General meeting 24 January, 5-6pm

UCU Edinburgh branch will hold a General Meeting focusing on pensions and anti-casualisation work, on Wednesday 24 January, 5-6pm, in 50 George Square, G.04.

We will discuss the results of the Pensions ballot and further action. We will also discuss the branch’s anti-casualisation work and the new policy on lecture capture. Full agenda below.

UCUE General Meeting 24 January, 5-6pm

Agenda

1. Pensions update and planning

UCUE committee will share information from a recent national Pensions meeting, and discuss strategies forward.

2. Lecture capture policy

UCUE committee will detail the branch’s work on the policy, and discuss the current policy consultation.

3. Anti-casualisation work

UCUE committee will detail recent meetings on anti-casualisation work in the branch, and plan further action.

4. UCU Scotland and UCU UK congresses

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Pensions: Our Response to Charlie Jeffery

USS_IconFollowing Professor Charlie Jeffery’s email to staff (13 Nov), UCU Edinburgh has through the Joint Unions Liaison Committee (JULC) requested answers to the following questions via the Combined Joint Consultative and Negotiating Committee (CJCNC).   

Our first set of questions arise from the email; these are followed by three supplementary questions. The italicised statements below are all taken from Professor Jeffery’s email, we would like answers to the ensuing questions.


“We, along with all other Universities that offer USS, were asked to respond to a number of questions on the USS Technical Assumptions, the method used to value the pension scheme.”

Can JULC have a copy of the University’s response to the USS Technical Assumptions, preferably ahead of our meeting (on the understanding that this would be kept confidential)?


“Our response was considered and agreed by a special Sub Committee of Court. “ 

JULC would like to know the following:

1) What was the membership of the sub-committee?

2) Has the full Court seen the response? Does it agree with it?

3) Has CMG seen the response? Does it agree with it?

4) Can we see the minutes of any meetings this sub-committee had?


“We said that we wanted the outcome to be something that is seen by staff to be fair and in their best interests.”  

Does University management believe the current UUK proposal is fair and in the best interests of staff?

If not, what steps have or will be taken to stress to UUK that their proposal does not meet this University’s criteria as communicated to staff?


“We confirmed that we would be willing to maintain the current level of employer contribution at 18%.

We also said that we were willing to consider alternative proposals for the amount of contribution if it would secure the long-term sustainability of the scheme.”

What consideration was given to increasing employer contributions in the line with the recommendations of the Trustees and why was this option rejected?

Do you acknowledge that the current proposal, while keeping the employers’ contribution at 18% results in an actual reduction in the amount going into fund future staff pensions from the employers as a higher amount is set aside for past deficit reduction, administration and costs? Is the implication that you would be prepared to pay more than 18%?


“We emphasised the importance of future pension arrangements being sustainable; attractive; valued; flexible; predictable and stable. 

We believe the current UUK proposal is none of these and especially it is not predictable, since Individual Defined Contribution schemes offer no guarantees. Again, what message will you send to UUK regarding their failure to meet your criteria?


“We recognised that there will be expectations from staff to maintain a defined benefit structure for USS.” 

Is the University committed in any way to supporting the expectations of staff?


” However, we expressed concern that changes to the threshold for defined benefit or a reduction in the accrual rate would be unlikely to solve the structural problem associated with USS, given the continuing issues around sustainability.” 

Do you recognise that any ‘structural problem’ with USS results purely from a ‘recklessly prudent’ approach to the valuation methodology? The fund takes in more than it pays out and on a best estimate valuation has an £8 billion surplus.


“We expressed particular concern about the impact of an unsustainable scheme on our staff, as well as on our institution. ”

 Why do you think the scheme is unsustainable, given that it brings in more than it pays out, is a last man standing scheme, backed by the employers’ covenant and ultimately the PPF?

Are you backing out of your covenant commitments?  If senior managements elsewhere are not committed to the covenant, what will you do to convince them to keep their promises?


“We recognised that maintaining the current structure would not address the recent trend of increasing deficits in the scheme (caused by liabilities growing faster than assets).” 

Again, do you recognise that the idea of liabilities growing faster than assets is

only true of the notional valuation and not of the actual performance of the Scheme as it is currently invested? If you do, then how can you communicate this to staff?


“This trend is driven by factors substantially out with our control or that of the Trustees. This could mean that the scheme might require regular review and possible further amendment.  We were concerned that constant revisions to the scheme benefits and structure might lead to mistrust and a lack of confidence in the scheme from the membership!”

 Do you realise that any lack of confidence in the scheme seems to rest solely with the pensions regulator, based on their lack of trust in the employers fulfilling their covenant?

Early discussion seemed to indicate that a majority of employers favoured some form of Defined Benefit.

What evidence do you have that the UUK negotiators are reflecting the majority position of employers, given e.g. the statement by the VC of Warwick that he is mystified by the proposals?


“We therefore stated that we thought it important to agree changes that would provide stability for the longer term. We proposed that detailed work should be done to develop options, including for a good quality, robust defined contribution scheme.

This work should clearly draw out the implications for employees of any move from a defined benefit to a defined contribution scheme, including the greater flexibility to access pension benefits in defined contribution schemes, resulting from recent changes in the law.

We were very clear in our response that we want to incentivise savings for retirement and do NOT want any changes to lead to any reduction in employers’ payment towards pension provision.  “

Again, do you acknowledge that keeping the employers’ contribution at 18% does result in a reduction of the amount being invested in future pension provision?


“We want the outcome to be a pension package that offers a high degree of certainty and is valued and supported by staff.” 

Given that the current proposal by UUK offers near zero certainty of anything, will you put to them that they need to come up with something better?


“We also recognised that this is an extremely complex area and suggested that robust yet simple models should be developed as the discussions progress so that staff can see clearly the implications of the final proposals. “

 Can we assume from this that you have so far seen no calculations as to what staff expectations might be? Can you please insist on this immediately?


Supplementary Questions

  1. Would you support an alternative to Individual Defined Contribution (IDC)such as Collective Defined Contribution (CDC) or a Wage in Retirement scheme (WinRS)?
  2. If the UUK proposals for IDC go ahead would you support opening to staff better alternatives to USS such as TPS?
  3. After a decade of reductions in benefits for increases in contributions, staff no longer trust USS. Similarly, given their reluctant acquiescence to such changes, employers no longer trust USS. If the UUK proposals go ahead would you agree to providing the same increases in salary in lieu of employer and employee pensions contributions, for staff wishing to quit USS, which you give to staff who have reached the Lifetime Allowance for pensions?

Statement Regarding the Working Limits on Postgraduate Tutors

The Working Conditions of Tutors are the Learning Conditions for Students

Undergraduate students at the University of Edinburgh may be unaware that a significant percentage of their tutors are employed on Guaranteed Hours contracts (GH contracts).

There are many issues with the approach adopted by many prestigious universities to the employment of post-graduate and other tutors on GH contracts.

The working conditions of staff are the learning conditions for students and we think that it is unacceptable for universities who market themselves to students on their reputation for high quality provision to employ large numbers of their staff on contracts that prevent them doing their jobs as effectively as possible.

The trade union representing academic and related staff, the University and College Union (UCU), are taking these issues up with the University of Edinburgh management.

However, we ask undergraduate students to be aware that we believe the current arrangements mean that there are too many insecure contracts which disrupt educational relationships, stifle the development of teaching staff and often put them under unbearable pressure to cut corners by employing them on poor hourly rates that fail to cover the work they really do.

If your tutor says that she or he has insufficient time to meet your needs, there is a good reason for it. We are clear that current arrangements mean that tutors are not always paid fully for:

  • All hours spent preparing for teaching (reading assigned texts, setting questions, identifying secondary readings, marking handouts, presentations, etc.)
  • All hours spent marking essays
  • Evaluating participation in tutorials
  • Administration
  • Professional development

Your tutors do their best to read your work thoroughly, provide you with detailed feedback and offer assistance outside of tutorials but please be aware that the current GH contract arrangements mean that this is not always possible.

We ask you to understand why your tutor may not be able to meet your wishes.

In 2018, the UCU will be reviewing the situation regarding GH contracts. We want a situation where tutors are paid properly for what they do and are treated fairly. Updates on developments will be posted but in the meantime, we hope for your support.

University and College Union

December 2017

General Meeting, 6th Dec 2017

As you might be aware, the UCU Edinburgh branch has been working hard for job security and for the rights of casualised staff for many years. In addition to local reps campaining for pay for hours worked in different areas of the university, in March 2017 the branch put in a local claim on casualisation, which has resulted in a number of meetings with HR and upcoming work scheduled in the schools LLC and ECA.

We have had a few wins which include pay for marking, moves to fractional contracts for a number of members, and a raised awareness of the problems that casualisation causes. Parallel to the anti-casualisation work, the branch has been campaigning on workload, raising this issue repeatedly with management as well as collecting material through surveys of members.

This meeting will update members on recent developments, and discuss with members ways to move forward in linking issues of workload with causalisation. We hope you can make it:

Wednesday 6 December, 5-6 pm

Room LG34, Paterson’s Land, Holyrood campus

GH Tutors and Demonstrators

Guaranteed hours tutors and demonstrators update
In response to employment issues raised by the UCU Edinburgh Postgrad/Postdoc Network (UCUE PG/PD network), a meeting took place Friday, October 13th between representatives from senior University management, UCUE officers, representatives of the UCUE PG/PD Network, and representatives from the other campus trade unions. 
 
After a productive discussion, agreement was reached in three areas: 1) a plan to advertise the publication of the new ‘Policy for the Recruitment, Support and Development of Tutors and Demonstrators’ (which can be found at the URL below); 2) an undertaking by management representatives to discuss our proposals on interim changes in practice to Charlie Jeffery, Senior Vice-Principal, and the Heads of College in CAHSS and CSE; and 3) a reaffirmed commitment to addressing UCUE’s local claim on Guaranteed Hours (GH) staff, with an initial pilot project working with LLC and ECA to explore alternatives to the GH model (first meeting on Monday 16th October).
 
In addition, it was noted that the topic of GH staffing will be discussed at a future meeting of Senate.
 
We will keep you updated with developments, and ask that you keep us informed about how the new Policy is being implemented via the PG/PD Network.
UoE Tutors and demonstrators policy
The recently launched policy for tutors and demonstrators states that tutors should be paid for all work deemed necessary by Schools to perform their duties: this include preparation time, marking and other forms of assessment. Mandatory training and meetings should also be paid for. The policy also reviews the ‘cap’ on working hours for PhD tutors.

Equality Groups Conference

The Annual Equality Groups Conference 2017 will take place 23 – 25 November 2017. It will take place at Novotel Birmingham Central.

This conference is an opportunity to discuss and agree strategies to progress equality issues at work. The three days includes separate sessions for black, disabled, LGBT and women members. A joint plenary session brings us all together as well as separate workshops for FE and HE members. Plenty of opportunities to network too. 

For more information and to register click on the link below. 

https://www.ucu.org.uk/membersannualgroupsconference

Free UCU membership for PhD students

UCU continues to fight for  early career and casualised members, the latter an increasing category of staff in UK universities. We campaign for casualised members’ rights on both a national and a local level, with the most recent move aiming to improve conditions for PhD students.
From 1 October UCU will offer free membership to PhD students who also work for the university. This decision, which covers around 70,000 staff, has been made to support young and casualised academics. These staff members are often placed on precarious contracts and without adequate access to resources, and their concerns are often ignored. As UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt writes in Times Higher Education:
‘[W]hat makes the usually young, always passionately committed, hourly paid teachers and contract researchers I talk to even angrier than their exploitative treatment by universities is that whenever the issue of casual contracts is aired, their existence is denied, swept under the carpet or explained away as a perk. … These people are the future of our profession, yet the sector treats them as if they are expendable – using employment models one might expect to find in a Sports Direct warehouse, but not a university.’
So: join the union today, and ask your colleagues and students to do the same!