Officer reports for year July 2020- July 2021
- Equalities Report
- Anti-Casualisation report
- Health and Safety report
- Membership Report
• Equalities issues were a major plank of the industrial action as challenging systemic inequality is vital to fighting for job security and working conditions at GS. Equalities also became a major part of the 6 commitments particularly commitments 1, 5 and 6.
• Following academic board’s decision to begin consultation on the adoption of the IHRA on 17th March, a large-scale campaign took place involving lecturers working on the Middle East and related subjects, students from across the college and the SU. We wrote a public statement and passed a branch motion rejecting the IHRA, in addition we held a public meeting with external speakers on anti-racism at GS and the IHRA definition, took part in UCU IHRA events and spoke on IHRA motions at UCU national congress.
• In May we released a joint solidarity statement on Palestine with the SU and have analysed the college’s investments in arms firms to challenge the college’s position on divestment.
• We have consistently raised issues such as the gender and race pay gap, and the intersection of precarity with systems of inequality at our negotiation meetings with college management including at JNCC and on HREC – after GUCU negotiated union representation on HREC
- GUCU was involved in substantial case work for women of colour and other staff protected under the equalities act who were facing redundancies on FTCs.
- We campaigned on the negative impact of SMT refusing to furlough staff with caring responsibilities.
• We have built links with college anti-racism groups such as GUCU anti-racism working group, and worked with interdepartmental anti-racist leads.
• In May we established an Equalities working group focussing on pursuing equalities commitments at the monthly meetings and more broadly in the college. This group has analysed the HR equalities data, the FTC EIA and has most recently been in communication with HR on the equalities impact of FTC expiries.
August – November 2020 – multiple attempts to communicate directly with Enterprise department regarding working conditions of Short Course lecturers, including by compiling a list of 18 questions for the team. These were sent to Research and Enterprise on behalf of the GUCU in September 2020. We are yet to receive a response to them (28.06.21)
- October – today – organisation of regular meetings with Short Course lecturers and discussion of main issues related to working conditions of these tutors
- December 2020 – co-authoring of collective letter in protest of increase of minimum recruitment threshold necessary for the running of Short Courses
- January 2021 – co-authoring of collective letter of refusal to sign new and detrimental agreement of service issued first issued to tutors in December 21
- March 2021 – attendance of free legal advice clinic at Westminster uni and gathering of info in relation to potential legal case
- March 2021 – ACAS certificates for EC issued
- May 2021 – meeting with Ryan Bradshaw from law firm Leigh Day. Work with Ryan on drafting and submission of Grounds for Complaint for Employment tribunal
- June 2021 – start of crowdfunding campaign to raise fees for legal services by Leigh Day
- In order to reach out and connect with short course teachers, we have searched for short course teachers and made a contact list.
Short courses in Anthropology:
- In July 2020 we had our first meeting with anthropology short course teachers whose courses had been cancelled since March 2020 due to COVID-19. The decision making on what courses continue and run were ambiguous. Only one course continued and all the others were cancelled with excuses of not having the copyright to show certain films and images online.
- In August 2020, the anthropology short course teachers received a letter that the courses remain cancelled until further notice. In February, they were invited to resubmit their course outlines in April to be approved by the LTC in May. Additionally, they were asked to review their outlines to bring them in alignment with a decolonised curriculum.
- In March 2021 have sent a collective letter seeking clarification and guidance for the review process. We have received some support discussing decolonisation, however, many questions remained unanswered.
- This week the short course teachers are supposed to be informed that their labour of the review process is in vain again as the department put short courses on a further halt, because the research and enterprise department is under review and anthropology will not offer courses before that has gone through.
Summary of GUCU H&S strategies and activities 2020/2021
The year was pretty much dominated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the national disaster of no planning for Universities in response to the pandemic.
HEIs were forced to declare ‘business as usual’, which then in turn led to explosions in case numbers (eg Sheffield, Manchester and Glasgow, the campus case numbers arguably seeded the serious city-wide waves in late Autumn).
Staff faced the double stress of being pressured to provide face-to-face teaching or professional work duties while feeling anxious about it, in addition to having to re-plan curricula and work plans on digital interfaces that were not best prepared.
Goldsmiths, being situated in a region of London with a significant population of Black and Asian communities, made vulnerable to the Covid-19 infection through systemic racism, health inequality and employment pressures, led GUCU H&S team to craft a vigilant attitude to curbing the infection in the workplace.
We hosted the Eventbrite online session “Towards a Covid Neutral New Cross” in September, with staff, students, local activists, officials, workers and neighbours. Here we agitated for Global Health Standards in the management of the pandemic at Universities. This led to working in tandem with the Students’ Union, where key Officers there shared GUCU’s insistence on remote teaching and learning in the Autumn Term, and announced this as the SU’s position too. We are grateful for this solidarity.
GUCU H&S also crafted a zero tolerance policy in its casework, of intimidation against any member being threatened with redundancy, based on their preparedness or ability to work face-to-face on campus during the height of the pandemic. Concerns around this continue, in relation to staff based overseas.
- August 2020 – GUCU was notified of degree shows and congregate events on campus. Contacted SMT to clarify, agitated for more control measures.
- September 2020 – GUCU contacted the Health and Safety Executive around concerns that a potentially large campus ‘event’ was rubber-stamped without risk assessments made available to GUCU or, more importantly, staff involved. We established that there needs to be event-specific risk assessments, which are now in place.
- November 2020 – GUCU joined a coalition of other UCU Branches in relation to getting an expert legal opinion on the right to work remotely as part of the pandemic.
- December 2020 – GUCU obtained UCU-HQ legal opinion of the status of remote-working as part of an Action Short of a Strike option, which was entered on to the ballot. As far as we are aware, we are the only Branch to include remote working as an aspect of ASOS.
- January – June 2021 – GUCU H&S officers managing through illness and school closures, like many members. Joining up with industrial dispute and looking towards workloads and the impact of redundancies upon safe systems of work.
- As far as Estates were concerned the actual campus seemed quite well-managed with swift responses where there were concerns. Early system glitches were soon addressed – eg supplies, rooms, signage.
In relation to issues during the ASOS period:
- 1. Working when at home with children during lockdown carried its own pressures which are not present when on campus. Duty of care for staff normally pertains to work on campus, which is relatively straightforward to manage. When ‘campus’ becomes thousands of homes scattered across the country, and sometimes beyond, and the circumstances include issues around childcare, management are in unchartered waters and here, matters have fared less well and are ongoing. (This was eased to some degree by the government’s announcing that lecturers could qualify as key workers later in the year.) Lack of understanding of home working conditions in generaland the varying levels of empathic response and action taken by heads of department have produced uneven practice and inequalities across the college. There was a pattern of SMT backing the wishes of HoDs with no reference to regulations or criteria.
- 2. A second major factor impacting on wellbeing and mental health of staff (two distinct issues) has been job insecurity, brought about by the ‘recovery plan’. SMT’s recent renege on the 6 promises, which critically included no redundancies till February is a present concern under discussion.
- 3. As a result of the above, an additional factor is the increase in workload on remaining colleagues. With no generic ‘hours document’ and some departments with no hours document at all, once again unequal treatment of colleagues across college is a present concern
Present conundrum: Where does Health and Safety start and finish? – cases of concern over Covid infections were gradually replaced with work-related stress and mental health impact. These are considered H and S issues under ‘mental health’ and we look forward to investigating this in the next year ahead.
Pamela Karantonis and Amanda Kipling
And thank you to Anna Grant GUCU H&S and all the H&S team this year: Rachel Moore, Evan Raskob, Marion Coutts, Ida Pu, Kirsten Campbell, Thomas Greenwood and Maria Herrojo-Ruiz.
4. Branch Membership and Organisation Report.
Branch Membership has withstood a very difficult year. We have sadly suffered the loss of valuable colleagues and union members as a consequence of cuts driven by the ‘recovery programme’. These include losses of casualised staff who strongly resisted these cuts in their action last summer, including members on FTC contracts who are currently being targeted now and of staff who left via the VSS. This underlines the absolute priority of fighting to defend every job and continuing to centre union resistance to the disproportionate impact of these attacks our colleagues affected by systemic inequalities.
At the same time GUCU membership remains resilient in terms of union density across the institution and the long term % of union membership which remains historically high for us as a branch. As of April 2021, GUCU had a union density of 76%. We therefore maintain significant weight in terms of what we do to challenge SMT’s recovery plan.
As we resist these attacks, we also need to be reaching out to colleagues not yet in union membership. In every department, as well as under-represented constituencies, such as ARPS there is real scope for recruitment, especially at a time of such widespread attacks on people’s livelihoods. Further work has been done on the membership records, for example HR finally supplied details of all staff members as per the recognition agreement therefore the branch was able to update union density across departments and areas. From now on we should be receiving this information on all staff members on a more regular basis, therefore plan to do further work around recruitment to the branch across the academic and professional service areas.
The long-term organising work done to build a department rep system and build a system of has paid off. In our recent ballot, we achieved a recorded turn out of just under 80% way over the target threshold of 50%. This was down to really effective organising in some departments, alongside a more centralised operation of members using thru-text and phone-banking and working on membership lists that have been kept up to date. Department reps were also vital in getting ASOS off the ground and informing the course of the dispute via the Action Committee.
Of course there remains unevenness in levels of organisation, and this is an important area that requires work – improving department representation in areas with less union participation and membership in areas with lower union density – which various from over 90% in some departments and less than 30% in others. Developing training and support for existing reps and those interested is really important. The GUCU working groups will also hopefully engage and encourage participation from more members; empower more members to feel the union is a space that they want to be active in and can help shape; and continue work to cultivate a more representative union membership.
One aspect of this work is reaching out to our ARPS colleagues who are under-represented across the branch. Last year I was elected on to the national ARPS committee, and this year the Committee recently initiated a month of ARPS focussed events nationwide. These events end with a webinar on Monday 12 July looking at the outcomes of research conducted into ‘professional services staff during the Covid-19 pandemic [https://ucu.wufoo.com/forms/professional-services-staff-during-the-pandemic/]
On the ARPS front we have welcomed a new rep in the library, and are seeking to work closely with UNISON, in particular organising a joint response to the including an all staff meeting on 20 July to oppose large scale redundancies across the academic and professional areas.
As like last year’s report, whilst thanks are given to the reps for their work, the branch should continue to develop the rep system, communications, department meetings etc aimed at strengthening the union at a department level, alongside building on initiatives around a wide spread of core issues – race, gender and equalities, environment, casualisation and democratisation alongside other working conditions affecting hours, pensions, pay at branch level, in order to encourage and widen participation in the branch.