Outcome of 4 July branch meeting: Senate House boycott

In this post, we summarise motions that were debated and passed at a branch meeting on 4 July 2019. These motions (full text at the end of the post) mostly relate to the Senate House Boycott (motions 2, 3, 4).

Motion 1 relates to a victory for UCU Senate House. We called on the University to consider introducing a standardised package of post-contract support for research-active staff reaching the end of their contracts. This new policy will be implemented soon. At the meeting, we reported to members that an earlier motion on this subject went to UCU Congress 2019 and was passed unanimously. We are not claiming that this is the answer to casualization, but we would encourage UCU branches around the country to negotiate for similar policies.

Motions 2, 3 and 4 call on all parties to find the common ground needed to bring the Senate House Boycott to an end.

At the meeting, we discussed the outcome of representations we made to UCU’s Higher Education Committee, which met on 28 June 2019. This was in the context of the May 2019 vote at UCU Congress to support the boycott.

Our members are reporting that real harm is being done to them as a result of the current boycott, in particular to those working at the School of Advanced Study. This was evidenced by a survey of members at SAS ahead of the recent HEC. These members, many of whom are on precarious contract themselves, are involved in the running of events relating to research carried out by SAS and are facing increased workloads and additional levels of significant stress. At Senate House, UCU members are overwhelmingly in favour of in-housing but the current situation is severely detrimentally impacting the current working conditions of members at SAS and unfortunately affecting the chances of precarious academics having their contracts extended and finding future work outside of UoL.

The branch recognises that there are many complex dynamics and relationships at play. The stakes are high for all, not least both groups of impacted workers – those outsourced and those at SAS – and a lack of trust on all sides makes finding a mutually acceptable way forward challenging.

We therefore ask all parties in this situation – the University of London, UNISON, IWGB, and colleagues in UCU to read the motions in the spirit in which they were written in and passed. This spirit is one of solidarity and constructive action.

We urge all parties to come together, wherever possible, and unite on the thing that we all agree upon. This is to provide the best possible working conditions for all who call the University of London their primary place of work.

We also specifically call on the University of London to bring the remaining outsourced workers back in-house as soon as possible.

 

Motion 1: End-of-contract support for fixed-term academics

This branch notes:

  1. UCU reported that 54% of UK academic staff are on insecure contracts, which is ‘the early careers norm’. A structural issue in HE is affecting the lives and careers of thousands of researchers and academics.
  2. We developed a motion calling for UoL to provide a standardised, post-contract support package for academics on precarious contracts and graduating PhDs. This was passed by the branch on 20 Feb 2019.
  3. This motion was ordered onto the agenda of the UCU Congress 2019, where it was passed overwhelmingly (HE16).
  4. UCU Senate House have made significant progress in negotiating for this policy to be adopted by UoL, notably at the 4 April 2019 JNCC meeting and the 9 April 2019 Deans’ Advisory Group at SAS.
  5. These measures (below) provide a form of immediate support to academics of fixed-term contracts and model a new standard for best practice that higher education institutions worldwide should be able to emulate.

This branch resolves:

  1. To call on the University to provide a status update on the implementation of this new policy at the 15 July JNCC meeting
  2. To call on HEC to call on other UCU branches to use this new UCU policy position to further the rights of precarious academics in their workplaces.

Draft measures for this policy

The post-contract support package would 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).

Motion 2: Response to UCU Higher Education Committee meeting on 28 June 2019

This branch notes:

1. The branch committee made a representation to UCU’s Higher Education Committee, which met on 28 June 2019. This presented member views on the May 2019 UCU HE Conference (Congress) decision and described the impact of the Senate House boycott on UCU members at the School of Advanced Study. We expressed the view that a union should never, ever be in the position to actively worsen the working conditions and employment of any workers, let alone its members.

2. Specific concerns we raised on behalf of members included:

    • The apparent procedural irregularity of allowing an amendment to be made to an unrelated motion, especially one whose direct consequences are to the detriment of UCU members
    • Not being kept safe by UCU, given mental and physical health implications of the stress resulting from the boycott, and having working conditions actively worsened by a UCU decision.
    • Additional significant levels of stress to those already precariously employed.
    • Significant risk to continued and future employment and funding streams. This is due to the inability of (especially precarious and early career) academics to meet the obligations of their employment or funding body related to events, impact, and knowledge exchange.
    • Detriment to future careers prospects. This is due to the undermined engagement deliverables and the fear of being blacklisted when applying for future jobs outside the University of London as momentum behind the boycott grows.

3. SAS is the research division of the University of London/Senate House and has a mandate of research promotion and facilitation (RPF), so SAS members are disproportionally affected by the boycott due to the public-facing aspects of RPF. We collected evidence through an online survey of UCU members at SAS (50% response rate), which showed overwhelming support for the in-housing of workers but very low endorsement of the Senate House Boycott.

4. The HEC voted to uphold its support for the Senate House Boycott. The extent to which the HEC considered the points raised in our submission is unclear.

5. The mental and physical harm being suffered by members, as outlined in our submission is real. There is no acceptable justification for this harm.

The branch resolves:

1. To take action to support UCU members experiencing bullying, harassment and intimidation owing to the Senate House Boycott.

2. To call on HEC to publicly reaffirm that this is not an “academic boycott” (greylisting), as defined by UCU policy, and what follows from that in terms of the expected actions of members.

3. To call on HEC to give a written acknowledgement and response to the detailed submission and evidence we made.

4. To call on UCU to assign resource to the branch, given the ongoing workload resulting from the ongoing in-housing campaign and the range of other campaigns UCU is pursuing.

5. To call on HEC to consider ways for UCU to frame the in-housing of outsourced workers in a national context. This may provide constructive approaches to branches around the country to take positive action this issue at a local level.

Motion 3: Senate House Boycott

This branch notes:

  1. The continuing boycott of Senate House and the disruption this is causing to members.
  2. The statements by the outgoing VC and the response by the IWGB stating that the root cause of the problem is failure to negotiate directly with the representatives of the outsourced workers
  3. The belief that a possible resolution of the situation is dialogue between senior UOL management and the IWGB.

The branch resolves:

  1. To call on the incoming Vice Chancellor to open direct discussions, within the bounds of the current High Court judgment, with the IWGB as soon as practical with a view to resolving the boycott.
  2. To encourage the use by all parties to this issue of constructive language.

 

Motion 4: engage with IWGB to define the Senate House boycott to deflect its damaging impact away from UCU members at the branch

This branch notes:

  1. A campaign to bring out-sourced workers in-house has been ongoing for several years and, following the work of all 3 unions, the first tranche of ‘front of house’ workers were brought in-house, in line with the advertised timeline, in May 2019.
  2. This does not represent all the out-sourced workers seeking to be brought in house, with a number of services yet to have firm commitments and timelines to be insourced and a number having been ‘de-scoped’ during the TUPE process, often at short notice.
  3. In recognition of the lack of firm timescales and commitment to in-source from the University of London, a boycott of events at Senate House has been called by IWGB, the union that provides representation for a number of the outsourced workers.
  4. This boycott, while called to protect the precarious out-sourced workers and their cause, has had potentially unforeseen detrimental impacts upon workers with existing precarious contracts directly with the University of London, particularly those working in SAS whose contracts are focussed around research promotion, much of which is based on organising seminars and other events for academics and the wider public.
  5. That the detrimental impacts are serious and extend beyond current employment to future employability and current working conditions.
  6. Workers are afraid that they will not be able to get future contracts with the University of London or other employers due to the impact of the boycott on their research promotion record.
  7. In addition, the targeting of academics via social media, causing withdrawal from speaking at events, the cancelation and rescheduling of events, often at short notice, is causing physical and mental harm to the workers at SAS.
  8. Due to the harm caused to workers at SAS, the boycott is now effectively pitting 2 groups of precarious workers against each other, and undermining union support and cooperation.
  9. Should the boycott continue in its current format, the position of many workers at SAS, who overwhelmingly support in-sourcing, may become untenable.
  10. The responsibility for the detrimental conditions arising from the boycott, and the ability to end them, cannot be placed solely with the employer given that there exists ambiguity within the public sphere and UCU membership over the terms of the boycott.

The branch resolves to:

  1. Call on UNISON and IWGB to recognise that the bringing in-house of workers at the University of London has been a result of a tri-union effort.
  2. Call on IWGB to mitigate the harm being done to workers at SAS through the boycott by the addition of the word ‘non-academic’ to the current call boycott UoL events at Senate House.
  3. Call on IWGB to recognise that the addition of the word ‘non-academic’ is essential in the deflection of harm from workers at SAS.
  4. Call on IWGB to work with UCU Senate House to define which events are ‘non-academic’.
  5. Call on all parties to work together to end the boycott.