We are making it crystal clear to management, that the strategy they are pursuing is not only going to make it impossible to fulfil the ‘IVC’s recovery plan’, it is going to damage the university – the last thing we need as we try to recover from the Shellard Era, or a ‘recovery’ that ‘saves’ the university by sacrificing the staff
Here are their initiatives and our response:
No RIA rollover and the reduction of allowances? A disastrous move just to make A PAPER SAVING – it’s very difficult to use the time anyway, but actually removing it altogether is demoralising staff. It will let rogue managers load us up with teaching (see below). Do our ‘leaders’ want to work in a research university, or doesn’t it matter so long as Moody’s rating agency can see that fiscal discipline is being exerted? See our lead article in DMUnionise.
The ‘usual’ round of redundancies (part-time staff losing their hours)? Well yes, this does happen year on year, but it shouldn’t because these people are an essential resource! Now it’s even more short-sighted, because it means that individuals are going to suffer hardship in a context made worse by Covid (again, see DMUnionise for testimonies from our colleagues). It’s a FALSE ECONOMY. Managers are expecting full-time staff will take up the work, and of course they will say there’s time because the RIA will no longer provide a reason not to take it on.
We need to know – are senior managers really serious about recovery? Or just serious about saving themselves? Is the IVC aware that his ‘positive’ message is not getting through, because on current evidence it looks like some of his leadership teams haven’t even read it?
Rule changes and AGM
In the last year, our branch has seen an unprecedented wave of activism with lots of members willing to step up in order to build a strong union. We want to expand our activist base and for this reason we are proposing a series of amendments to the branch rules. Together with the great majority of members of the branch committee, we put forth a proposal to expand the current committee structure, adding new roles that reflect the composition of our membership. Changes to the rules will be voted at the general meeting on the 30th. The Organising sub-committee invites all members to participate and vote for the committee proposal! If changes are approved, we will elect new reps in September at the next Annual General Meeting.
Some HE institutions have already started redundancy procedures. We can’t tolerate any job losses here at DMU. We need to be vigilant and ready to fight. There is a red line that connects redundancies, casualisation, excessive workloads, mental health and equality: there is lots to be done on all these issues at DMU. We need a campaign to address these problems at local level. Some of us have been in touch with other grassroot initiatives in the country (Coronacontract.org, Angry workers, etc.) that can provide resources for any future local fight.
Increasing workload demands
In the last weeks, colleagues have been inundated with unreasonable requests and impossible deadlines: providing marks for assessment boards, readapting lecture material for next year, supervising dissertations while on leave, etc. While the university reminds us of the importance of taking annual leave, many middle managers have already forgotten all the extra efforts we all had to put in recently. We want to take firm action against this. Many members got in touch with us to share their stories. We are collating these reports from all faculties and we’ll soon produce a DMUnionise! article on this. For the future, we discussed the necessity of creating UCU departmental and faculty networks in order to have a more proactive approach to tackle these issues as soon as they arise. Last year we organised regular UCU faculty meetings in BAL (in some cases also at departmental level): this has been a very successful experience and we plan to replicate it also in other faculties.
Please note that the meeting originally intended for tomorrow, has been postponed. We have decided to hold the AGM in September instead.
The reason for this is that we would first like to propose some changes to our Local Branch Rules, which include the creation of a number of new Branch Officer roles. Any rule changes would first need to be approved by you, our members, and then have to be ratified by the Head Office before they can come in force.
Once the new rules have been approved and ratified, we would then be able to proceed with the usual call for elections based on the new Local Branch Rules and hold our AGM in September.
Meanwhile, we are working on scheduling a Branch Meeting on Thursday 30 July from 11:00-13:00, to give you an update about the various recent developments and to give you an opportunity to vote on the new rule changes. More details will follow very soon.
All the best,
We wanted to keep you appraised of work being undertaken in negotiation, and this has included a focus upon workload, carryover leave, and institutional financial projections.
- Workload. We have been negotiating guidance for workloads for the forthcoming academic session. We are close to having these finalised and agreed with management, alongside guidance for managers and a review point for workload during the first term. We note that some managers have been erroneously stating that these have already been agreed. When you negotiate your workload and discuss your timetable with your line manager, please check them against this guidance once it is available.
NB we have also raised with management the unacceptable pressures being placed on staff to continue to mark work in less time, or to take on additional work during the summer, whilst staff are also being reminded to take annual leave.
- Carryover leave. We have escalated to management that some staff are having unnecessary questions asked about carryover leave, alongside unnecessary bureaucratic steps required of them to prove extraordinary circumstances (in spite of the extra work members have undertaken through goodwill, both to complete the 2019/20 session and begin to prepare for 2020/21). A further email will follow from the committee about managing this issue collectively.
- Financial projections. We are aware that there is a lot going on in the institution, around the efficiency plan mentioned by Andy Collop in his most recent webinar, and that this plan will be based upon financial projections. These financial projections will then inform staffing decisions. As part of our ability to engage in consultation with management, we will continue to request access to information concerning financial scenarios and projections. It is not possible for us to assess any proposals put forward by management without the ability to interrogate assumptions and models. These should be the same range of scenarios seen by the Board of Governors and the OfS, and our asking about this reflects the UCU National position under the Fund Our Future campaign.
If you have not seen it, some of the background appears here: https://fundthefuture.org.uk/challenging-the-financial-narrative/
See also Andrew McGettigan’s recent webinar for UCU: https://fundthefuture.org.uk/event/studying-institutional-finances/
Please remember to take your annual leave, and to take care of yourselves.
Richard, on behalf of the Negotiating Committee
UCU Branch Committee, De Montfort University
This brief report summarises responses from members to an email invitation, issued on 12th June, to comment on any difficulties arising from marking and feedback deadlines.
33 responses were received, from all 4 faculties but parts of CEM and ADH are key hotspots.
ADH – 13
CEM – 8
BAL – 7
HLS – 5
Problems with marking deadlines
Numerous respondents mentioned the University wide deferral of student deadlines by two weeks, without adding time for marking; some students had grounds for a further 2 week extension meaning some work has come in 4 weeks later than usual. Some staff found they had only two weeks to do marking although they may have 100-200+ scripts – and not only marking but also moderation and uploading of marks. Lots of work was being submitted around the same time, bunching marking. The deadline for submitting marks was well ahead of the date of the boards. Boards were not pushed back despite the pressures. Part-time staff had same turnaround time despite working only limited days in the week. The same marking 20 day deadline was applied regardless of marking load. A great deal of pressure was felt to get the marking, internal moderation, external moderation, release of feedback to students and uploading marks onto SAP (an essentially administrative task) all within a limited time-frame. For some staff this was on top of the additional work created earlier by having to restructure or redesign assessments.
Marking itself has become more problematic
Many assessments had to be re-designed; some of these are harder to mark and one respondent believed some were more complicated than they needed to be as a result of a lack of experience in distance learning and the speed with which assessments had to be redesigned. In these cases marking became harder and more time consuming. There were particular challenges in ADH. Communicating with colleagues was harder.
All marking was being undertaken online which exacerbates health and wellbeing problems (see below).
Grade Centre does not function properly.
Not caused by Covid-19, but exacerbated by Covid-19, risks are posed by students who are not up to standard and who resort to deceptive means when composing work and this creates lots of extra work for some markers. Allowing students to undertake dissertations when they do not have sufficient credits adds to pressure on staff because of need for levels of supervision not covered by the tariff. Policies contribute to high level of re-sits and of APOs which are not or not adequately covered in workload tariffs.
Problems arising from reliance on home technology
A small number of staff reported not being given the equipment they require to undertake the job. They reported problems with technology which resulted in marking taking longer to complete. Problems included reliance upon home technology with at least one request for work technology refused, and delays in problems being dealt with, encroaching on marking time.
Other demands made upon staff during the intense period of marking
Other work, unconnected to teaching and marking, was being required at the same time regardless of marking pressures. Demands to be in online meetings continued regardless of pressures.
Lots of respondents complained about the requirement to plan for / restructure for 2020/21 teaching during the marking period. Problems of planning for next year are particularly acute where use of physical space is intrinsic to the learning process (e.g. labs, studios). Some staff complained about continuous requests for information, some of which had been given before and about long and sometimes unnecessary meetings scheduled shortly before deadlines.
Lots of time was spent on unfounded student complaints. Pressure from dealing with student complaints directed at senior managers was mentioned.
Problems arising from the conditions of homeworking
Numerous respondents complained of lack of consideration of the pressures of homeworking, including parenting and childcare, and about the lack of apparent care for staff facing these problems. Some believed managers had not made concessions to this and appeared to be expecting ‘business as usual’. This contributed to management demands being ‘excessive’. Several respondents believed the management, in its ‘intransigent’ approach to the marking period, showed that it ‘does not understand and does not care’ about the pressures staff are experiencing under homeworking. Some had difficulty in creating workstations at home with difficulties in switching the use of space. The space issue was compounded by having children at home all day. There had been insufficient guidance on how to manage the multiple responsibilities of homeworking, care commitments, increase in workload and managing responses to Covid-19 simultaneously.
Inequity in workload allocation
Some staff reported inequitable workloads to begin with, including within team, with some staff having more modules/teaching than others; tardiness by management in dealing with this has taken its toll. This contributed to a lack of confidence that management culture had changed since the departure of the previous vice chancellor and added to a sense of resentment and injustice.
Several respondents believed a wider review of reasonable workloads as we go into next academic year would need to be carried out.
Health and safety consequences
Around half of all respondents reported physical or mental health problems and/or expressed concern for the wellbeing of those around them. In addition to this, others referred to pressure, frustration, chaos, exhaustion and oppression.
Some members reported that, physically, online marking all day plus the use of mouse leads to aches, eye strain, headaches and migraines, double vision, wrist problems and repetitive strain injury; these were exacerbated by the fact that the time pressure made it difficult to take regular breaks. In at least oe instance, the individual had sought medical help.
Even more frequent were references to stress, mental ill-health, crying, feeling panicky and threats to wellbeing. One staff member said ‘it’s hell’.
In trying to cope, numerous respondents described the extra hours they had to work with all categories of staff – full-time, part-time and part-time hourly paid – working extra unpaid hours. Staff described evening and weekend working, night time working once the family was asleep, working through bank holiday weekends and undertaking 12-15 hour days in order to keep up. One stated that part-time hourly paid staff had been given no extra time or pay to complete marking and these staff do not benefit from the ability of other staff to carry over 10 days of holiday into next year.
Comments about local managers were mixed: there were some instances of sympathetic local line management while others reported local managers ignoring the problem or even being detached from the problem. Some local line managers had taken up issues of concern with more senior managers.
The main criticism of respondents was reserved for senior university management who were seen by some as having taken decisions which would unavoidably add to the pressures staff were already experiencing due to the conditions created by lockdown and homeworking without regard to the consequences. Senior management were variously described as intransigent, laughably out of touch, lacking in understanding and/or uncaring. A small number of respondents referred to bullying and significant problems in the University’s management culture.
There is some concern about forthcoming pressures in August/September because of the large numbers of approved deferrals or necessary resits; there will be only two weeks for marking then.
Some respondents believe a different and more realistic approach to workload is now essential.
The impression that is given by respondents is that there has been:
Planning failure by the university – failure to secure the 20 day marking period for all staff and unreasonable marking deadlines, given the changes to the submission of work deadlines
Coordination failure by the university – requiring other major work to be undertaken during an intense marking period
Failure of joined-up thinking and awareness – failure to build into planning the impact of the interaction of the various aspects of homeworking (work spaces, children, technological problems, the online character of marking, lockdown) on what for many are high volumes of marking; failure to understand the additional work arising from some assessment redesign; failure to understand impact of having already worked online for several months before intensity of marking starts.
This has given rise to a sense among some members that we have an uncompassionate management showing a lack of understanding and lack of concern for concerns of staff and for their well-being, and arguably putting staff health and safety at risk.
You will have seen the message from Janine Brennan about Your DMU Future, which includesinstitutional guiding principles under Covid-19. These are available here: https://demontfortuniversity.sharepoint.com/sites/DMUHome/support/future/Pages/COVID-19-DMUs-Guiding-Principles.aspx
We first raised the idea of guiding principles in March, and we feel that what has been achieved is a strong platform centred around staff well-being and trust. On these terms, it is the strongest statement we have seen in the sector, and we intend to bring the institution back to these as we consider the University’s 5 Year Efficiency Plan, and guidelines including working from home, return to campus, and workload.
However, one crucial matter to raise is that we have stated in negotiations a caveat to principle 4. Our primary role as a union is to protect jobs. We have stated this to management and we are reiterating it here to you. This has been central to our argument for pay for PTHPLs over the summer, for staffing levels to meet workload requirements, and in our questioning of the assumptions and guiding principles for the efficiency plan mentioned by Andy Collop in his address.
In particular, our caveat to these guiding principles centres around our concern that any financial covenant to the bond, alongside the efficiency plan, will materially affect investment in staff and staff time for particular activities. We will continue to negotiate for protecting staff jobs in a sector that is under stress, and for a better understanding of how issues around liquidity, financial covenants and so on affect strategy/direction of travel and conditions of labour. For more information, see: https://fundthefuture.org.uk/challenging-the-financial-narrative/
The UCU Negotiating Committee.
Introduction of new members
We are happy to welcome two new members in our organising committee (Anna and Saria)! We always look to expand our activist base. If you want to join our Organising committee, drop us an email at email@example.com
Building a member-led branch
We agreed we want to be proactive and not just reactive, and that we want to prioritise this approach when we plan our action to protect worker We discussed a number of ways to get members more involved and to favour a bottom-up approach to our union action, especially given that we can’t physically meet at the moment. In the past weeks, we have explored a number of surveys but we are concerned that these are time-consuming and not necessarily effective. Our idea is to create working groups for different campaigns: the absolute priority at the moment is to protect all jobs, particularly of those colleagues on casual contracts, and to cut workloads, considering also the equality implications of these issues. Furthermore, we proposed a number of changes to the branch rules in order to create more officers and reps for the branch committee for a more inclusive and diverse branch.
Attached in pdf format is the latest edition of DMUnionise, the bulletin of the UCU branch Organising Committee.
Articles this issue include:
- Not to be trusted
- Who is marking the executives?
- Corona Contract
- Heaven knows I’m miserable now
- Assorted wickedness from Platinum Command – BS detector, PC Problem Page
- The annual leave carry-over (late insert)
- And other bits and bobs…
We hope you enjoy the read!
Supporting precariously employed colleagues
The Corona Contract campaign (www.coronacontract.org) advocates a two-year contract extension for all fixed term staff and requests all permanent staff to not take over replacement teaching for precarious staff who have been made redundant
DMU UCU should support a local campaign in line with this to protect precarious staff
Workloads for 2020/21
Workload allocations must reflect increased strain of remote working and changing demands on teaching delivery – both in terms of increased expectations over contact hours, particularly in relation to increasing synchronous seminars, and the redesign of modules
Additional costs for staff (utilities, equipment, workspace) must also be addressed by DMU
Health and safety
Reintroduction of university-level health and safety committee meetings is positive, but staff concerns over mental health and wellbeing must be included. Faculty-level health and safety committee should be immediately restarted with fair union representation
Responding to current crisis
As well as supporting precariously employed colleagues under threat of redundancy, DMU UCU should develop working groups aligned with key university committees to be able to respond to changing university demands and support UCU negotiating committee