Trans and Non-Binary Equality at the University of Edinburgh

ucuequalitybannerAt the branch AGM on 20 June 2019, the following motion was passed, building on UCU policy on trans inclusion at Scotland and UK level and committing the branch to specific practical actions.

UCU Edinburgh notes:

  • Discriminatory comments and behaviour against trans people are rife in the UK due to misconceptions around gender identity and the impact of improved trans rights.
  • According to Stonewall Scotland, 1 in 8 trans employees have been physically attacked at work, and 51 percent of trans people have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination; and according to Trans.edu, 86 percent of trans students and staff in Scottish HE face barriers including discrimination, harassment and violence (see e.g. www.stonewall.org.uk/sites/default/files/trans_stats.pdf and www.trans.ac.uk).
  • UCU Congress 2018 motion 31 committed UCU to support trans rights and trans equality in the workplace and oppose any moves to delay or abandon the consultation over changes to the GRA.
  • UCU Edinburgh motion passed at Scotland Congress 2019 stated: ‘It is the right of all workers, no matter their gender identity, to be safe and respected at work’.
  • Based on national (UK) estimates, there will be between 155 and 362 staff at the University of Edinburgh who are transgender.
  • UCU unequivocally supports academic freedom of speech, and we have fought for the rights of our members who are targeted by their employer or the government for their research or trade union activities.
  • UCU’s existing policy and commitment to academic freedom (https://www.ucu.org.uk/academicfreedom).

UCU Edinburgh believes:

  • All of our members have the right to exist and be recognised as the gender they themselves identify as.
  • All our members have the right to hold personal opinions.
  • Our members do not have a right to be free from criticism for these opinions, nor to be guaranteed a platform by the union to express them.
  • We should not support members in weaponising their speech to question the existence of trans and non-binary colleagues.

UCU Edinburgh resolves to:

  • Work with the student union LGBT+ liberation officers and the Staff Pride Network on creating a trans inclusive university.
  • Create a LGBT+ sub-committee within the branch.
  • Employ good practice, such as that created by STUC and UCU, to provide guidance for members on gender identity and trans inclusion in the workplace.
  • Host a workshop on gender identity and trans rights (e.g. by Scottish Trans Alliance or Trans.Edu) for interested UCU members, to counteract lack of information around trans and non-binary equality.
  • Call on the University of Edinburgh (UoE) to ensure that all events held in the name of UoE and on UoE premises are in line with the Dignity and Respect Policy and that the UoE neither host nor facilitate meetings which contain content which is transphobic, biphobic, homophobic or otherwise detrimental to the safety and wellbeing of LGBT+ staff.

 

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Lecture Recording Policy update

Background

Over the course of the last year the University has drafted a new policy on Lecture Recording and many of you may have participated in the consultation that took place about this in the spring. The policy working group involved representation from the Joint Unions Liaison Committee and this was largely a positive experience in our ‘partnership working’ with  University management.

Dispute

Unfortunately UCU Edinburgh has not been able to conclude signing-off this policy and the University has taken the unilateral decision to impose it. The employer initially proposed to impose the policy from September 2018; however, given UCU’s intervention this will now take effect from Jan 1st 2019.

The imposition of policy without agreement is a very serious matter and this leads us to the beginning of a local industrial dispute.UCU has lodged a formal notice of ‘Failure to Agree’ with the University management and there has been one meeting to consider our disagreement.

Consultation

Since UCU’s local and national policy on one or two final points is contrary to the position taken by the University we want to consult members to assess the strength of feeling about this matter.

We will shortly be conducting an electronic consultation with the help of national UCU and following their guidelines on local disputes.  We want to assess members’ views on this matter, to build pressure on the employer to negotiate further on this policy, and to assess how strongly members feel about moving into dispute and potentially undertaking a statutory ballot over lecture capture.

The Issues

  1. One of the main issues is that we believe lecturers should decide whether or not they wish to record a lecture, and the process to do so should be to “opt-in” to record, not to “opt-out”.
  2. The second issue is the length of time recordings are retained
  3. Finally there is the imposition of policy itself.

We are aware that there are ongoing discussions in some Schools which have not yet adopted lecture recording and there are very real concerns about the ease of opting-out, security of sensitive discussions and the workload burden that lecture recording imposes. There are also principled pedagogical and practical arguments against lecture recording which contradict the very positive narrative the University has employed. Staff who hold these opinions are now put in a very difficult position and UCU committee believes this should not be the case.

Before we launch the consultation and for those schools actively looking at this the following questions may be helpful to consider.

  1. Is the opt-out easy enough?

    The University claims this is the case but experience in Schools may be different. Unlike other universities Edinburgh makes little or no effort to follow the national JISC guidelines on written consent or assertion of rights.

  2. Does the policy protect individual rights enough?

We look forward to ongoing discussion with members as this matter progresses and we hope to facilitate that discussion both online and through open general meetings.

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

Casualisation: Letter to HR

The following letter has been sent to Zoe Lewandowski, Director of HR.

 UCU Edinburgh Branch
15/03/17

Dear Zoe

As you will be aware, the issue of insecure contracts in the higher education sector now has a very high public profile. You will also know that this is a UK wide priority issue for the University and College Union.

We believe that we have a common interest in improving the contractual terms of employment of academic and related staff in higher education. While a few individuals may find them appropriate to their circumstances, the truth is that for the vast majority, insecure contracts have a seriously detrimental effect on their well being. The results of locally organised surveys of Guaranteed Hours staff have clearly demonstrated dissatisfaction about working conditions and staff engaged on casual contracts have expressed a strong desire for more secure employment.

We are pleased that the University of Edinburgh recognised our concerns on casual contracts some years ago and that in 2014 replaced the practice of engaging staff on “hours to be notified” (HTBN) with the introduction of the Guaranteed Hours (GH) contract. However, while the move away from the HTBN model was a positive step forward, in reality it just replaced one precarious contract of employment with another.

Addressing casualisation within the workforce remains a priority for UCU and we want to ensure that we have the appropriate mechanisms for monitoring and enhancing employment practices.

GH staff still report limited access to training and development, lack of career progression, lack of job security and inconsistent rates of pay. Although GH staff are guaranteed a minimum number of paid hours in an academic year, these hours are reviewed and renewed annually and some teaching staff report that their working hours remain unconfirmed the week before teaching starts. Indeed, in 2016-17, in some areas of the university GH tutors did not receive their contracts until after the teaching term had finished, leaving them working for an entire semester without a contract, which is dangerous to both the institution and the staff member in terms of securing teaching for students. In the same period, some staff on GH contracts report having been given such a low number of guaranteed hours on their contract that after a few weeks of teaching they were effectually on a zero hour contract with no secure pay (as they had worked the minimum number of hours stipulated in the contract) which leaves the university left without any certainty of having enough staff to teach students.

UCU is concerned that a significant amount of student teaching is being delivered by staff on GH contracts and that this will have an impact on learning and teaching quality. So, in addition to asking whether GH contracts are the most appropriate model of employment, we would question whether this model is the most appropriate. While there is a narrative repeated that most staff on GH contracts are PhD students who teach as part of their professional development, the reality is that many GH staff obtained their PhD many years ago, and are kept on as part of a kind of ‘pool’ of tutors to call in when needed. These postdoctoral tutors, who often teach not only on pre-honours but also honours and postgraduate levels, are not paid for research, which makes the University’s commitment to research-informed teaching ring hollow.

We believe that this should be a priority issue for both ourselves and the university, and we know that when we have negotiated in good faith we have seen positive progress in the interests of staff, students and universities. At the heart of the claim we are making is a call to establish a permanent joint mechanism for reviewing, monitoring and negotiating around the issue of secure contracts, building on our existing arrangements. We are calling on the university to make a commitment to work with us to reduce insecurity through this apparatus.

Specifically we are calling for negotiations on our claim which is the following:

1. The establishment of a standing joint review group with a remit to:

a) Review the GH contract model with a view to developing an alternative contractual model.

b) Monitor and review the arrangements under the Enhancing Employment strategy for transferring staff onto more secure contracts, and ensure that this is working effectively

c) Receive, review and monitor data on the employment of staff on non-permanent contracts

d) Review the working hours of GH tutors and demonstrators to ensure consistency of pay and allocation of marking and preparation time

e) Review the issue of training, support and career progression for GH tutors and demonstrators to ensure consistency across schools

and

2. An understanding from the University that this process will not be cost-neutral and agreement that investment in contractual employment that supports high quality research informed teaching will require additional resources.

We look forward to building on our positive negotiations on the Enhancing Employment strategy and welcome your response to our claim.

Yours sincerely,

Suzanne Trill
(UCUE Secretary)

Change!

change

As part of the Scottish Union Learning young workers’ project, you are invited to “Change!”, an evening of literature hosted by young and migrant workers.

Taking place from 6.30pm on Thursday 16th March at the STUC building on Woodlands Road in Glasgow, we hope that you will help us celebrate the launch of our new book, which has been written about and by people on zero hours contracts. With the title being revealed on the night, we’ll hear excerpts read by young writers and activists who will share their lives on zero hour contracts with us.

Pinar Aksu
Pinar Aksu

We will also hear from Pinar Aksu, Community Development worker with Migrant Voice, and participants from the “A Story in a Poem project” who will read some of the poems they have written about their journey to Scotland.

Refreshments will be provided so get there early to avoid missing out!

From precarious work to precarious lives, the theme of the evening is ‘Change’ and what this means for us in 2017. As a labour movement, we want to ensure that we are inclusive and seek new opportunities of integration for all.

More information