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Changes to working conditions and health and safety

Dear Members,
 
Please find a report on the changes in our work conditions that have been communicated to UCU members via internal comms (and perhaps in some staff meetings).  The report is based on the survey results from last week, the Branch meeting held on 16th July and correspondence with individual members. Events have moved rapidly so some of the issues raised by members have been covered by more recent communications from our employers. For example, in the Internal Comms 05/08 staff were informed that the guidance on changes to working hours,  ‘….will be regularly reviewed and will remain in place whilst the University continues to operate an extended teaching day due to the COVID-19 pandemic.’
 
However, there remains substantial issues around demands on our members time, lack of detail around keeping us safe on campus, and the manner in which decisions are made and communicated by our employers. Whilst UCU is sympathetic to our employer’s efforts to keep staff and student’s safe during a global pandemic, we are worried about the consequences of poor engagement with staff in key decisions. The next year is going to be difficult for everyone, both in terms of workload and risks to health. Good will, collegiality and reciprocity are likely to be a key factors in navigating the uncertainties and anxieties facing all of us working at the University over the next 12 months or so.  
 
If you have further concerns or questions, please feel free to  get in touch with your local UCU representative,  the Branch Administrator – Victoria.Cattini@hull.ac.uk , or Branch Secretary, Kevin Paulson,  K.S.Paulson@associate.hull.ac.uk .

Call for Members to Become Covid Health and Safety Reps

Dear Members,
Last week we had a meeting on the changes to teaching this coming academic year. A key issue of concern was whether returning to campus would be safe. UCU has attended regular meetings with the H&S Directorate, Estates and HR since lockdown and we are satisfied that the University is prioritizing Health and Safety and is taking an evidence-led approach in the development of it’s safety measures. However, the work is high level, related to risk assessments, policy documents and so on. The safety for individuals is very much dependent on what happens in each of our working areas.
For this reason, we are putting a call out for Covid Health and Safety Reps in each department. The Covid H&S representative can help with advice to staff (all, not just UCU members), liaise with local managers, and report problems to the UCU committee and the Health and Safety Directorate if necessary. They will have access to support and training from the UCU.  Trade Union Health and Safety representatives have special status in the law (rights to investigate, consult and personal protections). In addition, we know that University’s Health and Safety Directorate would welcome additional support from union reps. In essence, we have to work together to keep each other safe.
How to get appointed
  • Discuss being a H&S rep with members of staff in your area, it is OK to have more than one.
  • Contact UCU to let us know. We will pass on your details to HR and the Health & Safety Directorate.
  • Departmental Reps can be H&S reps
What will the role entail?
  • Familiarizing yourself with the relevant policies and risk assessments in your area (can be limited to coronavirus health and safety issues).
  • This includes University documentation, government guidelines, and UCU documentation (e.g. see UCU advice to HE branches attached).
  • Familiarize yourself with your rights as a Trade Union H&S representative.
  • Provide advice to staff in your department, answer staff queries, and report problems to the line manager, Health and Safety Directorate and UCU committee.
  • Liaise with managers in the Faculty who are responsible for Health and Safety. In FHS and FoSE, there are a number of staff who have specialized Health and Safety responsibilities.
UCU committee will provide help and support.
If you have any questions please contact our Branch Secretary, Kevin Paulson, K.S.Paulson@associate.hull.ac.uk   or our Branch Administrator, Vicky Cattini, Victoria.Cattini@hull.ac.uk

 

Change to Timetabled Hours

Dear Members,
Last week we held a Branch meeting to address the changes to teaching that have been proposed by management. There was widespread concern on the management’s plan to timetable teaching from 9am – 8pm for specialist spaces, and from 9am – 9pm for generic spaces, Monday to Friday, excluding Wednesday afternoons (from 1pm).
The UCU committee did ask to negotiate on this change to the timetable, but we were refused on the grounds that the Supplementary Terms and Conditions for Academic Staff, states the following:
“The normal hours of work are not specified but are those which are necessary to carry out the responsibilities and duties associated with the post.”
The UCU committee contends that custom and practice is that teaching takes place between 9am – 6pm, Monday to Friday, and our employer’s plan to significantly extend the teaching timetable is a significant change to our working conditions.
At the branch meeting members raised a number of concerns ranging from work/life balance, impact on those with caring responsibilities, and the safety of those travelling at home late at night. Members expressed disappointment that the management sought to impose this change to their working conditions rather than taking a collegial approach given that the reason for the change relates to the health and safety of staff and students.
At the meeting it was agreed to poll the wider membership on the change in timetabled teaching.  This survey will be sent to members in the next few days.

SSFA Restructuring proposals: Survey of UCU members at the University of Hull

Introduction

The survey was conducted between 8th and 29th June, covering both the period of review and the publication of initial proposals for the restructuring of Student Service and Faculty Administration (SSFA). It was distributed to UCU members via our membership list and covered members in Professional Services and Academic Departments. Members were asked to identify their role in the survey (question 2) in order to inform analysis of the results (with the analysis conducted so that the views of SSFA members were represented fully) but reporting (below) is not by role, ensuring anonymity for all participants. The purpose of the survey was to gain information about members’ views on the review and proposals for restructure of SSFA. The insights gained from the survey will inform representation by UCU on the proposed restructure of SSFA and will be shared with management as part of UCU’s continuing efforts to constructively engage with decision making at the University of Hull.

Method

The survey included six questions as follows:

  1. Are you currently employed by the University of Hull?’
  2. What best describes your job role?
  3. Do you think you will be directly affected by the Transformation of Student Services and Faculty Administration (e.g. job role could change)?
  4. Please use the space below to comment on your concerns regarding the Transformation of Student Services and Faculty Administration. Please be careful not to be overly critical and name individuals, directly or indirectly.
  5. Please use the space below for comments/suggestions to help UCU represent your views to management on the Transformation of Student Services and Faculty Administration.
  6. Please use the space below for any further comments not addressed in questions above.

 

Question 1 is confirmatory, Question 2 asked to identify their job role in order to inform analysis of the results (with the analysis conducted so that the views of SSFA members were represented fully) but the following analysis and reporting (below) is not by role, ensuring anonymity for all participants.   Questions 3, 4, 5 & 6 were analysed under themes as these items requested free text responses – as noted in the reporting of earlier UCU surveys, free text responses generate complex responses such that thematic reporting can be the most suitable analytic approach.

 

Participants

There were 94 participants in the survey (32% Professional Services and 68% Academic).  All participants were employees of the University of Hull and members of UCU.

 

Results

The importance of Student Support and Faculty Administration Staff

The importance of both the roles and duties performed in Student Support and Faculty Administration (SSFA) and of the people who perform those roles and duties was highlighted throughout the text comments. Respondents noted not only how essential these roles and people are to the day-to-day running of the University, but also the vital role Student Services and Faculty Administrative staff play when there is a need to ‘go beyond’. One comment captured this theme noting

The SSFA staff are essential to the routine business of the faculty (which would grind to a halt without them).  They also constitute the extra capacity that is needed when sudden spikes in the workload erupt.

The professionalism of staff in SSFA was also noted but under this theme there was a warning about the dangers of reducing staffing levels in SSFA for example the observation ‘that the University needs many more SSFA staff not less’ was repeated a number of times.  Similar comments noted where SSFA staff’s workload is (collectively or individually) either too high or at the edge of capacity. Respondents highlighted – related to workload/capacity – a connection with the Student experience, noting that SSFA staff’s work is vital to the student experience.

The survey therefore reflected that the work done by SSFA staff is vital and should be valued as a field of practice in its own right with a distinctive professional identity. However, comments from the survey suggest that the University has not adequately recognized this distinctive professionalism noting in one comment

We will never improve our [………………] until the University starts taking these staff seriously – [……] could have been so very different if they [SSFA colleagues] had been given the respect they deserve. [1]

 

Workload

As noted, the survey results suggest that SSFA are collectively and/or individually at the edge of capacity in respect of workload. Respondents are aware that SSFA staff have already experienced a loss of staff as a consequence of restructuring, and this has had the consequence of increasing workload (which has not diminished) for remaining staff. One response summarises this view

The SSFA [……….] were cut drastically by the voluntary severance scheme earlier in this academic year.  There should not be an expectation that this resource is an automatic source of further savings, but an assessment of their workload [should be conducted] before any further blanket statements about saving x amount from a particular area.

The survey also includes comments (by non-SSFA staff) who note that overall volume of administrative and student support work (i.e. the aggregated number, volume and complexity of Student Support and Administrative tasks required within the institution) has not diminished but has, in fact, increased. Most, if not all of this work should properly be within the remit of highly professional SSFA staff but the University has managed this increase by re-allocating work (or tasks) from where they should reside (with SSFA staff) onto others, particularly Academics. This trend both fails to take advantage of the professional capacity within SSFA, and also shifts additional work onto others (who are not best placed to do it) as one respondent notes

My concern[2] is that we will end up with fewer PSS staff doing critical student-facing work, which will mean that academic staff have to take on roles previously done by departmental administrators.

 

On the proposals for restructuring

A comment that both reflects the esteem for the work done by SSFA staff and also addresses the proposed restructure captures a number of views about the proposed new structure

…the University should not waste time (and therefore money) attempting to fix what is not broken, and which works extremely well.

In essence there was a relatively strong theme which questioned why the proposed review and restructure was necessary at all

Where comments address the plans (as understood by respondents) there is a general position against centralization of these services, a negative perception of a move to less face-to-face, de-personalised ways of working and interacting (both with students and colleagues), and concerns about the asymmetry of the plans. There is, overall, an acknowledgement that the principle concern (that this proposed restructure would result in over-centralisation) has been somewhat addressed but there remains even in these comments a distinct lack of clarity over what the objectives of the review were[3] and why it was considered necessary other than as a cost-cutting exercise. In respect of this, it should be noted there is a skepticism in the tone of some of the comments, epitomized by the following comments

  • Centralised services are okay but are not, in my experience, a substitute for the support offered by a dedicated individual who is in close proximity (this is surprisingly important, especially for the day to day management of teaching and learning) and who knows our degrees and students intimately. I realise this is a lost cause at this institution, but the point needs making nonetheless.
  • Yet more changes which create a less-personal services and take the administrators physically away from their units for which they are responsible is not a good idea. The move to Hubs was not well-received by staff and students despite the comments by those responsible for the change who thought it was well-received.

It is also clear that staff were unaware how the review may affect them individually (and their jobs and livelihoods) and the point has to be made that this survey was conducted towards the end of a protracted review process.

There is further lack of clarity on ‘what happens next?’ as respondents commented on their experience of previous restructuring and processes such as assimilation, commenting that such processes ‘need a serious overhaul’ and detailing inherent unfairness as they experienced it.

 

Deskilling of SSFA

There are concerns over deskilling (through the loss of experienced staff) and the potential consequences of de-skilling that appear to be inherent to all the models under review. As far as how such deskilling might affect the University as a whole, respondents noted the effects of deskilling SSFA (and other professional teams over previous years), giving examples which included

  • research: ‘PSS support for research has already been cut and fragmented in ways that harm research at the university’
  • the student experience : ‘With each change we lose people who are well-experienced in handling matters [……………………….] this loses flexibility and creates tasks which may not be needed’
  • stability: ‘Timing not good; squeezing an already squeezed provision because of VES. Key staff with significant expertise have left the university. The transformation process has been worrying for everyone at a very difficult time’

There was also clear concern for all staff who may remain in restructured SSFA and their career – comments which complement observations about the necessity for the distinctive professionalism of SSFA staff to be recognized. As one respondent noted ‘There is a need to ensure that the progression routes within the transformed service are clear for members of staff…[4]

 

Planning and Process

It should be noted that there were not a large number of comments which addressed the details of the models presented to staff for SSFA restructuring (See previous section). Some of the comments give some insight into why this may be.  For example, one respondent noted that

The document seems to focus predominantly partly on broad sweeping statements, and partly on matters of internal structure. There is insufficient commentary on how the designers envisage the new system will impact on the day-to-day experience of ‘service users’.

Similarly, other respondents noted

  • There is not enough information, we do not know much about what is going to happen or what are the criteria for this transformation.
  • I am concerned at the lack of clarity in communications from […..].

The overall sense (and this may address concerns some HR colleagues have expressed about how some staff do not engage with reviews or consultations processes) is of a weariness with continual change, and some sense that the proposals are ‘high-level’ but ignore grounded detail, such as ‘Will I have a job?’, which is as equally important to staff as the question of what a structure looks like on a flowchart. This weariness is perhaps reflected best in one comment

The SSFA project needs to not be delayed any further as it is placing undue pressure and anxiety on the staff involved. We have had the axe over our necks for months, if not years

There is scepticism also apparent which operates on two levels. Firstly, there is scepticism about processes. A comment about process management (which implicitly notes the potential consequences to student experience of inadequate process review, illustrates this scepticism

I am not convinced that equality of student experience will be achieved because whilst they talk about standardisation they just as readily reference localisation of process. Since process review is hard and time consuming, I suspect that only ‘lip service’ will be paid to this and the student experience will remain variable

A further comment is more directly sceptical noting ‘Transformation’ is virtually always a euphemism for ‘cost saving’. There is also, related to this, clear scepticism over how valued colleagues will be treated as a consequence (of this proposed restructure).

 

Summary: Culture is key.

UCU’s survey was not designed to deliver a fully comprehensive response and analysis to the proposals for SSFA design that were under discussion at the time the survey was conducted. But it was an opportunity for UCU members to comment on the potential concerns they may have about the proposed models for SSFA or on the process of review. Where UCU members have commented on the models that were presented to them, the general comments were solidly against further centralization and it does appear as if a wholesale move to further centralization has not occurred. Respondents also clearly positively identified the distinctive professionalism, specific knowledge and vital role of SSFA staff and it does appear that as discussions have continued, the University will embed CPD and career support into the implementation of the new structures for SSFA.

But it is also (unfortunately) necessary to comment on the weariness and skepticism that is evident throughout the comments submitted for this survey. It would be easy to contest or dismiss my claim of weariness and skepticism as a tonal note, or as an interpretation skewed by the fact that this is a Trade Union report or to assume that surveys such as this tend to attract people who have something (negative) to say. But – while acknowledging that this is a Trade Union report and that some ‘skew’ is present – the scepticism and weariness is still notable in the data. Trying to understand why (in this particular survey), there is such evidence of this, may provide some insight.

All staff at Hull – but particularly SSFA staff – have experienced almost continual restructuring for the majority of the last five years and – from many staff’s perspective – the putative or alleged benefits of this continual restructuring is not clear, either to themselves, their colleagues or our students. Given this – and trying to understand the ‘weariness and scepticism’ that this analysis argues is apparent in the data – the following may apply:  weariness with continual structural change is to be expected as is scepticism about change unless another critical (non-structural) factor in shaping a community of practice (or place of employment) is also addressed. One respondent both summarized what most responses argued (that change does not necessarily make things better) and identified what this ‘missing’ factor may be, so it seems appropriate to close with that comment

Making changes doesn’t necessarily make provision better. If staff are not engaged and take ownership then service provision will not improve. Culture is key.

 

Footnotes

[1] This comment referred to a specific KPI. It has been edited to protect anonymity but the point made in relation to the importance of SSFA staff was duplicated in a number of comments across different domains of activity or in reference to other KPI’s

[2] Expressed as a concern here, most other comments on this theme reported this as a clear established pattern e.g. ‘It should be made clear how the proposed transformation will reverse the trend that increasing amounts of administration is being asked of academic staff.

[3] The survey was taken while the review was in progress and prior to issuance of the proposals for consultation.

[4] UCU understands that the University has already acknowledged this point and made a commitment to supporting CPD and career development for SSFA staff

Branch Meeting on Academic Promotions

As outlined in last week’s General Meeting, your UCU committee has drafted a proposal on academic promotions: UCU_NewPromotionScheme, and would like feedback from members. The proposal identifies a number of shortcomings with the current scheme, and sets out a more progressive alternative that we believe will be more beneficial to our members and our university.
 
We would like members who are interested in academic promotions to read our proposal and feed back their thoughts.  We will host an online workshop next Tuesday (June 23, 10-11 am) in which Dr Paul Skarratt will talk through the basic principles and the underlying mechanics. The rest of the workshop will be a member-led discussion to further improve and refine the proposal. 
 
The Zoom invitation will be sent to members later this week or email Victoria Cattini at  Victoria.Cattini@hull.ac.uk.  If you cannot attend then please feel free to email your views to Paul at p.skarratt@hull.ac.uk. 

Branch Meeting – Thursday 11th June 2020

Your UCU Branch Committee has organised a meeting for members on Thursday 11th June at 12.30 pm via zoom and details of the meeting can be obtained via our branch administrator.   It will be an opportunity for the Committee to update members on the outcomes from the Emergency UJCC meeting, provide an update on work matters relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, four fights and USS ballots, and for members to be able to ask questions or raise any concerns they may have.

Suspension of Disciplinary and Capability Processes

The following request for the suspension of disciplinary and capability processes has been communicated to management.

 

The COVID-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-generation scale crisis for the UK and the University.   At the time of writing, the UK alone has seen over 36,900 deaths from over 261,000 confirmed cases. During times of crisis, our public institutions should try to support people and not compound an already difficult situation. The UCU holds that all university processes with potentially detrimental outcomes for staff should be stopped until the crisis has abated and the university reopens. We welcome the recent confirmation that all compulsory redundancies have been suspended in all areas, but call for this suspension to be extended to all disciplinary and capability procedures currently in progress.
We make this request on humanitarian and practical grounds.  The University of Hull is said to be committed to the values of care, respect and the dignity of the person; its leaders rightly claim that their principal responsibility is to the health and wellbeing of staff and students. In practical terms, the UCU is unable to provide the support our members need to ensure meaningful representation. The personal dynamics that are essential to good communication and shared understanding are compromised in online meeting spaces, especially when high quality and reliable internet connections cannot be guaranteed.

UCU trusts that the university will do the right thing during this crisis when people are juggling commitments to their colleagues, students, families and friends. UCU believes that the University of Hull aims to be a compassionate institution whose leaders demonstrate genuine care for their staff during this difficult period. We think an immediate suspension of the aforementioned procedures would be a significant step towards meeting those aims.

Disabled Members Event

It’s good to talk!
Are you a disabled member who would like to talk with other disabled members?  Elane Heffernan (UCU NEC FE Rep and Chair of the Disabled Members Standing Committee)  would like to invite you to an online meeting on Tuesday 5 May 2020, 3pm – 4pm for disabled members who may  have concerns or feel isolated during the current pandemic.  Attendees will have the opportunity to talk and network with other disabled members.    To attend, please email Elane (elaneheffernan@btinternet.com) no later than 11am on Tuesday 5 May for access details to the meeting.
 
NB:  No counselling services will be provided

Transformation Update

In our last newsletter, our employer’s reply to our Regional Official about the status of Transformation during the Covid-19 crisis indicated that Transformation would likely continue in some form. This position was updated in the March 26 Update from Vice-Chancellor Professor Susan Lea under HR Update. https://universityofhull.newsweaver.com/1aqrnta2ma/1s0v8tcn35l

The relevant passage is copied below:
“ While we must continue to seek to realise the benefits of our transformation plans, we will review the timings and processes of each project to reflect the immediate circumstances. Project leaders will be in touch with everyone involved in current projects as soon as possible to discuss the next steps.  For those projects which unfortunately indicate a potential for fewer roles, we will suspend all compulsory redundancy processes for the next 12 weeks.  This means that there will be no compulsory redundancies during this period. We will continue to review this position as the wider context evolves.  Whilst the implications of these decisions will require careful consideration and other mitigating actions, we hope that they provide some level of reassurance to colleagues at an otherwise difficult time.”

UCU fully supports the Vice-Chancellor’s message regarding the suspension of all compulsory redundancy processes for the next 12 weeks. It is an active demonstration of the Vice-Chancellor’s commitment to the well-being of staff and students and an acknowledgement of the needs of staff to adapt to an extraordinary situation. Below is UCU’s position on compulsory redundancy processes, which is consistent with the position put forward by the Vice-Chancellor and UCU’s national office.

UCU’s position

Vice-Chancellor’s message:

For those projects which unfortunately indicate a potential for fewer roles, we will suspend all compulsory redundancy processes for the next 12 weeks.” 

UCU’s understanding of a commitment to ‘suspend all compulsory redundancy processes for the next 12 weeks’ is that it covers the following activities:

  • the development of any selection criteria for compulsory redundancy
  • new consultations with individuals or groups of people which may lead to them being placed at risk of voluntary or compulsory redundancy
  • processes of assimilation
  • 1-1 meetings with HOD’s or other line managers about compulsory redundancy
  • issuance of redundancy notices
  • meetings of the Redundancy Committee
  • service re-design involving restructuring which may lead to compulsory redundancy

Additionally, we recognize that many people are in different stages of ‘voluntary’ severance from the University and we do not wish to interrupt any such processes which are underway. But we are working in conditions of lockdown where the ability to fully engage in consultation (either over your job or your settlement and with your advisers or representatives) may be reduced. For this reason. we’d like all deadlines for current voluntary severance schemes extended, with agreement of the member, (to a closing date past the end of lockdown) to allow people time to seek the necessary advice on pensions, payment, legal advice and their rights following severance.

Please do get in touch if there are any queries about your personal circumstances. A general position does not cover all individual circumstances and we have caseworkers ready to help, albeit remotely.

Annual Leave

The University released information on annual leave in the April 3 Update from Vice-Chancellor Professor Susan Lea.

In summary: The University encourages staff to take leave as taking some time from work is just as important in the context of remote working as it is when working on campus. It is important to note that if leave is cancelled during the lockdown period, staff are considered available for work as they would under normal circumstances. In addition, carry over for holiday entitlements will only be apply to key workers (e.g. Clinical academics), consistent with government policy on statutory leave. The University expects that the majority of staff will be able to take their annual leave in accordance with the existing policy on leave.

Some members have contacted UCU concerned that they have no time to take annual leave due to the pressure of workload associated with moving to online delivery and changes to assessment submission dates. Also, additional pressures from caring responsibilities have put pressure on staff to spread work over longer time periods. UCU will raise these concerns with management this week.  Please note that Trade Unions were not consulted on either holiday leave in the context of current epidemic, or absence reporting. This was due to the University’s need to act quickly. Please do get in touch, if you have concerns and we will bring them to the attention of management. Also, remember to let your manager know if you are experiencing difficulties.