

The Unions have also opened discussions with the College about the medium and long-term changes to working conditions at Birkbeck and are keen to hear from members about their concerns or suggestions. We are aware that these impacts will be different for staff in different roles, at different grades and levels and that they are likely to be unevenly distributed in terms of equalities issues. To date, the unions have raised health and safety implications and equipment needs associated with long-term home-working, needs of carers, the need for staff, particularly in Professional and Support roles, to have clarity around time-frames for going back to work and expectations about the longevity of home-working. There are also issues raised if the workforce becomes split between those who work from home and those whose roles require them to come into the College on a more regular basis. The move of many College activities (including but not only teaching) online in the short, medium and long-term also raises many issues. While some of these issues will be addressed in the survey, we are also looking for longer-term concerns. We will be seeking to consult more widely about this in the coming weeks but please feel free to email ucu@bbk.ac.uk if there are issues we should be aware of, issues you would like raised or suggestions that you have around the future of work at Birkbeck.

 

Intellectual Property Agreement

The trade unions and Birkbeck have begun discussions around updating Birkbeck’s intellectual property policy, which we know is a concern for many staff. The College and Unions have agreed to seek a consensus agreement around intellectual property generally, acknowledging that online teaching materials are a particularly sensitive area. UCU is seeking an agreement that protects the rights and interests of staff. Both the unions and management are keen for this updated policy to be agreed and in place for the start of term. If you have particular concerns or issues that you would like to see addressed please contact UCU.

Catering Staff Redundancies

Sodexo (who run catering for Birkbeck) have informed catering staff that it is planning to make half of them redundant. Birkbeck catering staff were supposed to be brought in-house but these plans have been delayed by the pandemic. Unison have expressed their anger and disappointment that Sodexo is initiating compulsory redundancies against staff at Birkbeck in the current period. UCU members are encouraged to follow the campaign here:

 

https://bbkjustice4workers.wordpress.com/2020/09/03/sodexo-threatens-sweeping-redundancies-at-birkbeck/

 

Organising Training - UCU National

As part of the ‘Fund the Future’ campaign, UCU national office is offering organising training to members and branches with trade union organiser Jane McAlevey starts September 24. A taster is available to watch here. Branches are encouraged to send groups of staff together and members of the Birkbeck UCU Committee will be attending. Any members who are interested in attending should email Tanya Serisier, Branch President (t.serisier@bbk.ac.uk) by 4pm on Friday 11th September so that we can ensure that you are registered alongside other Birkbeck members.

Higher Education Sector Conference - National Disputes

After members voted to reject Employer offers in the 2019/20 pay negotiations (‘Four Fights’) there will be a Higher Education Special Sector Conference held virtually on the 30th September. Birkbeck UCU will be sending out more details in the coming weeks but it is our understanding that the aim of this conference is to reflect on the previous round of industrial action, the outcomes and strategies for ways forward around the urgent issues (pay, workload, pay equality, precarious work and pensions) that were at issue in the previous year. We will be sending more details to members in the coming weeks.