1. Meetings’ terms of reference. Since the start of the Covid crisis in April, almost every week for the past 5 months, we have been invited to joint trade-union meetings with HR, held on an informal basis. Agendas have been circulated at exceptionally short notice, often in the morning of meetings held in the afternoon. Whilst at the beginning of the crisis, this allowed us to be flexible and to deal with the emergency situation, HR has used this structure for negotiations outside of the normal terms of reference of JCCN. This is wholly irregular and has been pointed out. We call the University to map these meetings onto the 8.1 article on sub-committees of JCCN terms of reference, as these meetings have evolved beyond the emergency response.
2. Timing of consultation on FTE reduction scheme. One of the recent examples has been the consultation on the new opportunity for staff to voluntarily reduce their FTE, recently advertised (Registrar’s Bulletin 27-08-2020). The VCEG gave their approval on a draft before any consultation with the trade-unions, and when we received a copy, it was sent to us on the morning of the meeting in the afternoon. This is unacceptable, and we therefore cannot endorse the scheme as a branch, as we were not formally consulted about this proposal prior to the decision to go ahead was taken by VCEG. It is very unlikely that many of our academic members would be interested in taking up this scheme, as it is difficult for members of academic staff to reduce their teaching commitments at the moment, although an option for academic staff to be considered has been included.
3. UCU claim on lecture capture/performance rights. We requested two meetings between UCU representatives and the University in the 10 days following our claim as there needs to be a written confirmation of academics’ performance rights before the start of the new term. In response, HR commented that the “University had committed to reviewing digital learning as a whole over the new academic year, rather than looking at it piecemeal. The University’s first priority for the next 2-3 weeks would continue to be preparation for the new academic year, and as a consequence it would not be possible to respond in the timescale requested by the branch.” HR assured UCU representatives that their request would be considered by the senior team and a response would be issued in due course. We are very aware that this is a major source of concern to our members, and we are looking at options to ensure our rights.
4. UCU claim on workload. The branch has concerns about the impact of academic workload and an intial claim has been submitted to ensure this was given serious consideration. We have repeatedly asked to have a conversation about workload, and our concerns have taken been brought to the attention of HR, the Staff and students wellbeing group, the Silver covid response group, MEOO and even MEOO subgroup – your Enhance activities and massive efforts you are making at the moment are not properly recognised in SWARM, and there are differences between departments in allowances for the same tasks. The claim is quite comprehensive but can evolve as issues arise. This claim was submitted following some discussions with our H&S Workload Officer and the 17-07-2020 Provost Email ‘Joint Message to Academics from Provost, DVCs and Director of HR regarding Workload Planning Principles’. Early in August we asked: What is happening to our workloads (when are we going to see the 1.5 x workloads promised to be on SWARM? How are the hours of training included? HR commented that it was necessary to allow time for this guidance to take effect and for its impact to be assessed. We were assured that our request would be considered by the senior team and a response would be issued in due course.
5. Printing of exam scripts. In response to earlier discussions, HR have confirmed the following arrangements would apply to academic staff who requested printed copies of online exam scripts: As part of the University’s digital and climate change action plans, academic staff are expected to mark examinations online. In exceptional circumstances, printed copies of exam scripts will be made available, on the approval of the Associate Dean for Education, where this is a reasonable adjustment for a member of staff with a disability or other health concerns. Requests should be submitted to the ADE in advance. Where necessary, advice may be sought from the Occupational Health Service.
6. Financial situation. The next HR-joint union meeting will be on Thursday 10 September at 2:15pm, where the Chief Financial Officer will attend to give a financial update. We requested that the financial update explain why the recently agreed changes to contractual terms were still necessary following the improved undergraduate student numbers. HR commented that the University had committed to a review in January. Our EGM motion “Branch position on Collective Agrrement” (22-07-2020) refers to our branch rules and needs for formal negotiations to take place. This is precisely why we need to have these meetings on a formal basis and run with proper terms of reference.