Open letter to UoL: Front of house roles advertised via Co-Sector recruitment

UCU & UNISON

UNISON and UCU write to you as the recognised trade unions of the University of London to express our confusion regarding some recent developments regarding the in-housing process.

We seek your explanation and input regarding the below issue.

As recently as the middle of last week UNISON and UCU were informed of yet further Cordant employees who, having initially been told they would be TUPE-ed over to the University of London with the in-housing of front of house services, would now not be as they were not in the TUPE scope.

UNISON and UCU raised the case of the affected workers, requested that the University of London reconsider their decision/challenge Cordant and, where possible, make exceptions. The unions were told repeatedly that this would not be possible.

The recognised unions were then extremely surprised on 16 May 2019 to see 6 jobs, for roles considered within the scope of TUPE, being advertised via the University of London’s Co-Sector recruitment pages for temporary positions. Links to the roles are provided below.

Receptionist x1 – https://recruit.thecareersgroup.co.uk/UOL/Vacancies/VacancyDetails.asp?VacancyID=6978

Receptionist x 2 – https://recruit.thecareersgroup.co.uk/UOL/Vacancies/VacancyDetails.asp?VacancyID=6983

Porter – https://recruit.thecareersgroup.co.uk/UOL/Vacancies/VacancyDetails.asp?VacancyID=6980

Post Room Operative – https://recruit.thecareersgroup.co.uk/UOL/Vacancies/VacancyDetails.asp?VacancyID=6981

Audio Visual Technologist – https://recruit.thecareersgroup.co.uk/UOL/Vacancies/VacancyDetails.asp?VacancyID=6979

At no point had the unions been told that any staff shortfall would be addressed via temporary positions advertised through Co-Sector’s recruitment agency, which exists to generate revenue for the University of London. Advertising roles in this manner, and not directly through the University of London, would seem to be a conflict of interests and, could be viewed as a way of keeping workers in these roles from receiving the full benefits of being directly employed by the University of London. The rates of pay for 4 roles highlighted below are also noted to be below the London Living Wage. The unions take particular exception to this.

The unions are particularly astonished to see that 4 roles, those of Receptionist x2, Porter and Post Room Operative seem to be offered without any guarantee of the provision of an agreed number of working hours. This would appear to conform to the definition of a zero hours contracts, despite repeated assurances from the University of London to both the Sub-JNC, the ICE forum and at all staff forums, that no new zero hours contracts would be issued by the University of London.

We therefore request the following clarifications:

  1. Why this situation (the advertising of the above roles) has arisen, given the University of London agreed to the methodology used for determining those in scope?
  2. If during the conducting of the review and scoping exercise it became apparent that this would give an inadequate number of staff to cover all shifts, why the University then did not challenge Cordant on the methodology?
  3. Whether the 4 roles noted above (Receptionist x2, Porter and Post Room Operative) are being offered on zero hours contracts?
  4. Why the rates of pay advertised for Receptionist x2, Porter and Post Room Operative are below the London Living Wage? Why is the rate of pay for Receptionist x2 different to that of Receptionist by £1.93 per hour?
  5. What problem  the University of London is attempting to solve by offering these roles on a temporary basis only? How long does the University anticipate that this temporary solution is likely to be required for?
  6. If the need for these roles becomes permanent, will those who occupy the temporary posts be automatically transferred over to full-time, open ended contracts, directly with the University of London?
  7. What is the rationale for advertising these roles through Co-Sector?
  8. Whether, as these roles are being advertised through the Co-Sector recruitment agency, the University of London now stands to benefit financially from not having to directly employ these staff (either through benefits to Co-Sector from appearing to have recruited workers through the Co-Sector agency or through lower costs/overheads and the temporary nature of the roles)?

This communication has been sent as an open letter to encourage transparency on this issue.

We look forward to your swift response.

UNISON and UCU Committees (Senate House Branch)

Welcome, Bienvenidos, Witamy to our new colleagues!

UCU & UNISON

Since June 2017 both UCU and UNISON have been arguing the case for outsourced workers to be returned to direct employment by the University of London.

We are pleased to confirm that the first tranche of Cordant employees who work in Front of House Services, the Post Room, AV, Switchboard and Porters will become direct employees of the University of London Senate House on the 20 May 2019. We have been working hard to ensure as smooth a transition as possible for those in-scope. That said, we share the understandable disappointment and frustration of those who appear to fall outside the scope of this first tranche of in-housing.

UNISON and UCU believe that every individual who works at Senate House should be a direct employee of the University of London and therefore we will continue to press the UoL to, as the bare minimum, adhere to the timetable that was shared at the most recent all staff meeting with regard to bringing staff in-house.

In-housing programme and Senate House boycott: timetable, support for staff, impact on jobs

UCU & UNISON

Since June 2017, UCU and UNISON have been arguing the case for outsourced workers to be returned to direct employment by the University of London. We are pleased that the University of London has acknowledged that in-housing, in principle, is the right thing to do and has started to implement a programme to end outsourcing arrangements for these colleagues.

UCU and UNISON made strong representations at formal meetings with the University on 4 April and 9 April expressing the tremendous pressure everyone involved is currently under. This pressure stems from uncertainties about the precise timetable for in-housing, the mechanisms for reviewing contracts, and the very serious consequences of the current Senate House boycott on the work of some of our members.

As a result of this, at an all-staff meeting on 11 April, University leadership expressed a willingness to explore ways of accelerating the in-housing of both the cleaners and grounds maintenance staff. We welcome that further detail about the process has now been published on the internal staff intranet and that the Vice Chancellor has acknowledged the need for the University to offer support to staff members who are adversely affected by current events.

However, members are anxious about the risk of cuts to research funding and possible job losses should the Senate House boycott continue for much longer. We are therefore lodging the following further requests:

  1. A clear written statement explaining the University’s financial situation, including estimated costs of the first phase of in-housing (whereby a group of workers will be UoL employees by 20 May 2019) and projected costs for the remaining phases.
  2. Monthly written updates for internal and external audiences about the progress of the in-housing programme. These communications should be written in straightforward terms and make reference to any action taken to accelerate the process.
  3. Pastoral support for any member of staff impacted by the Senate House boycott. Support should not discriminate against staff based on their position on this topic or, in the case of colleagues in the School of Advanced Study (SAS), the choices they have made relating to managing events.
  4. Clear guidance for staff in relation to the Senate House boycott outlining:
    • How the University expects staff to handle events potentially affected.
    • What the University will do to support workloads and activities that are affected.
  5. Given that it is the primary focus of the boycott, can the University of London explain what it is doing to ensure the continued success of the School of Advanced Study?

If you have any questions about this statement, you are welcome to contact UCU Senate House and UNISON Senate House branches.

April 2019 statement on in-housing programme at Senate House, University of London

UCU Senate House branch supports the return of outsourced workers, including cleaning staff, to direct employment by the University of London. In recent months, we have worked closely with UNISON and University management on implementing the first phase of this process and we are pleased that a first group of staff will become UoL employees from 20 May 2019.

The current boycott of Senate House is having an adverse impact on UCU members at this branch. We call on University management to release a clear timetable for the in-housing of remaining outsourced staff, including the cleaners.

We are using the platforms we have available to us, including the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) meeting on 4 April and a sub-JNC meeting on 9 April, to emphasise the importance of urgently addressing this matter.

Intimidation of union reps at UCU Senate House and an update on the in-housing programme

UCU Senate House is aware of allegations concerning the treatment of the IWGB branch secretary and we have now raised our concerns directly with University of London management.

Singling out officers or representatives of trade unions is wrong in any institution let alone in a university setting. It’s also potentially unlawful. We will stand in solidarity with any colleague who is subject to this treatment.

With regards to the University in-housing programme, we are of course pleased that a group of staff will be University of London employees from late spring 2019. The mandate we have from UCU members at Senate House is to hold the University to the promises it has made, and the most explicit of these relates to the first stage of in-housing. This stage is going well.

The next stages of the in-housing programme are a key challenge. As always, we welcome feedback from UCU members at Senate House about moving forward with this.

An open letter urging action relating to the 2018 USS valuation

Dear Vice Chancellor,

This letter is written on behalf of UCU members at Senate House. As you know, USS is currently consulting employers on its 2018 valuation. This valuation is intended to replace, as soon as possible, USS’s recently filed 2017 valuation, which is imposing large, escalating shared contribution increases on members and employers from April 2019 onwards.

For this 2018 valuation, USS has been able to take into account the proposals made by the first report of the UCU-UUK Joint Expert Panel (JEP). The JEP’s proposals were intended as modest, short-term measures for producing a valuation that reflected the true health of the Scheme and maintaining contribution rates at appropriate levels. Given more time, the JEP would have recommended much more sweeping changes, and indeed it appears to be preparing to do so in its forthcoming second report.

Recently, we learnt that USS has calculated that if all of the first report’s proposals were applied to the 2018 valuation, the Scheme would no longer be in deficit and the total contribution rate required of employers and members would be 25.5% of salary: in other words, less than the 26% we are paying now. Moreover, both UCU and UUK’s actuarial advisers (First Actuarial and Aon) have indicated that they would regard such a valuation as prudent and in conformity with current regulations. However, USS itself does not. In its valuation document of 2nd January USS has decided to reject two of the JEP’s proposals out of hand, and only to accept certain others if employers (and possibly members) promise to provide ‘contingent support’ if the Scheme’s funding position worsens in unspecified ways between valuations. USS have stated that the trigger contributions could equate to 4%.

Having followed the dispute since the JEP published its first report, we remain far from convinced that employers are serious about listening to the advice of the JEP or implementing its proposals. It is true that the majority of them indicated a willingness to accept the JEP’s proposals in principle. However, employers still have not acknowledged the wide range of failings which the JEP identified in USS’s governance, consultation processes, actuarial methodology, and interactions with The Pensions Regulator (TPR). Even more importantly, since USS publicised its unwillingness to accept the JEP’s proposals in full, employers have displayed very little appetite for challenging the Scheme on the specific terms of its rejection of the JEP.

This raises a further question: if employers fail to put any pressure on USS to accept the JEP’s first report, what will happen when the JEP publishes its second report? In agreeing to establish the JEP in exchange for a suspension of strike action, and negotiating its terms of reference with UCU, employers agreed to commission the JEP to consider not only this valuation but also the longer-term future of the Scheme. If, as seems likely, the JEP’s second report urges even more significant changes to USS – on the level of governance and member representation, for example, or the use of gilts-based targets to drive the investment strategy – how do employers intend to press USS to accept them? And how will members be able to trust employers to do so if they’ve already refused to push for the much more modest changes proposed in the first report?

In other words, the present consultation offers employers a crucial opportunity to show that they are serious about holding up their end of the bargain which they entered into in April 2018, not only in the shorter but also in the longer term. Fortunately, it is not too late to challenge USS’s 2018 valuation plans. UUK have asked for employer submissions to this consultation by 13 March, ahead of the USS deadline of 15 March.

There are a number of measures which employers could have taken, and are still able to take, in pursuit of a 2018 valuation that reflects the true health of the Scheme. Below we lay out those measures in the hope that the University’s governing body and any other relevant committee(s) will take them up before finalising the University’s response to USS’s consultation.

We request that you:

  1. Ask actuarial advisers Aon to comment publicly on the hugely important finding by Dr Sam Marsh of the University of Sheffield, based on cashflow and asset data, that USS could comfortably achieve a position within £10bn of self-sufficiency within its 20-year covenant horizon by keeping its current investment strategy and contribution rates: in other words, without ‘de-risking’ and without requiring large contribution increases, as USS had claimed. UCU has already asked First Actuarial to comment on this finding.
  2. Ask USS to provide the equivalent data for the 2018 valuation, which would confirm the long-term health of the Scheme. So far only UCU has asked for it via the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), whereas employers apparently have not.
  3. Ask USS why it continues to use Test 1 to drive its investment strategy, when even TPR is willing (according to its recent, 11 December 2018 letter to USS) to let the Scheme stop doing so. Please see this recent survey of critiques of Test 1.
  4. Ask USS to explain why it is no longer willing to delay the de-risking imposed by Test 1, as it proposed to do in September 2017 – a proposal which the JEP said USS should revisit. USS’s 2018 valuation document does not even try to explain why the Scheme will not do this anymore.
  5. Ask USS to challenge TPR in the areas where we know TPR is wrong: first, covenant strength, where TPR is contradicted by detailed reviews by two auditors and the JEP; and secondly, projections of Scheme vs. sector growth, where the JEP has disproven TPR’s claims using USS’s own data (see Annex 7 of the JEP report). Also, challenge TPR on the extent to which they are exceeding their statutory remit by getting involved in the management of a scheme they regulate.
  6. Ask USS to substantiate its completely un-evidenced claim in the new valuation document that TPR won’t allow the Scheme to implement all of the JEP proposals because the resulting technical provisions discount rate would be too high compared with the going rate for gilts.
  7. Instruct the employer-appointed Trustee board members to accept all of the JEP proposals.
  8. Reject USS’s recent and unorthodox request to UUK to propose the conditions for and extent of ‘trigger’ contributions on the grounds that USS have provided no data to justify the need for these. The Scheme came through the 2008-09 financial crisis without any emergency rise in contributions. (See USS’s summary of the size of the DB fund 2008-2018).
  9. If USS continues to resist on all these fronts, consider passing a vote of no confidence in the USS Executive and even, if necessary, the USS Trustee, via the JNC and/or the Board of UUK.
  10. Consider taking USS to court, as UUK threatened to do when USS, in September 2017, suggested ‘trigger’ contributions along very similar lines to the ones they are proposing now.

We also request that you publish your response to the current consultation on the technical provisions of the 2018 valuation.

At a national level, UCU’s policy is that we do not accept that members’ contributions need to be increased or benefits cut. This policy represents what members deserve for their hard work in making the Higher Education sector so extraordinarily successful. It also has the advantage of being in line with actuarial positions, acknowledged by the broad expert consensus of the JEP, First Actuarial, Aon, and various other parties. Much of what we have said in this letter echoes the briefing materials prepared by UCU’s newly elected National Dispute Committee, which has taken a dim view of USS’s response to the JEP and of the notion that employers cannot do anything to influence USS’s actions. If employers refuse to push USS to accept these points, we would not be surprised to see UCU initiate another ballot for strike action across its affected branches.

We would be grateful if you could indicate your views on the above proposals. It is in both members’ and employers’ interests to cooperate as closely as possible while there is still time to influence USS.

Yours faithfully,

UCU Senate House

Passed motion: post-contract support for precarious academic contracts

At our branch meeting today (20/02/2019), the following motion was duly passed.

This branch notes that:

  • A UCU report from April 2016 suggested that up to 82% of academics at ‘UoL institutes and activities’ are on insecure contracts, above the national average of roughly half of academic staff in the UK (UCU 2016). In 2013, the latest year for which figures are available, only three UK HEIs had more staff on insecure contracts than UoL/SAS.
  • By definition, precarity brings periods of unemployment. UCU recognised that casualised/insecure/precarious/atypical contracts are now ‘the early careers norm’ for academics: academics routinely face unemployment between insecure contracts, sometimes without an institutional affiliation (UCU 2016). This is not new—it was clear a decade ago that ‘precarious is one of the defining experiences of contemporary academic life’ (Gill 2009)—but the funding environment in the UK is making academic precarity more common and more extreme.
  • The normalisation of such periods of unemployment in the UK higher education sector means that they are not the personal responsibility of the employee but a structural issue within the sector (Loveday 2018).
  • Precarity damages mental health and careers (Moscone et al 2016). Academic ‘homelessness’ especially damaging in academia because periods without employment, an institutional affiliation, or a research home can lead to academics being ‘pushed out of, or deterred from, an academic career’ (Jones/Oakley 2018; Statement 1, Statement 2).
  • UCU’s ongoing national campaign against academic precarity aims to influence future policy, but academics currently in precarious contracts need immediate support.
  • As the national research centre for the humanities, SAS has a responsibility to model best practice in its support of the researchers it employs and hosts. It also has a duty of care to its staff and postdocs.
  • SAS currently offers follow-on, post-contract support for precarious/casualised/insecure academic staff on an informal, ad hoc basis.
  • Normalising that offer could bring institutional benefits to UoL/SAS at minimal cost and a better return on UoL/SAS’s investment in precarious research-active staff (who might be on an academic career trajectory but in an impact role; Statement 1) and its graduating PhD students. The benefits include supporting the continuation of research outputs and RPF activities, generating a larger and more representative representation of activities on SAS-Space, boosting postdoc and staff recruitment, and creating a stronger community for generating and collaborating on grant bids.

This branch resolves:

  • To call on UoL/SAS to commit to modelling best practice by offering a standard post-contract support package to all academic and research-active employees on precarious contracts, and to its graduating PhD students, for least one academic year or their following employment (whichever is sooner).
  • That, in the first instance, UoL explore low-cost, low-resources measures to benefit to precarious academic and research-active staff (including postdocs), UoL/SAS as an institution, and the broader UoL/SAS community. This exploration should be undertaken urgently and with input from affected academic and research-active staff (including postdocs and PhD students, who are soon-to-be postdocs), and UCU.
  • That the post-contract support package include, for example:
    • A non-stipendiary research affiliation;
    • An institutional SAS email address (so affiliates can access external resources and opportunities that require an academic email);
    • The ability to deposit outputs in the institutional repository, SAS-Space (so affiliates can avoid interruption to their REF-able publication record);
    • Access to online resources, for example Jstor (so affiliates can continue to access secondary literature for research);
    • Access to personal and professional development training and career services at SAS (so that affiliates can continue in their academic career development);
    • Access to physical research resources at SAS (including Senate House Library);
    • Access to hot desks, shared workspaces, or a research hub within SAS, SHL, or the relevant institutes (including Senate House Library if relevant);
    • The option of extension at the discretion of the head of the relevant institute or department; and
    • The same status, on the same terms, to PhD students who graduate from SAS (to strengthen alumni support while building the postdoc community).

Sources

Sophie A. Jones/Catherine Oakley, The Precarious Postdoc: Interdisciplinary Research and Casualised Labour in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Working Knowledge/Hearing the Voice (Durham University, 2018). http://www.workingknowledgeps.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/WKPS_PrecariousPostdoc_PDF_Interactive.pdf

Rosalind Gill, ‘Breaking the Silence: The Hidden Injuries of the Neoliberal University’, in R. Flood/R. Gill, eds., Secrecy and Silence in the Research Process: Feminist Reflections (Routledge, 2009). http://platform-hnu.nl/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/gill-breaking-the-silence-2.pdf

Vik Loveday, The Neurotic Academic: Anxiety, Casualisation, and Governance in the Neoliberalising University, Journal of Cultural Economy 11/2 (2018), 154–166. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17530350.2018.1426032

F. Moscone/E. Tosetti/G. Vittadini, ‘The Impact of Precarious Employment on Mental Health: The Case of Italy’, Social Science & Medicine158 (2016), 86–95. https://bura.brunel.ac.uk/bitstream/2438/13169/3/FullText.pdf

UCU, Precarious Work in Higher Education: A Snapshot of Insecure Contracts and Institutional Attitudes (April 2016). https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/7995/Precarious-work-in-higher-education-a-snapshot-of-insecure-contracts-and-institutional-attitudes-Apr-16/pdf/ucu_precariouscontract_hereport_apr16.pdf