Strike action in higher education

UCU Scotland Congress 2016

1 April 2016, Stirling Court Hotel, University of Stirling

Resolutions of the 10th UCU Scotland Congress

1. Equal Pay

The year 2020 will mark the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Equal Pay Act.  While there have been improvements since 1970 when the gender pay gap stood around 45% progress has been slow and congress believes that 50 years is too long to wait for equal pay. Most recent figures indicate that the current gender pay gap among the total workforce in the UK is 9.4% while in several sectors, including higher education, the gap is over 20%.  At the current rate of progress it will take at least another 50 years before parity in pay levels is reached.

UCU Scotland Congress calls on governments and employers to make gender pay a priority issue ahead of 2020. All employers should be required to publish pay data which is also aggregated by ethnicity, disability, and age.  While legislation would be required to oblige employers to produce such data we call on Universities Scotland and Universities UK to take action now.  Furthermore Congress calls for an "Equal Pay Employer" scheme to be established, similar to the living wage employer scheme, which will provide employers with accreditation and ensure that outsourcing or subcontracting are not used as a means to obscure an organisation's pay figures.  UCU Scotland Congress instructs the executive to seek an equality impact statement from all Holyrood parties on their pre-election manifestos and to publish the results.

2. Collect data on workload from TRAC

  • Congress notes that workload is a major cause of stress to members yet there is almost no reliable data on actual workloads.
  • It also notes that universities in Scotland periodically ask staff to record their work patterns for the purposes of TRAC (Transparent Approach to Costing).
  • Finally, Congress notes that the Aberdeen UCU branch collected 107 TRAC data report summaries provided by 67 individual members to calculate an average working week of 54 hours for academic staff, as reported in The Gaudie, Aberdeen University students' newspaper.

This motion calls on UCU Scotland to act, with the help of branches, to compile TRAC data from more universities in Scotland so that a more reliable picture of the actual working hours done by academics can be available and used as a tool in the fight to reduce stress and exploitation of staff. 

3. Performance management tools

UCU Scotland notes with concern the continued use of performance management tools such as early career development/probation and performance development systems. Evidence from members across Scotland reveal these to be inconsistent and opaque processes which have served to demoralize staff and to further embed a mistrust of management & managerial systems. UCU Scotland firmly believes that the staff member and development should be at the heart of any effective development system and that any attempt to use it as a performance management tool is flawed and divisive, resulting in demotivated, demoralised staff and the widening of the gulf between management structures and hard-pressed staff. UCU Scotland calls on employers to engage in negotiations to review and overhaul such process to ensure the developmental aspects of the review process are enhanced and the conflation with performance removed.

4. Student complaints procedures

UCU Scotland notes the growing number of members across HEI's in Scotland seeking advice and support in response to complaints made by students through student complaints procedures. While firmly believing that this process is valid and necessary for student well-being, UCU Scotland notes the frequent lack of support mechanisms for staff involved and the stress caused by delays in implementing the procedure and calls on employers to address these issues by developing a framework of guidance and support for staff.

5. Individual (funding) research targets

Congress reiterates UCU's policy position of opposition to the use of individual (research) funding targets and instructs UCU Scotland to campaign against them. The campaign should include the following:

  1. The production of briefing materials for branches to support local negotiations
  2. The investigation of appropriate mechanisms for obtaining an agreement at UK level, possibly through JNCHES (pay negotiations).
  3. Collecting and disseminating information on good practice.
  4. Naming and shaming campaign for institutions which use individual funding targets.

6. Workload and responsibility

This Congress notes:

That members at UCU have frequently expressed concerns about increasing workloads. This is a big issue for the education sector, and it is once again a timely topic as the most recent major UCU survey on workloads demonstrates.

That workload protection is not about limiting what staff may choose to do but rather putting a limit on unreasonable workload demands.

That imposition of unreasonable workloads can lead to stress, and/or feeling of personal inadequacy for individuals, when the true issue is often one of insufficient resources. Bullying and intimidation by management may occur to ensure targets are met irrespective of workload, further adding to this stress.

That a "blame for not being able to cope" culture is endorsed when employers direct individuals or teams to attend workshops on "time management", "efficient organization of personal workload" and "building resilience".

Therefore, this Congress resolves that UCU Scotland should challenge the shift of responsibility to manage unreasonable workload from management (and ill defined work plans) to individuals. UCU guidance on local negotiations for workload protection will be highlighted to branches and UCU Scotland officers will consult branches with a view to sharing best practice.

7. Academic freedom

That this congress strongly opposes the Government proposal to outlaw lobbying for change on issues researched by academics which is funded by the British Government. This undermines the impact element of research and academic freedom.

8. Helping stamp out casual contracts

Congress acknowledges the positive work done by the union in many universities to stamp out zero hours and to regularise casual contracts. Congress asks the executive committee to consider how to increase the prominence given to the issue of zero hours and casual contracts through:

  • Publicising the improvements won in different universities in order to pressurise for the adoption of best practice throughout the whole sector.
  • Considering the issue of how to better attract staff on casualised contracts to our union at an early opportunity
  • Exploring how to best help UCU members already active in this area
  • Publicising the work of the anti-casualisation committee of the UCU
  • Examine how zero-hour contracts are being replaced. Any new forms of contract should have appropriate terms and conditions, holiday pay, sick pay and should not contribute to further casualisation

9. Composite: Prevent and the UK government's counter terrorism strategy

Congress condemns the UK government's 'Prevent' strategy, the effect of which is to marginalise and isolate Muslim students (and staff), under the banner of 'preventing extremism'.

This strategy - referred to as a 'toxic' brand by leading Muslim members of the police force, seeks to force workers in the health service, the prison service, local authorities, schools, FE, HE and elsewhere to act as snoopers on people - particularly those in the Muslim communities - by seeking out examples of 'extremism' which they define as not conforming to a narrow set of Government proposed 'British values'.

Congress notes that this strategy is to be applied in Scotland, despite its manifest failures and divisive nature over the period during which it has been applied in England.

Congress believes that combating Islamophobia through promoting the benefits of open discussion, diversity, multiculturalism and difference through democratic processes is a more appropriate and effective way forward.

Congress recognises the importance of trust and respect within educational establishments and believes that measures such as 'Prevent' undermine the staff / student relationship and fundamentally damage the nature of a collegiate academic institution.

Congress supports the guidelines produced by the UCU on tackling 'Prevent' and the strategy adopted by the union of raising awareness of the issue, campaigning with others against the measures, and making our opposition to 'Prevent' clear by continuous dialogue with the universities whilst refusing to be members of local (and Scottish) 'Prevent' implementation committees.

10. Funding

UCU Scotland congress restates its principled view that higher education is a public good and should be funded accordingly.  Congress notes and commends the ongoing campaigning work of NUS Scotland on funding and student support. Congress recognises the work of the Widening Access Commission in Scotland and calls on the Scottish government to re-asses bursary and support measures to ensure that higher education is accessible to all.  UCU Scotland believes that student success also depends on engaged and skilled staff able to best support all students.  We call on the Scottish government to deliver increased funding for higher education to address casualisation, support early career development and resolve workload issues which are damaging for staff and the students they support.

11. Cuts

Conference notes the sustained pressure brought to the staff at the University of Dundee by constant cuts. Conference further notes the extreme pressure this is having on the careers, progression and wellbeing of staff as a result of this pernicious agenda, as well as the negative impact this has upon the student learner journey.

Dundee University management has announced the need for cuts of £6 million in the 2016/2017 financial year. That this news was released at the same time as the Principal's 15% increase in take-home income is a further insult to the hard-working and dedicated staff. This situation clearly demonstrates the Long-term impact of vanity projects and mis-management.

DUCU members have appreciated the support and solidarity given to them by union colleagues, especially over the past three years and stands in solidarity with our sister union members facing similar plights.

Conference calls on the UCU Scotland Officers to call a meeting of trade union reps, students, principals and senior managers of all universities in Scotland, to collectively call for improved public funding and to engage in collective dialogue to work towards a progressive agenda of protecting and enriching the future of higher education in Scotland

12. Developments at Robert Gordon University

Conference notes with alarm the developments at RGU with the launch of a voluntary severance scheme, and a drastic re-profiling of staff aimed at cutting significant numbers of posts. Conference condemns this thinly veiled attempt at casualization of key staff functions by RGU management and the complete lack of appropriate governance at RGU. Conference calls upon RGU management to adopt a modern and transparent system of governance with full staff and union participation at the highest level of decision making within the university

13. Improving our work in the postgraduate community

Congress supports the work being done to create an active post-graduate network within UCU Scotland and urges all branches to ensure postgrad representation on their committees. Congress asks the executive committee to discuss how to better organize within the postgrad community. This might include consideration of:

  • An extended meeting of the executive committee, or UCUS education committee with a focus on postgraduate issues
  • Consideration of how better contact could be fostered amongst postgraduate contacts throughout Scottish universities
  • Consideration of producing materials aimed at the postgraduate community and of how to raise the profile of postgraduate issues in our work on social media.
  • Increased collaboration on the issue with NUS Scotland

14. Building an active black members network within UCU Scotland

Congress supports the executive committee in its efforts to form an active black members network and asks all branches to support this by:

  • Making the UCU Day of Action against workplace racism a fixed part of their local calendar
  • Supporting branch activity on the annual St Andrews day march against racism
  • Marking black history month by branch activity and publicity
  • Considering reasons for under representation of BME union members in our local and national structures, and of BME members of staff in Higher Education as a whole.

15. Taking further initiatives on educational policy in Scotland

Congress congratulates the executive committee, for the production of increasingly high quality campaigning and policy materials such as the Manifesto for the Referendum, and '5 reasons to join UCU Scotland'. Congress notes that our policy submissions on a whole range of questions, from governance to widening access and other issues of post 16 education are increasingly setting the tone of public discussion in these fields, as seen by improved press coverage.

Congress also congratulates the UK executive committee for its successful 'Cradle to the Grave' educational conference.

Congress asks the executive committee to consider:

  • How best to use the materials in our policy statements more publicly (through the production of leaflets or through a higher profile on our blog site/ twitter feed etc
  • Whether it is possible to use these policy statements and documents as the basis for encouraging branches to hold local seminars and discussions with others working in this field (sister unions/ campaigning organisations/ local Student Associations etc)
  • Whether it would be possible to hold another Scottish focussed educational conference looking at the post Holyrood election scenario in terms of post-16 education.

16. Adopting a gender perspective in UCU

It is crucially important that women have equal access to representation and influence and the union is seen as a positive force for gender equality. To this end, Congress asks the exec committee to consider a gender perspective throughout the work of the union and specifically to consult with the female membership to identify issues of concern for them and examples of good practice in this area. Similarly, Congress asks the Executive Committee to examine gender disaggregated figures for union membership in Scotland with a view to increasing women's representation. Furthermore, congress asks the executive committee to consider the gendered nature and impact of the work of the union in its broader activities, for example, the over representation of women on casual contracts.

17. HE Governance

UCU Scotland Congress congratulates members and UCU staff involved in the campaign to deliver democracy, accountability and transparency in university governance.  The passing of the HE Governance Bill on March 8th marks the culmination of years of campaigning and all those involved should feel rightly proud.  Having ensured that all university boards will have reserved places for trade union and student nominees, as well as elected chairs, Congress instructs executive to develop resources, ideally in partnership with NUS Scotland, to support members nominated as governors, to facilitate sharing of best practice and to ensure that the new legislation is implemented in a manner beneficial to all staff and students.

Congress also asks the Scottish Executive to continue to push for progress on the 'unfinished business' of the von Prondzynski review such as the establishment of a Scottish Centre for Higher Education Research, and for moves towards gender balance and diversity on University boards.

18. The Green Paper

Congress notes the efforts of the Westminster government to bring market forces deeper into the higher education sector through the proposal mooted in the recent Green paper on education. We send solidarity to our colleagues in England who face the brunt of these attacks. We note the negative impact that proposed measures such as the misnamed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) may have in Scotland, through the knock on effect of the Green Paper's policies north of the border.

Any proposed Teaching Excellence Framework will not improve quality. This is especially so when pressing issues including tackling casualisation, workloads, career progression and endemic underfunding remain in the sector, and because student satisfaction results are dependent on a number variables including student numbers and student staff ratios.  Increased student fee levels, limited regulation of for profit providers, and widening participation measures undermined by regressive changes to student support will damage UK higher education's reputation and structure. 

We call on the UCU Scottish Executive to

  • Campaign against the dangers incorporated in the TEF proposals
  • Discuss with other concerned bodies, including Universities Scotland how a better approach may be guaranteed for Scotland and call on them to reject the worst excesses of the green paper.
  • Support UCU colleagues in England in their campaign against marketisation.

19. Access to research facilities for retired members

Congress notes that members in retirement remain professionally active on many fronts including in research and scholarship, serving the community and the like. Noting the motion passed at its meeting in 2015 instructing Executive to pursue actively a policy of urging all HE institutions in Scotland to offer automatic honorary status to retirees who wish it, congress urges Executive:

  1. to contact principals and vice-chancellors without delay with a view to furthering this agreed aim;
  2. to support branches in local negotiation on this matter; and
  3. to make use of the draft letters drawn up by the Scottish Retired Members Branch to facilitate (a) and (b).

20. University social responsibility

Mindful of the progress that has been and is being made on enhancing the transparency and democratic accountability of Scotland's universities (in particular through the von Prondzynski report and the HE Governance Bill), Congress requests that UCU Scotland examine the Benchmark Standards for University Social Responsibility across the European Higher Education Area with a view to adopting and promoting them through its local associations.

21. Trade union bill

Congress notes the UK anti-trade union bill aims to make effective industrial action more difficult by raising the threshold for implementing ballot results, stopping the 'check-off' system for collecting union dues, and restricting the availability of facility time for trade union reps amongst other measures.

Congress congratulates the Scottish government for its opposition to the Bill which the Sunday Herald has noted is aimed at destroying the Trade Union movement as an effective force, and which is about 'revenge' not reform.

Congress asks the executive committee to make it clear to Universities Scotland that the implementation of any of these aspects of this bill within Higher Education can only lead to worsened industrial relations, and to urge Universities Scotland not to implement these measures, but instead to work with campus trade unions to resist the bill's implementation in Scotland.

Congress asks the executive committee to work closely with other unions, the STUC and TUC in waging a campaign of effective action against this bill to prevent its passing, or if it is passed, to bring about its earliest possible defeat.

22. Refugee crisis

Congress deplores the humanitarian crisis, human rights violations and destruction of the human heritage, education, economic infrastructure and agriculture in those areas affected. Further Congress would like to express support for the many local initiatives to help refugees integrate, for example the Glasgow-based "Refuweegee" campaign, which provides welcome packs and written letters from locals for newly-arrived refugees.

Congress instructs UCU Scotland Executive to put pressure on Scottish Government and campaign with other broad based organisations to:

  1. Provide urgent humanitarian assistance, (medical, water, shelter and education) to refugees seeking asylum.
  2. Welcome refugees and ensure they are given all appropriate support within the community.
  3. Congress encourages branches and members to help publicise and support local initiatives where possible

23. Solidarity with asylum seekers

UCU Scotland notes serious allegations published in The Times on 18 February about asylum seekers in Glasgow being threatened and harassed by private landlords and some asylum seekers being housed in dirty and dangerous conditions.

UCU Scotland expresses solidarity with all asylum seekers and deplores the fact that people fleeing horrendous circumstances are not even receiving adequate housing, education and being treated with respect.

UCU Scotland Congress supports the call for a full investigation of these allegations and supports the call for any associated broad-based events and demonstrations.

UCU Scotland Congress agrees to instruct Committee/Executive to encourage members to write to their councillors and MSPs;

  1. To highlight this issue and the call for an investigation
  2. For the establishment of standards for safe housing for asylum seekers.
  3. For the safety, welfare and dignity of asylum seekers to be prioritised over cost savings

24. Next steps in the academic boycott of universities in Israel

This congress notes: 

  • that by continuing its occupation of the West Bank, siege of Gaza, denial of the right of return to refugees and unequal treatment of its Jewish and Arab citizens, Israel continues to be in breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338 and 146 and General Assembly Resolution 194; 
  • that Israeli universities collude in these breaches of international humanitarian law;
  • That 2015 UCU Scotland Congress motion L5, which "notes UCU's commitment to the lawful implementation of boycott of Israel [and] calls upon branches and members to protest against any links with Israeli state, commercial or academic institutions ...", was adopted by the UCUS executive committee;
  • STUC policy in support of the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel;
  • UCU policy calling for an end to EU funding to Israel until the occupation is ended.
  • that policy motions passed by majority vote at UCU UK Congress in support of an academic boycott of Israel, have been ruled ultra-vires on the basis of legal advice by Lord Lester; 
  • that Lord Lester's advice acknowledges that "the Union and its members are fully entitled to exercise their right to freedom of expression, discussion and debate by considering the pros and cons of the proposed boycott";

Congress further notes that the call for an academic boycott: 

  • has come from Palestinian academics through the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) is endorsed by the Palestinian Council for Higher Education and is supported by the Palestinian Federation of Unions of University Professors and Employees; 
  • seeks international solidarity through nonviolent implementation of this boycott so long as Israeli Higher Education institutions continue to collude in Israel's breaches of its obligations in international law;
  • upholds and does not conflict with the universal right to academic freedom and specifically excludes boycotting Israeli scholars merely on the basis of affiliation to an Israeli academic institution;
  • calls for a boycott of academic events convened or co-sponsored by Israel; institutional cooperation agreements with Israeli universities or research institutes, government and corporations; Funding for academic activities from Israel; and such other specifically named academic collaborations which serve to normalise and legitimise the ongoing breaches in international humanitarian law.

Therefore, this Congress resolves:

  1. to hold a seminar 
    1. to consider the pros and cons of the proposed academic boycott; the campaign for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions; and any other acts of solidarity which members can legally take to contribute to the international call for Israel to adhere to international law 
    2. to discuss the conditions of academics and scholars in Palestine and Israel and barriers to their right to academic freedom;
  2. to publish a factual report of the seminar to members in Scotland.

25. UCU support for just transition activities in Scotland

This Congress notes: 

That the 21st Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, in Paris in December 2015, acknowledged that existing commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of member states, will fail to prevent catastrophic climate change;

That the mechanisms endorsed by the Paris agreement risks exacerbating inequality and poverty, and is likely to serve the interests of investors over working people;

However, this congress welcomes the recognition in the Paris agreement that trade unions can play an important role in achieving necessary reductions in greenhouse gases whilst protecting the interests of workers, through Just Transition mechanisms;

Therefore, this Congress resolves that UCU Scotland should support and give full commitment to, and where appropriate, to initiate, Just Transition initiatives in Scotland.

26. Condemning the killing of Giulio Regeni

Congress condemns in the strongest possible way the killing and torture by the Egyptian authorities of Italian national and Cambridge-based PhD student Giolio Regeni. His killing represents a direct attack not only upon the academic community and the values and freedoms we stand for, but also upon the trade union movement as a whole. It is an uncomfortable reminder that speaking truth to power and exercising our human right to organisation in a union remains a dangerous and high risk undertaking in some parts of the world.

Congress requests that the executive committee:

Issue the strongest possible condemnation of Giulio Regeni's killing, and reaffirms our internationalist commitment to support the fight for recognition of academic and human rights across the world

Join the pressure upon the UK, Italian and Egyptian governments to conduct a full investigation into his killing, and to hold those guilty to account

To recognise this as not only an attack upon the academic community, but the wider trade union and labour movement as a whole.

Last updated: 4 April 2019