Goldsmiths UCU reacts to USS ballot

Motion on result of USS ballot, 16 April 2018

We recognise that members have voted to accept the offer from UUK and therefore to suspend the forthcoming strikes and programme of industrial action.

We do not believe that this reflects members’ faith in the employers’ commitment to sustaining existing levels of provision nor with any conviction that the employers’ underlying determination to reduce their pension liabilities has suddenly disappeared.

We do not believe that members have done so because they are confident that we have secured the guaranteed pensions to which we are entitled and for which we have fought so hard.

We do not believe that it signals that members are willing to accept anything less than a Defined benefit pension nor does it signal that we are no longer willing to take industrial action in pursuit of a decent pension.

We do not believe that the ‘yes’ vote is an endorsement of the notion that there is a pensions ‘deficit’ that needs to be filled nor is acquiescence to any future increase in employee contributions to meet an alleged deficit.

Instead, we believe that the ‘yes’ vote reveals a pride that we have pushed the employers to recognise our right to DB and that we should give the proposed Joint Expert Panel the opportunity to generate a valuation that will not lead to an inferior pension.

In this context, we believe that it is vital that activists in every branch continue to organise as we learned to do so powerfully during the strikes. We call on all members to:

  • Organise branch meetings to call for a Special Higher Education Sector conference, which can discuss how best to pursue the defence of our pensions and examine how effectively our internal structures have functioned;
  • Maintain the strike committees and staff-student forums established in recent months in order to campaign over issues casualisation, democratic governance and the financial priorities of our institutions;
  • Continue to campaign for Defined Benefit pensions, to scrutinise the work of the Joint Expert Panel and to insist on transparency and deadlines in its work such that we can start industrial action as and when necessary.

Passed overwhelmingly.

President’s report from meeting at UCU, 28 March

Report of Branch Delegates Meeting at UCU, 28 March 2018.

Marian Carty, President, Goldsmiths UCU

On entering the meeting delegates signed in and were given voting cards. This was not the case at the previous meeting on 1st March; I assumed that a vote would be taken.

Sally Hunt, UCU’s general secretary, began the meeting by explaining that the UUK offer had come about as a result of pressure from the UCU via numerous telephone conversations and the strength and commitment of members to the first 14 days of industrial action. She emphasised that the second wave of strikes would go ahead regardless of the outcomes of the day’s meetings, in order to maintain the pressure on UUK.

She reiterated the points she made in her message to members sent on 23 March, which included lack of trust in UUK, that the expert panel would include ‘best actuarial professionals available and of the academic expertise within the union’.  (After the meeting in informal conversation with Sally, she mentioned Denis Leech as one of the experts to be invited to join the expert panel). She insisted that this was the best and final offer (as she did with the last offer) and that ‘no detriment’ was unrealistic. Support for the process from tPR and USS Trustees still needed to be sought. Only once this process has been accepted by all parties would UCU consult branches on ending the current industrial action.

A letter had been received form Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of UUK, which was distributed to everyone in the room. Sally placed a lot of store on the content of the letter insisting that it revealed UUK’s commitment to a meaningful DB pension and a return to sharing the risk between employers and employees. With regard to recriminations as a result of taking or supporting strike action UUK were urging their members to ‘reflect and rebuild trust’. She qualified this reminding us that UUK has no mandate, however, to insist on this.

Many members welcomed these clarifications but felt that the motions discussed at their meetings were now less or not valid; this made it difficult to represent members views.

Branches had sought members’ views in a variety of ways – email, social media, e-ballots and well attended meetings and gave brief reports following a Q & A. The picture emerging was not the unanimous rejection of the previous branch briefing on 1st March.

What became apparent was, that where members were able to meet and discuss the UUK offer, they voted – as we did at Goldsmiths – to seek specific assurances prior to a ballot.

Participation in e-ballots was low and questions varied, responses by email were equally mixed. The majority of branch reports (whether from e-ballots, email correspondence or branch meetings) were not advocating that the UUK offer should be put to members in its current form

Requests for a vote were declined even though we had been given voting cards.

My own perception is that a majority (albeit small) of branches favoured ongoing negotiations with further UCU input into the offer.

After the briefing, I joined a group of delegates in an informal discussion with Sally. We were all genuinely surprised/aghast when she told us that according her a tally, written on the back of a voting card, her estimation was that the majority of branches wanted the offer to go out to a ballot of members. We all remonstrated with her for about 20 minutes before she was called to the HEC meeting.

What is somewhat shocking is that no official minutes were made and no indicative vote taken in order to guide the HEC’s later decision to move to ballot all members on UUK’s offer. Sally’s tally on the back of a voting card would determine the HEC’s verdict.

Emergency branch meeting: 12 noon Monday 26 March, RHB 256

Goldsmiths UCU will be holding an emergency branch meeting at 12 noon on Monday 26 March in RHB 256 to consider the latest proposals from UUK ahead of a national meeting of UCU reps on Wednesday 28 March.

The full details of the offer are here but the main points are as follows:

  • A Joint Expert Panel, comprised of actuarial and academic experts nominated in equal numbers from both sides will be commissioned to deliver a report. Its task will be to agree key principles to underpin the future joint approach of UUK and UCU to the valuation of the USS fund.  This will require the status quo both in terms of contributions into USS and current pension benefits, until at least April 2019.
  • A jointly agreed chair whose first step will be to oversee the agreement of the terms of reference, the order of work and timescales with the parties. Any recommendations by the group must be based on a majority view of the panel without the use of a casting vote.  A secretariat, jointly agreed by the parties, will be appointed.
  • The panel will focus in particular on reviewing the basis of the scheme valuation, assumptions and associated tests. It will take into account the unique nature of the HE sector, inter-generational fairness and equality considerations, the need to strike a fair balance between ensuring stability and risk.
  • Recognising that staff highly value Defined Benefit provision, the work of the group will reflect the clear wish of staff to have a guaranteed pension comparable with current provision whilst meeting the affordability challenges for all parties, within the current regulatory framework.
  • The panel will make an assessment of the valuation. If in the light of that contributions or benefits need to be adjusted in either direction, both parties are committed to agree to recommend to the JNC and the trustee, measures aimed at stabilising the fund to provide a guaranteed pension broadly comparable with current arrangements.
  • Alongside the work of the panel both sides agree to continue discussion on the following areas: comparability between TPS and USS; alternative scheme design options; the role of government in relation to USS; and the reform of negotiating processes to allow for more constructive dialogue as early as possible in the valuation process.

A message to our members on their return to work

Monday 19 March 2018

Where we’re at

We are returning to work today after 14 days of strike action that have massively dented the employers’ arguments that USS is in deficit and forced the employers to return to national negotiations. Sadly, UUK continues to insist that disastrous changes to our pensions are necessary and so the dispute continues with further strike action planned for next term. But what a difference a strike makes. The ‘revolutionary love’ (as Gary Younge stated in his teach-out on the first day of the strike) has generated an abundance of energy and creativity, expanded and consolidated solidarity between staff and has brought us together like never before. This strike has been a collaborative project par excellence. In this period we have witnessed democracy in action. Our strike committee and branch meetings have been truly amazing. Our branch membership has almost doubled (we now have approximately 825 members although UCU’s membership department is facing a backlog in terms of processing applications) and the branch has shown itself to be one of the strongest and most imaginative in the country. Now we need every member’s input in terms of next steps: how can we make future strikes effective and how can we make common cause with students to protect our pensions and defend public higher education?

Action short of strikes (ASOS)

Action short of strike action (ASOS) will continue now that we are back at work. During ASOS, UCU members:

  • Should not work more than 35 hours per week.
  • Should not respond to work-related emails outside normal working hours.
  • Should not cover for absent colleagues. Unless your job is wholly or predominantly about covering for other staff, you should refuse to provide cover.
  • Should not reschedule lectures or classes. This includes any scheduled teaching activity which would have taken place on one of UCU’s strike days and applies to all UCU members not just those directly responsible for the relevant lecture or class
  • Should not undertake any voluntary activities. This means that where you have a choice as to whether you undertake some work, you should not do it. Unless stated in your contract you have no obligation to work on weekends (including attending open or applicant days) or in the evening. Any external commitments, such as external examining, also fall under voluntary activities.
  • Should officially book all of their annual leave entitlement.

The College has agreed not to deduct salary for ASOS or ‘partial performance’. If you are asked to carry out voluntary duties that go beyond what you would normally do, we suggest that you reply using the following words:

I am supporting UCU’s “working to contract” action. I consider xxxxxxxxxx an additional duty not covered by my normal contractual duties and, having sought union advice, will not be performing it. Please be advised that in line with UCU’s “action short of a strike”, I am continuing to perform my normal contractual duties and therefore no deductions from my salary should be made.

Reimbursement 

We are so grateful to the support given to us both by the Students’ Union and by individual students across the College. As you will know, many students have contacted the College asking that they be compensated for the teaching they missed as a result of industrial action caused by the employers’ failure to protect our pension rights. If asked by students about reimbursement, you should refer them to the Students’ Union ‘Guide to Complaints and Compensation’. We wish to make it clear, however, that while we would encourage students to seek redress, our policy is that we oppose tuition fees in the first place and that we support free education and have campaigned long and hard against a market logic that attempts to transform students into customers and staff into service providers. We will continue to campaign for the abolition of tuition fees, so that students do not have to ask for reimbursement of fees they should not be paying in the first place.

Assessments

Officers will be contacting SMT to request that, wherever possible and appropriate, extensions for examined work should be awarded and that the strike should be considered as valid extenuating circumstances. While we recognise that Departments should be free to make provision at a local level for supporting students during these challenging times, we feel that it is vital that the SMT adhere to some general principles that will guide this action: notably that there should be no pressure on staff to reschedule teaching lost as a result of strike action nor to conduct additional tutorials and workshops in order to mitigate the impact on students.

Tier 2 staff

Staff who areTier 2 visa holders could face sanctions if their days of strike action are counted towards an annual limit of 20 days  “unauthorised absence” by the employer. Officers will approach SMT and attempt to secure a commitment from them that strike days will not be considered as “unauthorised absence”.

Deductions for strikes

Officers have already written to the director of HR asking that any deductions arising as a result of taking strike action should be spread over four months. We will let you know as soon as we hear back.

Petition

Please sign the petition demanding that the Government acts as a ‘guarantor’ for the USS pension scheme. It already has over 10,000 signatures meaning that government has to respond but we need to push it much higher.

Please get involved in the branch in whatever way you can – help us produce communications, liaise with students, suggest ways to take the dispute forward, sign up for positions in the branch. We face enormous challenges and we need all the support we can get!

In solidarity

GUCU Executive

17 Academic Board members write (and the Warden responds)

9 March 2018

Dear Pat, dear Pro-Wardens,

Goldsmiths’ ethos is one of collaboration and mutual respect, and we have appreciated the way in which you have engaged with staff so far over the current dispute on pensions. We were disappointed, however, that Academic Board went ahead last Wednesday (7 March 2018), despite the absence of many academic members and of the student members, as this cannot lead to sound decisions on academic matters, and risks suggesting an implicit split between academics and administration. We invite you therefore to suspend any meetings of Boards, Committees or Sub-Committees of the College that are scheduled on strike days.

We also hope that, in that spirit of collaboration and mutual respect, you will trust Departments to make their own plans to support students once the action has concluded, through consultation and in the way departments deem most academically appropriate for their students and programmes, while respecting the rights of members that have chosen to take industrial action.

Thank you,

(In alphabetical order)

Vikki Bell, Claudia Bernard, Lisa Blackman, Lucia Boldrini, Rebecca Cassidy, Henrike Donner, Kevin Jones, Betty Liebovich, Richard Noble, Simon O’Sullivan, Raj Pandey, Maggie Pitfield, Marsha Rosengarten, Anamik Saha, Astrid Schmetterling,Jasna Dragovic Soso, Joanna Zylinska


15 March 20218

Dear all,

I am sorry that you were disappointed that Academic Board went ahead last Wednesday. SMT spent some time considering whether main committees of Council scheduled on strike days should go ahead as planned.  We concluded that they should do so because of the difficulties with re-scheduling prior to Council on 12th April, bearing in mind how many days in March were being lost to strike action, and because our Standing Orders make provision for decisions to be made in the absence of a quorum.  I made it clear to members of Academic Board who did attend that while, in line with our Standing Orders, any decisions would be deemed Chair’s decision taken on the advice of the members present, in practice I would expect to circulate the full Board for comments on any non-routine matters before ratifying any urgent decisions. Any non-routine issues which were also non-urgent would be deferred to the next meeting.  In the event, no items before Academic Board fell into these categories, and the meeting was brief. The Students’ Union had previously indicated that they would attend, and notice that they would not was not received until after the start of the meeting.  The detailed comments they supplied indicated that they expected that the meeting would proceed.

As an SMT we are very clear that the decisions on how to ensure students do not suffer detriment as a result of industrial action must rest at Departmental level, and this view has informed the work of the Strike Mitigation Working Group (SMWG). We do, however, have a number of reasons for requesting that Departments supply information on how this is being achieved for detailed review by that Group. We have a responsibility to ensure parity of treatment for all students across the College; we need to ensure that alternative provision meets the requirement of the QAA Code; we need to ensure that requirements which need to be met centrally are communicated (such as suspension of regulations); we need to make sure we are aware of any central resourcing requirements are identified and, where appropriate, prioritised (such as pressure on timetabled space); and we need to make sure we have a comprehensive log of mitigations to support us as we deal with the many student complaints we are receiving, so that these may be dealt with fairly. I very much hope that you will remain supportive of members of the SMWG as they carry out this work.

Best wishes,

Pat

Patrick Loughrey

Warden

Goldsmiths, University of London

Letter to our students: why we rejected a bad deal

14 March 2018

Dear Students,

As you may already know, UCU, the union representing lecturers and professional services staff, has recently rejected an offer that was made to end the strike action in universities. It is unfortunate because we really regret the uncertainty and inconvenience industrial action is having on you, the students. We are desperate to get back to teaching but we really felt we had no other option which is why staff in the vast majority of universities that are in this pension scheme (the ‘pre-1992 universities’) overwhelmingly turned down the deal. Many student unions have already supported our decision on social media.

We are writing now to make sure that we are communicating fully with you on why we had to reject the offer. The deal that was proposed was that we, and also your universities, using student fees, should:

  • pay more into the pension fund for significantly reduced benefits to our pensions (especially for younger staff) for the next three years;
  • wait for the outcome of a three year long investigation into the value of the pension fund without any guarantee that the employers wouldn’t try once again to introduce their devastating cuts. We actually welcome an independent investigation into the alleged deficit, since it is widely considered by independent experts that the current assessors have underestimated its present and future value, but we can’t accept a temporary solution that offers us no assurances;
  • reschedule lectures that have been missed due to strike action, and for which we have already given up pay. This is effectively asking us to work free overtime and undermines our right to strike.

Such an offer was simply impossible to accept. It would have meant that the strike, which has been so disruptive to you and to us, would have all been for nothing, since it would have meant a much worse set of conditions (in terms of what we pay in and what we can expect to receive in retirement) than we were prepared to sanction. We haven’t been on strike for three weeks to end up only slightly less worse off than when we first started our action.

We hugely appreciate the continued support of our students especially as we know that our action is disrupting the education that we are committed to providing. We also hope that you understand the reasons both why we were forced to go on strike and why, in almost every university, we just couldn’t accept this deal.

We feel that defending our pensions is part of a broader battle to secure the future of universities as places with highly motivated staff and well resourced students – and as sites that are not determined simply by market logic. Pensions are essentially delayed payment for our work, and undermining pensions not only penalises those of us now working in universities, who have paid into the existing scheme, it also makes for worsening conditions for staff in the future, and therefore for future generations of students too.

We are always happy to answer your questions and encourage you to visit our picket lines and to attend our teach-outs.

With best wishes and thanks

Members of Goldsmiths UCU