Produced by Belfast Association of University Teachers Issue No 10 July 1999
Premature Retirement and Voluntary Severance – Update
In issue no. 8 of this Newsletter, we reported that the senior management of QUB intends that, from 30 September 1999, the terms on which PRCS and severance will be available to staff will be much less favourable than hitherto. The officers of Belfast AUT do not think that the proposed reduction in terms is sensible, and we have tried unsuccessfully to convince management of this.
In view of senior management’s determination to press ahead with reduced terms, we sought clarification on the categories of staff to be offered early retirement/severance on current terms. Basically these are staff who are targeted under restructuring schemes which are recent or in the pipeline. The groups to which existing PRCS/severance terms will apply are: members of the School of Management and Economics and of the School of Medicine, members of academic-related staff identified as a result of any restructuring proposals made prior to 30 June 1999 and any additional members of academic-related staff identified as a result of the current review of academic services which is scheduled for completion in March 2000. In all these cases, following the receipt of a written offer, staff would have six months in which to make up their minds whether or not accept.
The offers are voluntary, and we will strongly resist any threats of compulsory redundancies.
Childcare at Queen’s
The Annual General Meeting of Belfast AUT passed a motion condemning the decision by the University officers to withdraw its childcare subsidies. The background is that, until a few weeks ago, staff who failed to obtain one of the limited number of reserved places in the students’ union nursery could apply for a subsidy from Queen’s. The value of the subsidy was the difference between the cost of a place in a private nursery and the cost of a place in the students’ union. The cost to QUB of providing this subsidy was £5-600 per month.
The forward looking management of our institution has for reasons best known to itself decided that the subsidy should be discontinued. Existing beneficiaries will, however, continue to benefit for the time being.
The withdrawal of subsidy is not being accompanied by any new initiative to increase the number of places reserved for staff in the students’ union nursery. It is, however, proposed that rates for staff children attending the students’ union be increased so as to reflect the full economic cost of provision.
All this is a bit depressing at a time when the Bett Report is highlighting the need for family friendly policies in the University sector. We shall be doing all we can to urge the University to mend its ways and take a more positive approach in the future.
Text of the motion "This Annual Meeting of AUT is appalled by the University’s decision to withdraw the subsidies which were available to staff failing to secure one of the limited number of reserved places in the Students’ Union Nursery. Since the cost to the University was small, this withdrawal can only be construed as indicating a total lack of sensitivity to the importance of adequate childcare facilities particularly to women members. In view of the reported findings of the Bett commission on the position of women in Universities, this meeting calls on the Queen’s to take urgent action on the provision of staff childcare facilities and to restore subsidies pending the improvement of provision."
Continuing Industrial Action
Belfast AUT has been distributing around 3000 leaflets to graduates’ families as they go into the graduation ceremonies. These have been well received and there have been many expressions of support.
For legal reasons we must continue a series of industrial actions, albeit low key, throughout the vacation. From 1 June members have stopped involvement in appraisal, work associated with teaching quality exercises including those organised by QAA and Ofsted, and administrative work associated with the Research Assessment Exercise. Boycotting appraisal is always popular with the members and in many parts of the university it is running more than 5 years late.
From 25th June, on each Friday members are refusing to deal with e-mails (other than AUT ones!). If you know how, send out automatic replies to e-mails explaining the reason for non-response and the nature of the dispute. These Fridays are called FREMAIL DAYS so that members are free to concentrate on their core activities.
For technical and tactical reasons it has been decided to set national days for boycotting the admissions process for new students for the 1999-2000 session. These are 9th , 10th, 19th and 20th August (please note the change from earlier plans). The intention is to disrupt admissions, but not to prevent them. However because of the concerns of potential students, this action is likely to attract considerable media coverage.
From 14 June, HQ has asked members to boycott institutional meetings. The exceptions are Senate, Academic Council and Health and Safety meetings. The obvious drawback to this action is that the lunatics are left running the asylum and could inflict lasting damage. So, with the approval of our AGM, we have granted exemption to meetings concerned with constitutional matters or the interests and welfare of staff and students. Agendas often have a variety of matters and after you have dealt with items that require your attendance in order to protect the interests of staff and students, you may well feel that your heavy work-load requires your presence elsewhere. As you leave, challenge the quorum for the meeting! See also the next article.
Correct Committee Procedures
This is not an industrial action, merely asking members to encourage management to abide by good practice and the rules that it has set out on pages 200 to 204 of the staff handbook. The aim is to restore the role of ordinary staff in the running of the institution. For this reason I would hope that it becomes a permanent feature of this university.
Firstly it is simple good practice that for you to know the following for any university committee on which you serve: the terms of reference, the composition, the quorum, the standing orders, how the Chair is chosen (and when), how the secretary is chosen (and when), how you put items on the agenda, how meetings are called, to what bodies or people the committee reports and how, who is responsible for carrying out the decisions of the committee, and where you can study the minutes. If you do not know, then ask. You are entitled to an answer.
The staff handbook sets out in minute detail how agenda, papers, minutes and reports should be set out, including the headings, numberings etc. Anything that does not comply with these is clearly improper and should be queried. In addition "Minutes should, in general, be issued within five working days after the relevant meeting" if not "it is essential that letters are written to all those who need to know about decisions taken by the committee, etc. and/or all those who are required to take relevant action."
It has become common practice for management to raise matters at a committee at short notice, even if they knew of them long before. This, of course, greatly hampers sensible comment. However, "as far as possible, agenda and papers should be issued in sufficient time before each meeting to enable members to brief themselves on items of concern to them. Papers having significant academic, financial or other major implications should be circulated at least three working days before the meeting." How many times have you seen this rule breached?
Another favourite device, especially at Senate and Academic Council, is to present a report in such an abbreviated form that it invites rubber-stamping. Yet "In the instances where a committee is required to report to another body ¼ decisions, recommendations, and such explanations as are necessary for an understanding of the matter under consideration should be included in the report."
In seeking to see that committees are run properly I am not attacking those who service them, since they are often short of resources. There are many dedicated administrators who believe that their role is to administer the decisions of the various expert and representative bodies. Usually the blame for bad practices lies higher up with those who believe that they have "the right to manage" and try to suppress the involvement of ordinary staff. They destroy the collegiality which is at the heart of any successful university.
I know that staff are sick of trite slogans, and in particular the all-individuals-must-fit-the-same-size interpretation of Balanced Excellence. The reputation, innovation and development of a university rest on the academic staff and those who work closely with them and they are being demotivated by the upsurge of managerialism. To restore the balance I offer another slogan: Collegiality Counts.
National AUT has produced a 17 page commentary on Bett which is available on the web (http://www.aut.org.uk/campaigns/pay/bett.htm), as is the employers’ response. The Bett report has been given no authority or funding by the government. So AUT regards it as a starting point for negotiations. Although it has some major flaws, it contains much useful information. The AUT position will be determined at a special Council at the TUC in the afternoon of 14th July. To aid a united approach the morning will be taken up with a joint meeting with NATFHE.
The major difficulty with Bett from AUT’s point of view is junior academic-related staff would have their pay negotiated at the non-academic bargaining table. David Triesman is confident that we can get all academic-related library and computing staff included on the academic bargaining table. The problem remains for the junior administrators, but there is still a long way to go until new bargaining machinery is set up.
An aspect of Bett to watch is the investigation carried out by Hay (Appendix F). The Hay study involved only 12 institutions and is based on questionnaires completed by 64 academics, of whom 50 were interviewed. Yet they then discern 11 groupings for academics in the old universities and 14 in the new. So the data has been spread very thinly! However, the information on how other people are paid is useful, especially as regards their perks. In many cases university staff would require a 50% pay rise in order to match jobs outside.
Appendix D is a mine of information about numbers employed in each grade, earnings, gender breakdown, and the proportions who are full-time, part-time or hourly paid. It is a scandal that such data is not collected routinely. Appendix E give information about recruitment and retention difficulties together with turn-over rates.
The motivation behind the whole of the proposed changes in pay structure is the employers’ fear of gender based equal pay cases (as opposed to any enthusiasm for equality). This is why they are keen on job-evaluation. However, there is one giant loophole in the equal pay law. The employer can plead a "genuine material factor" to excused differences in pay. So if I took an equal pay case comparing myself with a female clinical Senior Lecturer (max salary £56,470 + bonus) it would fail because a "genuine material factor" that it would be impossible to recruit clinical academics at less than hospital rates. In future employers will be wanting to publicly build in subject specific "genuine material factor" pay differences. These differences would have to be periodically adjusted up or down according to the market.
Take Your Holidays
One of the most annoying aspects of the Hay investigation in Bett is their treatment of perks. They say that academic and related staff are entitled to long holidays and this they equate to an extra 4% of salary. It did not occur to them that many people feel unable to take their full entitlement. In the same way they completely ignored the long hours that academic and related staff work. On the other hand they say that comparator jobs have bonus schemes, private health insurance and company cars (worth at least £5,000 p.a.). They then say that all these perks are roughly balanced off by our long holidays, so that basic pay can be used as the comparison.
So take your full holidays since Hay thinks that they are worth a fortune!