I want to start this brief report by acknowledging the work that colleagues do in the branch office, and also to recognise the support we receive as officers and members from staff in the office in Bridgend who have been in Cardiff to support our efforts with Getting the Vote Out.
I also want to acknowledge the work that members of the executive do, and the time and effort that caseworkers contribute to the branch and to the membership.
Casework often requires discretion and although it’s less visible than some of the union’s other activities, it’s probably the most important element of UCU’s work on the ground at branch level.
Cardiff UCU Away Day and Priority Setting
Members of the executive organised an away day for the executive and members at the start of the 2019-20 academic cycle and I think everyone who was able to take part found it worthwhile: we were there to think about, and to discuss, our priorities as a branch and the away day will be followed up in November by a special meeting of the executive to formulate the conclusions from that event in a way that we can share as a vision for the next year.
The discussion that developed from the activities at the away day identified priorities that are close to the national ones for HE, namely:
- Effective bargaining on pay, equality and pensions;
- Countering casualisation and promoting appropriate workforce composition;
- Promoting work-life balance and sustainable workplaces for our members;
- Maintaining quality, effectiveness, and professional standards.
Additionally, what came out of the away day as a local priority was allowing members who previously haven’t been involved to be active in the work of the branch; plus, pursuing workload issues; and countering bullying and stress.
Among the activities which officers have been doing this year, I would like to highlight the work of the anti-casualization team. I think they have succeeded in giving this issue the visibility it merits; drilling for data has ruffled some feathers and that’s no bad thing, imho, if it means that we are drawing attention to issues of precariousness, ‘atypicalness’, and casualization. If you took part in the casualization survey, thank you.
There has also been activity around Transforming Cardiff and exec members who are focussed on this have been continuing to press for more information and to challenge some of the premises that underpin the exercise.
Members of the workload team have continued to scrutinize the Workload Allocation Model and we have also been pressing the need for members who give up time for union activities recognized by the Facilities Agreement to have this properly represented in the WAM. This is important for the diversity of the activist base, too.
Most of the members of the current exec took part a two day course on negotiation skills led by a facilitator from UCU HQ.
UCU Wales meetings
Members of the exec have represented the branch at meetings of the Wales Higher Education Committee, and the Wales Council, and have fed into an important piece of work the national office in Wales is doing on a review of governance in HE.
Three of us from the executive represented Cardiff at the National UCU Congress, which took place in May, in Harrogate: this will lead, this year, to Cardiff proposing a constructive motion to the 2020 congress on measures that would distribute participation in the debates more evenly among the delegates.
I co-organised one of the fringe events at this year’s congress, on Mental Health, Stress, and Bullying. This was well attended, and the CEO of the Education Support Partnership (to which all members have access) gave a presentation with some alarming statistics on the very steep increase in the number of teachers and HE staff in crisis. The ESP’s report on well-being among staff in HE, which was published in January, can be found on the organisation’s website.
Workload / Health and Safety
In Cardiff, and as part of a pilot project on Health and Safety led by Adam Lincoln, from UCU HQ, our campaign has been joining up the dots between workload, and health and safety. If you have an interest in this and/or are looking for a way to become more active in the union’s work, please consider coming forward as a Health and Safety Rep in your school or department. Your time will be covered by the facilities agreement.
Ballots and GTVO
Members of the executive have done great work on the GTVO campaign, organizing phone banking and floor walking, and have been equally generous in supporting the work around membership. At the time of writing this, I don’t know what the outcome of the dis-aggregated ballot will be and whether we will meet the fifty percent turnout required by the anti-trades union act. If we don’t, it will not be for want of trying, and the work that volunteers contributed to GTVO will not have been in vain, because the face to face conversations with members, and potential members, is important in many other ways.
My experience of floor walking and door knocking was a good one: it was an opportunity to talk to existing members and also to recommend the benefits of membership to colleagues who don’t yet belong to one of the three campus unions for staff.
STOP-PRESS (31-x-2019): It looks as if turnout in Cardiff for both ballots met the 50 percent turnout threshold. All credit to everyone who voted, and to everyone who contributed to GTVO.
At meetings of the National Executive Committee I have made it a priority to underscore the concerns about Brexit among Cardiff UCU members, relaying not only the anxieties that our EU27 colleagues have about Brexit (and the ‘settled status’ scheme) but also the concerns about what more UCU could be doing to highlight Brexit as an issue that will impact the membership.
Meetings with Management
Members of the executive meet with management formally, four times a year in JCNF meetings. At the most recent one of these, I represented as forcefully as I could the voices of those among our membership for whom governance is an issue. The survey that we ran on this issue showed that there is wide support for bringing these issues into a forum where we can debate them. Management preferred not to set up a working group that would include union representation at this stage. Conclusions from the independent review of governance in universities in Wales, overseen by HEFCW, will not come out before January.
Meetings with CUSU
I met up with the newly elected president of Cardiff University Students’ Union, in October and we had a very productive discussion about the process that led to UCU balloting again on pensions and pay. What I sought to emphasize was that in the long run the issues about which we have taken industrial action are relevant to students: if we don’t take a stand on Defined Benefits, when students enter the workforce full time (many, if not most, are already working) they will be coming in to an environment that promises nothing but pensions insecurity, and possibly poverty, in their later years. Similarly, I stressed that we have a common cause in addressing workload issues since the mental health crisis affects both the staff and student bodies across the sector. On behalf of our PG members, I mentioned their concerns about proposals to discontinue the VP for PG role in CUSU’s structures.
Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion
I met with a new member of staff at the Wales office, whose portfolio includes Equality and Diversity and emphasized that locally our EDI priorities include closing the gender pay gap, closing the data gap for the other protected characteristics, EDI aspects of the TEF and of metrics and assessment based on student feedback, and casualization (which has a gendered and age-related dimension).
The composition of the executive reflects the diversity of our membership and a further commitment from the away day was to make sure that all voices are heard: I think we are going in the right direction here.