Disappointing result for carers

Some of you may be aware that for the past 2 years the Disability and Carers staff network group have put in a great deal of work towards creating a policy to help support staff with caring responsibilities. The policy put forward by the network group was put together after consultation with the university Equality and Diversity department and staff in the network group on what would help them stay in work whilst also fulfilling their caring duties as well as looking at best practices from other organisations. After many conversations with HR about the policy it is with great disappointment that I have to report that the University will be publishing a policy that is very watered down compared to that proposed by the network group.

A key recommendation that was removed was giving carers an additional 5 days paid leave in order that they may carry out some of their caring responsibilities without having to take annual leave or a pay cut. Senior management said that the University is not in a position to agree anything that might cost resources despite having no evidence that this additional, optional, provision would cost any money or productivity at all.

The suggestions put forward would have been reasonable adjustments that wouldn’t have cost much, if anything, and would have made life a lot easier for some of our staff. Whilst I agree having something is better than nothing, the policy put forward by HR does very little to actually help carers any more than any other member of staff would be entitled to anyway. It is very disheartening to see senior management disregarding recommendations from their staff, although perhaps not surprising in light of the recent staff survey results.

 

Emily Brooks

Equality and Diversity co-ordinator

Work-related stress? Come along to our lunchtime meeting this week

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We’re pleased to announce that we have arranged for Bob Woods, from Workstress, the national work -stress network, to speak to UNISON members.

Bob will talk about how and why people feel stressed and what we as trade-unionists can do about it.

He’ll be here on Thursday 19th April, Room 117, Mithras House from 12pm to 2pm.

All UNISON members are invited for 12pm for a free light lunch and Bob will start at 12.30pm.

Feel free to drop in for some or all of Bob’s presentation and question & answer session.

 

We’re still campaigning for the University to run a proper survey on work-related stress, or we’ll do our own. More details to follow…

Inspirational Leadership?

Many people will be aware that the Vice Chancellor has been shortlisted for the Guardian’s Higher Education Inspiring Leader Award, due to be announced on 24th April.

Whilst we recognise that there has been change and a new direction of leadership since Debra’s arrival a few years ago, we think you’d struggle to find many workers or students at the University who would regard the architect of those changes as inspirational.

We’ve seen the closure of Hastings campus, resulting in the avoidable destruction of jobs, livelihoods and real educational opportunities for the town. For the first time ever, the University offered voluntary severance to members of staff whilst simultaneously trying to force compulsory redundancy on selected people. Reorganisations have taken place, which may have made improvements, but stress levels have risen and some people have been made visibly ill as a result of having no clear direction, management or reasonable accommodation in which to work.

Our attempts to get the University to carry out a stress survey have been documented elsewhere, but we’re not convinced that a failure to identity and deal with workplace stress is the actions of an inspirational leadership.

In short, the VC has taken steps to turn the University of Brighton into a higher education business with an emphasis on the paying student-customer always being right and the culture of Brighton – being prepared to be a bit different, forgotten, because we need to do what other universities are doing, because someone senior says so.

Whilst we don’t accept that league tables have anything to do with educational quality, by the standards set by the government, it’s fair to say that the University has not exactly improved.

If transforming the public service of higher education into degree-factories, openly competing with each other is the goal, then the VC has partially achieved the first steps, but for many people working here, this transformation is not inspired. It is the worst thing that could happen to a public service, as we’ve seen with NHS privatisation and outsourcing, linked to an obsession with big business being the solution to all our problems.

To be fair, it is true that Debra has made a real effort to promote the ideas of equality and diversity across the University and many people at Brighton are, quite correctly, pleased about that. However, genuine equality for all, means committing resources to making life easier for those with long-term illnesses, disabilities or caring responsibilities and we’re constantly being told that whilst the University will be sympathetic, when it comes to finances, there is nothing available to make life easier and consequently address inequality properly.

The VC has taken steps to address environmental issues, but as we’ve pointed out before, successive People and Planet Awards have shown the University to be hopelessly lacking in workers’ rights, scoring a derisory 10%, in part, as a result of the outright refusal to consider becoming a Living Wage Employer. In fact many lower grade staff, mostly women, have dropped below the real living wage of £8.75/hour.

So, we think that for the VC to be a truly inspirational leader, we’d like to see genuine change at the University. As a start…

  • Reducing the 37 hour working week
  • Equalising the annual leave – 35 days pro rata for all staff
  • Transferring casual staff (academic and support) to permanent jobs
  • Restoring Winter Holiday celebrations
  • Making moves to implement genuinely gold standard equalities policies
  • Introducing realistic wage restraint at the top to fund living wages at the bottom and becoming a Living Wage Employer

A happier, less stressed and valued workforce would undoubtably see a Vice Chancellor which committed to those things as inspirational.

International Women’s Day

It’s absolutely fantastic to see the University is celebrating International Women’s Day with their Women of Impact page, such incredible work by so many academic colleagues, and doubtless countless more not on the page!

What isn’t so great is the lack of even a nod in the direction of our amazing female support staff here at the University of Brighton. The women, without whom, the University of Brighton would cease to function.

I believe that we are ALL women of impact, no matter how ‘big’ or ‘small’ that impact is. Every morning when I come in to work, I say hello and have a little chat with our cleaners who are always so kind and happy that they get me off to a good start to the day. Every lunch time I share a joke with catering staff about my indecision on what to buy, and the inevitable choice of chips with beans in the end. Whenever I need help, caretaking, admin and technical colleagues are always there ready to assist and with a smile on their face. All of these amazing staff regularly impact my time here at the University of Brighton in a positive way.

So I am writing on behalf of UNISON to say a huge THANK YOU to ALL of our women of impact, and that is each and every one of you.

 

Emily Brooks

Equality and Diversity Coordinator

UNISON

UNISON Supports the Abolition of Tuition Fees and Fully-funded Free Education

Tuition fees review ‘needs to support wider access’

UNISON calls for the abolition of fees and free higher education in response to Theresa May’s review

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“Any change in tuition fees needs to support wider access for students that need flexibility in study options,” UNISON head of higher education Donna Rowe-Merriman said today.

She was speaking after prime minister Theresa May admitted that students in England face “one of the most expensive systems of university tuition in the world”, and announced an “independent review of fees and student finance” to take place over the next year.

Tuition fees in England currently stand at £9,250 a year, which leaves student nurses, for instance, qualifying with a debt of more than £50,000.

“UNISON remains committed to a free education system funded by general taxation and is keen to contribute to any examination of fairer ways of resourcing post-16 education,” said Ms Rowe-Merriman.

She also said students and staff needed to be involved in the review, to make sure that “a radical overhaul of a broken system takes place.”

“Students take on the burden of debt whilst business does little to contribute to ensuring it gets a highly skilled workforce,” she added. “This needs to change as a matter of urgency.”

She pointed out that a well educated workforce benefits the economy and society as a whole, not just individual graduates.

Public sector workers including nurses, teachers, doctors, social workers and many more, are all educated at universities around the UK.

Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS)

We’ll only have a handful of members who are members of the USS, but if you are, this is important:

Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) At a meeting of the USS JNC yesterday, 23 January, Universities UK, on behalf of the university employers proposed changes to the scheme that would move all future accrual from April 2019 to a defined contribution scheme. With the support of the Independent Chair, these changes were agreed. The changes are in response to the increased in the deficit in the USS and are likely to result in a severe reduction in future benefits for all members of the scheme. Employers Proposals    From 1 April 2019 (at the earliest):

  • The salary threshold (the salary up to which defined benefits currently build up) will reduce to zero, subject to review at future valuations;
  • Future benefits will be built up in the USS Investment Builder (the defined contribution part of the scheme);
  • The employer contribution will cover the cost of future benefits in the USS Investment Builder, death and incapacity benefits, investment management charges, deficit recovery contributions, and scheme running costs;
  • Members will contribute 8% of pay, but will have access to a lower cost option of contributing 4% while still receiving the full employer contribution into USS Investment Builder;
  • The ‘match’ – the additional 1% employer contribution currently available – will be discontinued from the date at which the changes take effect.

What this means for members of the scheme Benefits already earned by both active and deferred members are protected by law and in the scheme rules. Benefits already being paid to retired members are not affected by these changes. This means that benefits in the scheme earned up till April 2019 will not be affected. From April 2019 the scheme will become a defined contribution (DC) scheme only. This means that instead of having a guaranteed income on retirement, the pension that members receive will be based on a annuity that will be dependent on the investment performance of the scheme and the annuity rates payable at the time of retirement. Effectively this transfers risk to individual members of the scheme from the employers. Whilst combined employer and employee contributions will remain at their current level (18% for employers, 8% for employees), DC schemes normally result in lower pensions for members. It is likely that these changes will impact most on the youngest and lower paid members of the scheme who can least afford a reduced pension. Scheme Consultation Arrangements USS are required to run a statutory consultation on the changes to the scheme. This consultation will take place later this year. The university as the employer in the scheme will organise the consultation in each individual institution that participates in the scheme. Employers are encouraged to hold meetings with all members of the scheme and all recognised unions, including UNISON. The employer is required to:

  • Provide written information to all affected employees details of the proposed changes
  • Undertake a consultation with affected employees and their representatives
  • Provide a report to the USS trustees of the views expressed by the trade unions and members, including oral responses received at consultation meetings

UNISON response  UNISON is extremely disappointed at the outcome of these negotiations. We believe that it should have been possible to negotiate a settlement that protected a significant element of the Defined Benefit Scheme. We believe that the changes proposed by the employers are unnecessarily severe and will result in significant detriment to scheme members. We will continue to campaign for these proposals to be reversed and call on all parties to re-enter negotiations. However, UNISON has not been party to the negotiations as UCU have sole negotiating rights in the scheme and were not consulted by UCU over any counter proposals. As you may be aware, UCU have already balloted members over the proposed changes and have announced their intention to take strike action in at least 61 HE institutions that offer USS to staff. It is likely that further details on the dates for industrial action will be announced shortly. The UNISON Higher Education Service Group have agreed to consult UNISON members who are members of the USS about balloting for industrial action to oppose these changes. We will write again shortly with further details on the consultation. It is very important that branches identify all members that are part of the scheme and update the RMS/WARMS to ensure that they are able to participate in any ballot for industrial action. If you have any questions concerning the USS or require further information, please contact Ben Thomas b.thomas@unison.co.uk
 

Are you a member of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS)?

This isn’t the most exciting post, I appreciate, but if you are a USS member, we need to know about it…

The higher education employers represented by Universities UK (UUK) have proposed significant changes to the USS pension scheme. USS is the pension scheme predominantly for academic and related staff in pre-1992 institutions. The University and College Union (UCU) has sole negotiation rights for members of the scheme. However, some UNISON branches will have members in the scheme because some members of staff at the University will have transferred here from other universities where USS is common and retained their USS membership.

USS is currently a hybrid pension scheme, with defined benefits for earnings up to £55,000 with defined contribution benefits above this threshold. Universities UK (UUK) has tabled a proposal to change the benefits of the scheme from September 2018 so that the scheme becomes a defined contribution scheme only for all USS members. Defined contribution schemes are usually significantly worse than defined benefit schemes. Under these proposals, all past service in the defined benefit section of the scheme would be protected. However, UNISON believes that these proposed changes are unnecessary and represent a significant and damaging cut to member’s benefits.

Meetings between UCU, USS and the employers are continuing.

UNISON and other support staff unions have argued that because we have members in the scheme we should be fully involved in these negotiations but this has previously been rejected by both the employers and UCU. Nonetheless, to ensure our members’ interests are put forward we will continue to work closely with UCU on changes to the scheme and submit details of our negotiating priorities for them to take forward.

USS is the largest pension scheme in the higher education sector and there is a clear danger that if the USS implements these detrimental changes, this will impact on other pension schemes in the sector.

As you may be aware, UCU is currently balloting its members on taking industrial action in pre 1992 universities concerning these changes. This ballot opened 28 November 2017 and is due to close on 19 January 2018 with an expectation that any action will commence mid-February.

UNISON met with UUK recently to express our concerns at the proposals and warn that unless they are improved that we also may take action.

UNISON’s Higher Education Service Group Executive is trying to ascertain the exact details of the negotiations and will be discussing the issue at their next meeting on 10 January 2018 to decide what course of action UNISON will be taking in response to the proposals. This will include the potential for industrial action.

If you are a member of USS, please let us know as soon as possible so that we can keep you informed of what is happening.