March 1, 2017 § Leave a comment
The following statement of solidarity was recently adopted by the University of Birmingham Disability & Mental Health Student Association (DAMSA), in support of teaching staff at the University of Birmingham:
We, the committee of DAMSA, as representatives of all disabled undergraduate, postgraduate and graduate teaching assistants at this university, would like to extend our full solidarity and support to all teaching staff at the university and UCU (University College Union) members currently being victimised under the university’s draconian disciplinary measures which, to our understanding, fly in the face of their right to feel safe, supported and not to be bullied and targeted in their workplace.
We have had reports from the UCU of staff being harassed, bullied and threatened with redundancy for the most minor of transgressions in their workplace. Situations which would, ordinarily, have been resolved by their line managers or colleagues are being taken up to the highest level and disciplinary procedures meant only for the most serious misconduct (stealing, cheating, harassment etc.) are being enacted for much lesser charges. This behaviour is not acceptable from any employer, not least a university – a place in which, one would hope, an environment of constructive critique and learning would be in place.
More worrying, however, is the way in which feedback from students is being dealt with by the university management. It is, of course, important that students and teaching staff are able to take part in a constructive dialogue around the course, marks and the methods of teaching. However, feedback is not being taken in good faith and there have been instances where student feedback is being used against staff at disciplinary hearings and used to justify redundancies and cuts to the department. Students are not aware that their feedback is being used in this way and DAMSA are appalled to hear that feedback that is meant to be used constructively is instead being used as a way to victimise their lecturers. We will not stand for it. No worker deserves to be victimised in their workplace; an injury to one worker is an injury to us all!
We urge students, then, not to participate in any of the university’s formal feedback processes as we know that this is being used in totally inappropriate ways for which it was not designed. If you must feedback to lecturers we urge you to do so directly and informally in order to subvert the system and to ensure job security for all staff. We must humanise our lecturers and understand that this is their livelihood and they are not merely here to facilitate our careers or advancement but to educate and challenge us whilst earning their own living as we are wont to do, too.
We urge all students and Guild officers to speak out against this injustice and to stand in solidarity with the very people who hold our institution together.
February 13, 2017 § Leave a comment
Email to UCU members at University of Birmingham (10.02.2017)
Further to the breakdown of the negotiations on performance management we have to report that the University has implemented an extremely heavy handed approach to disciplinary proceedings recently.
More than half of our case work is now concerned with members of staff who feel bullied and harassed. This suggests that now that the University has not achieved ‘the desired effects’ with their reorganisational approach of suggesting compulsory redundancies our VC has returned to using performance management and disciplinary proceedings and it is now that we start to understand the real purpose of his new HR department “Performance transformation and Change”.
The University has shown no intention to change their performance management system nor have they taken any of our serious concerns about the way disciplinary proceedings are carried out into account. What these practices have in common is that they are accompanied by threats of dismissal, one of the biggest stress factors that anyone can experience in their work environment.
We are reviewing the recent disciplinary proceedings against staff at present and, so far, regard all of them as unjustified and flawed.
Informal resolution of issues is simply not happening at our University anymore. Line managers who would be willing to resolve matters informally are circumvented and line managers who have signed up for the heavy handed approach inform staff straight away, and concomitantly to raising issues for the first time, that informal resolutions are impossible and disciplinary procedures will be instigated even in cases where informal resolutions would be easy and the obvious choice.
Minor concerns about any aspect of our work, be it teaching, research, or conduct, raised by students, colleagues, or even unidentified and obscure sources from outside the University can lead to disciplinary action against you straight away.
We have also noted that the University has decided in several cases to activate part V of the disciplinary procedure straight away – a procedure that should be a last resort and should be reserved for very serious cases, including theft, fraud, physical violence, serious negligence, serious breach of trust and confidence, or serious bullying or harassment. This can lead straight to dismissal of the member of staff.
Concerns raised by students, even if just a small proportion of the whole class size, that a module is not well organised, something many of us have seen at some point in module evaluation questionnaires (hardly any module pleases 100% of the students), can now lead to becoming subject to disciplinary proceedings against you with the threat of immediate dismissal. This also raises the issue that we do not believe that the students are actually aware how their feedback can be detrimental to staff and we have contacted the guild to discuss the possible impact of the University’s actions.
We have collected evidence for the far reaching health implications for staff and have made the University aware repeatedly that the way they pursue disciplinary proceedings and the way they treat staff causes ill-health. It has become clear over the last few months that it can hit every member of staff at any time. Some of our colleagues are going through the most difficult time of their whole careers and some are already breaking down under the pressure the University puts on them.
Last year, when we were fighting against compulsory redundancies the branch stood firm and united. With this e-mail we are calling on each and every BUCU member to demonstrate collegial loyalty and stand in solidarity with our colleagues who are exposed to unfair managerial practices and stand against health and job threatening actions by the University.
We will discuss these issues in our next members meeting on Wednesday 15th February and we will have to decide whether to hold an indicative ballot for industrial action during this meeting. Please make every effort to attend. This will be a branch meeting of highest importance.
President, Birmingham UCU
January 18, 2017 § Leave a comment
Staff and students joined together at Birmingham University today, to stage a protest against moves by the University to increase workload by two extra months.
Holding mock calendars featuring the two new months – which they labelled “Drainuary” and “Stresstember” – the protestors highlighted the far-fetched nature of the University’s new workload model in their demonstration.
The protest comes after the University management moved to introduce a new workload model which increases the existing workload by up to two months’ additional work. This, the lecturers’ union UCU claimed, represented an entirely unrealistic attempt to squeeze yet more work out of academic and academic-related staff.
University of Birmingham UCU branch president, Dr Roland Brandstaetter, said, “It appears that the University of Birmingham is reluctant to appoint a sufficient number of staff, despite multi-million surpluses every year, and intends to make up for a shortfall in staff by increasing the workload of the existing staff. Those who work at the University of Birmingham already frequently work above the 48 hour European recommended limit and suffer from the symptoms of stress. The already excessive workloads provide insufficient time to conduct proper teaching and research and this impacts on the wellbeing and work-life balance of staff in an unacceptable way. The quality of the education provided to students is suffering too when lecturers are overworked and stressed. Our student-staff ratios, i.e. the number of students per member of staff, are already among the worst in the Russell Group Universities.”
The University of Birmingham has recently been in the crossfire for being one of the Universities with the most “zero hour”-type contracts in the country and also one of the highest numbers of settlement payments. This suggests endeavours to reduce permanent staff numbers, and at the same time to increase the workload of remaining staff and staff on casualised and zero-hour contracts, all of which will negatively impact on the delivery of education to students who still pay £9000 per year and contribute to more than 50% of the overall income of the University.
University of Birmingham UCU branch secretary, Dr David Bailey, said, “If the University of Birmingham wishes to be a world-leading university, then it needs to improve its employment practices, recruit sufficient staff and allow them the proper amount of time to do their work. We are already one of the universities with the most “zero hour”-type contracts in the country, and now the University wants to conjure up two new months to create a fictional 14 month calendar.”
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January 11, 2017 § Leave a comment
This branch rejects any claim that we must, even ‘for the timebeing’, accept the new Workload Allocation Model (WAM) that has been imposed upon us without negotiation or agreement with staff or their representatives at the University of Birmingham. This relates particularly to recent changes to the WAM in the Birmingham Business School.
The University of Birmingham imposing significant changes to staff workloads without the agreement of the recognised trade union are sufficient grounds for rejecting the new WAM, and to do otherwise risks accepting these new conditions as established working practice. We therefore reject the imposition of 1760 working hours annually and a 40 hour working week and any WAM based on these figures and affirm the sector standard of 1650 hours as set by HEFCE/Research Councils UK (37.5 hours).
This branch insists that the University of Birmingham must reverse all measures associated with the newly imposed WAM, with immediate effect, on the grounds that failure to do so would amount to a unilateral change to the terms and conditions of employment for all academic and academic-related staff at the University of Birmingham.
We note that despite the explicit and written objections of the recognised trade union, UCU, rejecting the proposed changes, the University of Birmingham management have refused to revert to the prior terms and conditions. This branch therefore resolves to move towards a formal dispute unless the University of Birmingham confirm that they are taking steps to fully revert to previous terms and conditions, and that they are prepared to negotiate openly and transparently on any future substantive changes to workloads or contracts.
Furthermore, we note that the move to annual calculations based on 1760 hours also affects the hourly rate of casualised staff, including for example those delivering classes and marking assignments. We therefore insist that any changes to the WAM for permanent staff leads to a recalculation of the hourly rate based on 1650 hours and a corresponding pay increase for those staff.
As a branch, we therefore resolve to do the following:
- To initiate a public information campaign setting out the terms of the dispute, to staff, students and the wider public;
- To declare an official dispute with the University of Birmingham, as soon as possible, and as set out in the procedure agreement;
- To keep BUCU members regularly updated, in writing, on the progress of the dispute;
- To stage a series of public demonstrations, timed to maximise impact upon the University, most obviously through the targeting of open days, applicant visitor days, graduation ceremonies, and the exam period.
- If necessary, to proceed towards industrial action through an indicative ballot, a formal ballot, and strike days timed to maximise impact upon the University, most obviously through the targeting of open days, applicant visitor days, graduation ceremonies, and the exam period.
Adopted 11 January 2017
January 10, 2017 § 1 Comment
BUCU statement on the extent of casualisation at the University of Birmingham
On Thursday 17th November, the University of Birmingham officially responded to a flurry of press articles – (and one article in particular) accusing universities of making extensive and excessive use of precarious – otherwise known as ‘casualised’ – labour for the purposes of teaching in higher education.
The statement – (which you can find here) – transparently outlines the management’s position on the evidence that the University of Birmingham is the Russell Group university with the largest extent of casualisation amongst its teaching workforce.
The research reported by the Guardian found that the proportion of teaching and teaching-and-research staff on temporary or ‘atypical’ contracts at the University of Birmingham is 70.3%. In its reply, the University argued the contrary: that “only a small fraction of teaching (about 7%)” is done by members of staff employed through these contracts “because most of them are engaged for a small fraction of a full-time equivalent post”.
Later in the statement, the University proceeded to argue that this work is primarily carried out by two categories of staff that we often encounter in our casework – (1) “expert visiting lecturers, from commerce, industry and the professions” and (2) research students teaching whilst doing their research degrees. In a separate intramural response to the article, the University added that research students make up 56% of teachers on ‘atypical contracts’. How does the University of Birmingham justify this?
In the case of research students, the University believes that the use of casual contracts is justified by the fact that the work provides “valuable experience in teaching for research students who aspire to be academics… and it provides financial support for students”. If managers surveyed the issues on the ground, they would know that research students are concerned by the fact that the University grossly misrecognises the extent to which they rely on this work to fund their studies and career progression.
BUCU believes that the University of Birmingham does not act as a good employer by relying on such contracts for such a high proportion of teaching, and also believes that this directly undermines the quality of teaching – a benchmark which has so far been sustained only by the extraordinary efforts of our existing members and colleagues.
Equally derogatory in the response by the University is the conjecture that work conducted towards what it admits is “specialist teaching” is not the main source of income for most expert professionals, “but rather provides an opportunity to share their expertise and professional experience with our students”. Even though these professionals do the same work as everyone else, share offices and classrooms with us, and are excellent educators, the University regards their work as less important. To be more precise, the University judges the importance of specialist teachers’ work as contingent on the experience that they imbue students with, whilst denying them fair pay for their skills because they are not home grown, have not worked in academia, or do not have PhDs. This, too, must stop.
BUCU therefore demands that the University immediately stop using ‘experience’ as an excuse to undermine the needs and demands of casualised staff – who are more than articulate enough to communicate to managers when and what additional support is needed, as work is done for money, and work that does not pay is simply exploitative and unfair.
The University cannot expect staff to remain silent about the fact that their employer is taking lightly its duty of care and its responsibilities towards the employees that it depends on in order to function. In response, BUCU is acting to stamp out casual contracts at the University of Birmingham, and will continue to do so until the University ceases to judge staff on the basis of their official hourly contribution to teaching at this institution as a proportion of FTE. This is because the extent of casualisation – and therefore the true quality of higher education – cannot be assessed only by the official number of hours worked by members of staff on casual contracts, but rather also by considering the sheer amount of unpaid work that has kept the quality of education from collapsing due to poor management responses to government pressure and reforms.
For example, a ‘Teaching Diaries Survey’ organised by Warwick Anti-casualisation (the University of Warwick is second for casualisation in the Russell Group) showed that 23% of respondents reporting working without a written contract. Furthermore, considering the full range of responsibilities of hourly-paid tutors, these front-line members of staff worked an average of 2.6 unpaid hours per week. Of these hours, an average 1.5h per week were spent on unpaid admin and emailing, and an average of 1.7h per week on preparation. Additionally, even when considering unpaid hours, 24% of these front-line teachers received an actual wage below the National Living Wage of £7.20 per hour, whilst 32% live below the Living Wage of £8.20 per hour. (You can find the full results of their survey here: https://warwickanticasualisation.wordpress.com/teachingdiariessurvey/).
The example of casualised staff at Warwick – with whom we stand in solidarity – demonstrates that there is something deeply wrong with higher education. In the case of Birmingham, there is a huge gap between management’s figure of 7% and the press and union figure of 70%. This gap is due to a direct exploitation of necessary academic labour-time that employees are willing to do but that employers are unwilling to pay for. Or as UCU put it:
“Full-Time Equivalence is a very bad way of looking at people with part-time contracts. People employed on very small ‘FTE’ contracts simply disappear within aggregations of Full-Time Equivalence. All the Universities are showing is that there are a lot of people on small contracts.
But more seriously, it’s also deeply misleading to try to measure the work done by thousands of hourly paid lecturers by calculating their FTE as though they were full-time lecturers. Hourly paid teachers are contracted for a small number of teaching hours and their FTE will always look small. Full-time lecturers are contracted to teach, administer and research. One or two hourly-paid lecturers may do the same amount of teaching in a week as a full-time lecturer but their ‘FTE’ will be a tiny fraction of this, maybe only one day a week. And this doesn’t even get into the systematic underpayment of hourly paid lecturers relative to the work they do.
This is, of course, one of the reasons why universities have been so happy to employ hourly-paid lecturers in such large numbers. They get more classroom time for their money. Using FTE in this way is simply a way of hiding the amount of work being done by hourly-paid lecturers”.
We therefore stand in solidarity with colleagues in UCU by claiming that “If Universities really want to come clean on the ‘student experience’, they should publish the proportion of classroom tuition hours that are taught by staff on insecure contracts. We await their response”.
BUCU Casualised and Postgraduate Staff Working Group, 9 Jan 2017
November 23, 2016 § Leave a comment
This Branch acknowledges without endorsing the action taken by casualised staff in the School of Government and Society to withhold registers until they had all been issued contracts and paid in full for work undertaken in good faith. It views the apparent breakdown in relations between the University management and a key section of the teaching community to be indicative of a widespread and dismissive attitude taken by the University management towards those teaching on casual (fixed-term) contracts, across the University as a whole.
BUCU finds it unacceptable that the University management considers it a permissible practice to employ staff to undertake teaching and then fail to pay them. This represents unacceptable treatment of those who are already employed on low incomes, have little job security, yet perform work that is crucial to the operation of the University.
The Branch therefore instructs the branch committee to engage in action to bring to the attention of staff and students the condition of casualised staff across the university, informing them of the action taken by staff in Government and Society, and to actively attempt to develop solidarity between casualised staff and permanent staff at both the local and university level.
Adopted 23 November 2016
November 23, 2016 § Leave a comment
This branch notes with considerable concern the unilateral move by the University management to introduce Saturday examinations without any prior consultation or agreement with UCU, despite UCU being the recognised representative of academic and academic-related staff at the University of Birmingham.
Weekend working is widely recognised as poor practice in terms of work-life balance and equality issues in that it clearly discriminates against those with caring duties, the majority of which continue to fall disproportionately on the shoulders of women. Family unfriendly working times therefore have a disproportionately detrimental effect upon women and it is established in employment law that such practices represent a form of sex discrimination.
If the University of Birmingham management wish to have their declared commitment to equality and diversity taken seriously, then they should consult staff before changing working times, and they should avoid the introduction of family unfriendly working practices.
For these reasons, University of Birmingham UCU calls for a reversal of the proposal to introduce Saturday examinations, and instructs the branch committee to demand such a reversal from the University management. Failure by the branch negotiators to secure such an outcome should result in a further members’ meeting, where the branch can consider its response.
Adopted 23 November 2016