As is tradition with our last ‘Flash of the calendar year, your Newsflash team reviews a bumper 2018 Newsflash crop, a year in University of Bristol UCU and UCU history that no one will forget: ‘we ARE the University and we will make change happen’.
2018 started with a bang: ‘Vote Yes, Vote Now – Your Pension Under Attack’. Bristol UCU asked members to ‘VOTE YES to strike action. VOTE YES to action short of a strike’ in the USS industrial action ballot. Protecting our USS pension dominated the agenda of our first General Meeting of the year. Bristol UCU sent an open letter to the VC, signed by staff across the University, challenging the University’s hawkish USS stance. Words such as Otsuka, Test 1 and bogus deficit entered the campus lexicon.
We were also representing Wardens, Deputy Wardens and Senior Residents in the Residential Life Service Restructuring, protesting ‘[t]he new and untested model…devised without reference to actual incident data from within the residences’. And as the year began, Bristol UCU began to formulate its Gender Pay Gap (16.2%) Claim.
On 22nd January, ‘University staff overwhelmingly back strike action in USS pensions row’. Bristol UCU members turned out to vote in their hundreds, and voted to back strike action. 90.5% of members who voted said yes, they were prepared to take industrial action consisting of strike action.
In February, #wearetheUniversity kicked off with our first strike day on Thursday, 22nd February. We also voted to set up our Local Hardship Fund. A whole host of strike days, picket line events, teach outs and occupations took place over February and March, issuing in a new spirit of campus collegiality and togetherness. Branch membership at Bristol soared. By 15th March, University management and UCU called on both sides to return to the negotiation table – the return of Defined Benefits! – and on 19th March, in a message entitled ‘Back to Work, but Not As We Know it – Message from Your Branch President’, Tracey Hooper called on members to keep the pressure up and work to contract.
In April, ‘[w]orrying news was brought to UCU Branch Reps attention last week regarding the complete overlap of Teaching Block 2 with school holidays at Easter next year’. We argued ‘these unpopular, highly detrimental changes have not been sufficiently discussed or deliberated on amongst those that they affect the most, University of Bristol staff’.The strength of feeling was such ‘the Branch is so adamant that we are prepared to enter a dispute, if suitable mitigation is not forthcoming’. Changes were reversed.
By May, as regards USS, it was clear that ‘defined contribution is off the table! The main reason we took strike action is no longer UUK policy. The proposal to turn USS into a 100% DC scheme has been formally rescinded’. ‘UCU and UUK thrashed out the details of the Joint Expert Panel’.
On Monday 11th June, Bristol UCU hosted #wearetheUniversity, a half-day conference celebrating UCU’s ‘turnaround’ year, our great UK-wide USS campaign and Bristol UCU’s strike action and local initiatives, for example, our Gender Pay Gap claim. In that month, we also had confirmation that strike pay deducted on 1/260 would be recalculated and reimbursements made on a 1/360 basis.
June also saw the circulation of our much referenced ‘Workload Principles for a Common Approach’.
July started with news that UCU HE members had voted to reject the employers’ final below inflation and employers’ inaction regarding gender pay and casual contracts’ in our UCU consultative e-ballot, and branch reps had met with University management to discuss our Gender Pay Gap Claim. UCU, along with other trade unions, submitted our Staff Voice report which noted our belief that ‘Bristol University… become a place where staff feel they are heard and listened to and have real input into decisions made; where they have control over their own work and can choose to stop work in order to have a good work/life balance; a place where staff can have open-ended, year-round contracts, contracts which pay fairly for all the work done and which recognises the experience all staff bring through long-service; a university which recognises and celebrates the differences in our staff and one which works tirelessly to remove any barriers in their way’.
Newsflash took its traditional August break, returning on 12th September with USS news that ‘UCU and USS members await the publication of the Joint Evaluation Panel (JEP) report at the end of September’.
By October, both the University and UCU agreed a Joint Statement of Intent regarding the Gender Pay Gap, and we were deep into our Pay & Equality Ballot Get The Vote Out campaign.
Also in October, ‘hot on the heels of our Gender Pay Claim, the Anti-Casualisation Claim asks the University of Bristol to enter into consequential negotiations with Bristol UCU in order to address “the employment of staff on precarious, insecure terms and conditions…one of the modern scourges of HE”’.
‘At the University of Bristol, according to the latest HESA data, 45.9% of all academic staff are on insecure contracts. 53.2% of all teaching staff are on insecure contracts, putting Bristol 42 out of 164 HEIs on UCU’s insecurity ranking’
Bristol UCU also ‘invited members to contribute to a branch members’ survey on the current University Staff Mental Health and Wellbeing Strategy consultation’. This revealed ‘mental health is not just about moments of crisis or about changing behaviours – it stems from actual working conditions, too’.
One member wrote ‘the strategy is OK as far as it goes, but seems to ignore the underlying causes of stress and anxiety. I believe a comprehensive change in working and management culture is needed’
In November, we announced ‘on 1st November, the University of Bristol effectively stops paying women for the rest of the year, as a consequence of the 16.2% gender pay gap’. ‘To mark this day’, UCU hosted ‘an evening of poetry and ideas, in celebration of women in our community’.
Also in November, ‘Bristol UCU is proud to present Humans. Not Resources, the launch event for the campaign in support of Bristol UCU’s current Anti-Casualisation Claim’, and UCU announced it will ‘re-balloting members at Bristol and other universities for strike and industrial action on our current 2018/19 pay and equality claim. This will happen no later than March 2019’.
In December, in last week’s ‘Flash the agenda was set for 2019: ‘UCU’s 2019 kicks off with a brand new industrial action ballot on pay, casualisation, workload and the gender pay gap’.
Please look out for your paper ballot form, which will arrive in the post to the address you have registered with UCU. The ballot opens on Monday, 14 January and closes Friday, 22 February.
Your Newsflash Team wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
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