February 2024 Newsletter

Welcome to the February newsletter where you will find: 

Call for General Meeting Update on the last General Meeting 
Update on The Big Conversation / Y Sgwrs Fawr – Unions meeting with the VC UCU Campaign for University Democracy – last chance to vote in the ballot 
Affiliation to Trades Council 
Solidarity & Events including local hustings for candidates in the ongoing UCU elections 

Call for General Meeting 

Our next branch General Meeting will be on Thursday, 22nd February from 1.05-2.05pm (via Zoom).   You can submit motions or items for the agenda by the Friday 9th February – these should be forward to the Branch Secretary Ryan Prout (ProutR@cardiff.ac.uk). If you want any information or support on submitting an item or a motion, please contact the office (ucu@cardiff.ac.uk) or please contact our branch Chair, Renata Medeiros (MedeirosMirraRJ@cardiff.ac.uk), who will be happy to help. Motions previously passed by the branch can be found here.  

A calendar invite and zoom link will be sent to you soon and final Agenda and papers will be circulated the following week. We recommend that, if possible, members go through these ahead of the meeting.    General Meetings are the most important forum for our branch, as this is where our policy and priorities are shaped by yourself and the other members. We hope to see you there. 

Update on the last General Meeting   

At our last GM on the 24th January, our President, Joey Whitfield gave members an update on the campus unions involvement with the Big Conversation, and as promised, you can read the details of the meeting below.   The branch voted on one motion on Potential change to school term dates from 2025/26 and the consequences for University employees who are parents of school age children, which was carried with 46/55 votes in favour.  A motion on Condemning sexual violence as part of armed conflict was voted but not carried, with 31/48 votes against.  A motion on Solidarity with Jewish staff and Students was not voted due to time constraints and will be tabled for the next GM.  

Some members raised the question of whether the branch should be dealing with and taking motions on political/contentious issues that do not seem directly relevant to the work of the branch. The executive committee has reflected on and discussed this extensively in the past and have considered the following: Whether to debate political/contentious issues is a contentious issue in itself, with strong opinions on either side, including those who strongly believe that these issues are core to trade union work;   It is difficult to draw a clear line between what is directly relevant to the work of the branch or not as some national and international events can have a direct impact on the institution or on many of our members – we have a diverse workforce at Cardiff University, including a wide international community, who can be directly affected by issues that seem distant to others. Furthermore, our institutions can often be more involved than we think on issues that might seem at first detached from our working lives (e.g. through research, funding, or investment on issues like war or climate change) If we had a policy of not debating certain issues, someone would have to make that call (probably the Chair or Secretary) and not only would that be more work for people in these roles, it would also be a heavy responsibility that could be easily criticised as censorship; Most of the motions we receive from members are political to some extent and the General Meetings where these motions are debated are amongst the most well attended, which suggests that members care about these issues; As per our branch rules, at General Meetings, members have the option to, at any point in the meeting, request to move on to the next item; if a member makes this request, the Chair should put to a vote whether to move to the next item or not, and if carried, the topic in question does not get debated or voted on.   

With these in mind, the executive committee developed a policy of accepting any motions proposed by members, unless there was a strong reason to block it (e.g. if it is clearly offensive in nature, contravenes branch rules, etc.). Motions that are most directly linked to the core business of the branch are tabled at the top of the agenda.   

The branch also voted on delegates to attend the UCU Wales Congress in Cardiff on the 2nd March. Our branch delegates will be: Phillip Allsopp, Aline Bompas (branch Wellbeing Officer), Sandy Gould (branch Membership Secretary), Jackie Jones, Owain Lawson, Renata Medeiros (branch Chair), Markku Nivalainen, and Adam Soper. Our executive committee member, Chris Graves, will also be attending in his capacity of Secretary of the UCU Wales Higher Education Committee. Nominations got extend so if anyone else would like to register as delegate please contact the office by 15th February. 

The Agenda and Papers for Congress will be shared with our branch to be discussed at our next General Meeting. Our branch submitted one motion for UCU Congress on Solidarity with Palestine, which was carried at this GM with 34/53 votes in favour. Once papers are circulated, our branch can submit two amendments to motions proposed to Congress.   We also elected one delegate from our branch, our Anti-Casualisation Officer, Gabriell Bramley, to attend the Annual UCU Anti-casualisation Meeting on the 24th February.  

Update on The Big Conversation / Y Sgwrs Fawr – Unions meeting with the VC   

On Wednesday 16th January, the three campus unions Unite, Unison and UCU, met with the Vice-Chancellor (VC), Prof. Wendy Larner, to give our input on the Big Conversation. This meeting was requested by the unions back in October. The meeting was attended by the VC, the deputy-Vice-Chancelor (DVC), Damian Walford-Davies, the Head of HR, Sue Midha and the Head of the Vice-Chancellor’s Office, Tom Hay. The UCU representatives were our branch President, Joey Whitfield, our co-Vice-President, Andy Buerki, our Chair, Renata Medeiros, and our Membership Secretary, Sandy Gould. Unite was represented by Venice Cooper and Unison by their branch Secretary, Katie Hall.  

The unions welcomed the opportunity to meet with the VC and reiterated the desire to work with university management in transparency and good faith to improve working conditions for all workers. The unions also made the point that the nature of our organisations and the type of work we do on the ground with members, namely casework, places us in a privileged position to understand the problems individual workers and the workforce as a whole face. University management should do better in valuing the unions involving us earlier on in their decision processes.  

Venice Cowper, from Unite, presented results from their members’ survey that revealed that pensions, fair pay, health, safety and wellbeing, and progress on EDI issues were key priorities for their members. Katie, from Unison, presented their priorities around more recognition and visibility of professional services and erosion of goodwill among their members. Joey, our president, presented Cardiff UCU’s vision for the university (attached), which was approved by our members at our General Meeting in November. We were also guided by a recent report produced by our branch on the Target Operation Model (TOM).  

Overall, the VC seemed tuned to the need to focus attention on staff and to understand the challenges faced by professional staff, in particular. She commended the commitment and pride that she witnessed among Cardiff University workers. She recognised that her communication with staff has focused on changes that she feels are needed for the university to run better, and that there also needed to be a focus on what is not changing.  She also agreed that we needed to talk more about what we do well, mostly due to the effort and goodwill of workers. She also acknowledged that she has been warned that good will is eroding. The VC also reassured the unions that her priority will not be in expanding the university with more buildings, but to focus on staff and their needs and to build community.   While declining to make a commitment on ruling out redundancies, claiming it was too soon for her to assess the wider changes needed, the VC reassured the unions that many of the changes she has been referring to in her communication with staff are not about job cuts but about simplifying and streamlining to take work out and to enhance the use of digital technology. She noted that this could lead to changes in job descriptions but emphasized that nothing concrete has been decided yet. As unions, we will be paying close attention to these processes to protect staff and challenge any detriment to their working conditions. UCU has a policy of disputing any compulsory redundancies and UCU Cymru already volunteered their support in entering into a dispute with the university on this, if needed.  

At the end of the meeting, the VC thanked the unions for their generosity and robustness and stated her desire to work with the unions as critical partners. She stated that she plans to meet with the unions again in mid-February/March. This will allow us to discuss some aspects in more detail as the University finance report for 2023/24 will be available by then. The finance report was published yesterday, and UCU is currently studying it.    Specific themes that were discussed in more detail summarized here.  

UCU Campaign for University Democracy – last chance to vote in the ballot  

Whether in terms of pay, equality, job security or professional autonomy, poor governance is at the centre of many of the challenges confronting Welsh higher education. 
In previous years we have seen institutions stagger from scandal to scandal. During good times, money has been squandered on a range of vanity projects and high executive pay with redundancies to follow when funding becomes tight. 
Recognising the contribution that democratic governance can make to stabilising institutions and preparing the ground for collaboration and long-term planning, UCU Cymru believes that Wales can do better. 
 So please use this link to vote in our poll prior to Feb 10th

Affiliation to Trade Council  

The Cardiff Trades Council brings together unions to campaign around issues affecting working people in their workplaces and local communities. They have helped us link up with other Trade Unions and raise thousands of pounds in donations to our strike funds over the past few years.  As affiliates to the Trades Council we are entitled to delegates, who can attend Cardiff Trades Council meetings on behalf of our UCU branch. Please contact the branch administrator (ucu@cardiff.ac.uk) if you would like to be a delegate or to find out more. 

Solidarity and Events  Labour Leader Hustings 

Labour students are hosting a labour leader Hustings with Vaughan Gething and Jeremy Miles at the university on Friday 9th between 6 and 7:30 in John Percival Room 2.03. They are specifically inviting UCU members and the branch is to be given one question to ask. Get in touch if you.  UCU Hustings – 17th February from 11:00am – Centre for Student Life  Our branch is hosting UCU’s Welsh hustings for the election of the union’s General Secretary and Vice-President (FE). 

Whether or not you have already voted, this event provides a great opportunity to impress on the candidates, most of whom will travel to Cardiff to attend in-person, the importance of the contribution Welsh UCU branches can make.  There has been a sense within the HE and FE branches across Wales that the concerns of the Welsh UCU branches, and their representatives have not been getting the attention they deserve with UCU at a UK level.     

 The hustings will take place in the Centre for Student Life, and will run as a hybrid event, with online access open to all members more widely.  If you can attend in-person that would be much appreciated as we aim to make this a positive and enjoyable event to increase engagement with the candidates and amongst members from Cardiff and other branches.  We are organising the hustings on behalf of all the other branches in Wales including FE, hence needing to hold the event on a Saturday.  

  If you would like to submit a question for the candidates, please use our online form: https://forms.office.com/e/i4fGQpNuzG  Contact for this event: Chris Graves.   

International Holocaust Remembrance Day 

 On January 27, 1945, the Auschwitz camp was liberated by the soldiers of the 100th and 322nd Rifle Divisions of the Soviet 60th Army. Since, on this date, we mark the International Holocaust Remembrance Day to remember the 6 million Jews and the many queer people, communists, Roma travellers and people with disabilities, among others, who got killed by fascism under the Nazi ruled Germany. We also remember the genocides which followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur.   UCU has resources available to mark this day, that you can check here.       

We send solidarity to our Jewish members and to all of those who feel affected by these events.     Stand With Gaza Workplace Day of Action  UCU, along with other unions, NEU and PCS, are endorsing the UK-wide Workplace Day of Action on 7 February (flyer below) organised by Stop the War Coalition (StWC) and the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Staff and students are called to participate and gather at 1pm if they are free. Note this is not a call to taking strike action, time spent needs to be compensated or this should be during your lunch break. If you have admin or teaching duties at that time, you could try and reschedule them if possible.   Cardiff UCU members will be there with the banner and the beanies, come and join us.  More information on this another Gaza-related activities and statements are found at https://www.ucu.org.uk/CeasefireNow   UCU members have created a national network of University and College Workers for Palestine. They created resources for members and will be meeting every Monday at 7.30 to build the network. Please register here for next Monday’s organising meeting.  UCU Cardiff members have been attending the Palestine marches every Saturday in Cardiff or London. Please contact the office (ucu@cardiff.ac.uk) if you would like to link with other members and join the marches together.   The next Welsh march on Saturday 10th February at 12.30 in Swansea, by Castle Square SA1 1DW. Supporters from Cardiff will be taking the train together, please get in touch if you would like to know more details. The following Saturday the march will be back in Cardiff.