Produced by Belfast Association of University Teachers Issue No 12 October 1999
By now you will have received two letters from Brian Hogg informing you about the internal RAE exercise to be carried out by all faculties during the period January to April 2000. As a result of this exercise, members of staff will be categorised as eligible for entry, marginal, or ineligible for entry in the next RAE. Persons regarded as eligible for entry at this stage may, however, be excluded for strategic reasons at a later date. We have been told that exclusion for strategic reasons will have no adverse consequences as far as support for the individual's research is concerned. Those falling into the marginal category will be interviewed by their head of school and offered support to bring their research up to standard. This is a welcome development. We hope that the focus will be on long-term improvement since, given the lead times for journal articles in most subject areas, only limited change is possible between now and the actual RAE. Those who are regarded as ineligible for entry will also be interviewed by their head of school. This is to discuss the nature of their contribution to the University and, in some cases, it may lead to support for research. We understand that there will be no targeting as a result of this exercise and we welcome this fact.
It is fair at this stage to warn members that there may be pressure on those not involved in research at the level required for entry in the RAE to accept academic-related contracts. Where individuals find such a prospect attractive, we will support them in arranging this. However, we emphasise that those who wish to retain their existing contracts and status will have the full support of the AUT both national and local.
A meeting took place on Monday 4 October 1999 with representatives of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and the four major higher education trade unions, AUT, MSF, NATFHE and UNISON. The purpose of the meeting was to examine UCEA objections to an AUT proposal to address the outstanding issues of our pay claim, particularly the elimination of gender pay differentials and the reduction of casual employment.
Following the action on admissions and further pressure from the AUT, formal talks of our AUT/UCEA Joint Negotiating Committee took place on 16 September at the TUC. At that meeting the AUT reasserted its rejection of the 3.5% pay increase. It was also stressed that our claim included other important elements never properly considered by UCEA, not least the need to redress the problems of pay discrimination affecting women and the excessive use of fixed-term contracts and other forms of casual employment. We also drew attention to the report on Ethnicity and Employment in Higher Education (Carter, Fenton & Modood) and urged that concerns about discrimination on grounds of race should also be considered. Any package to resolve the current dispute requires these other issues to be addressed seriously. The UCEA were of the view that these issues affected all groups of staff and should therefore be dealt with within a mechanism involving all trade unions. The AUT indicated that it would not be averse to such an approach but the immediate and pressing objective was to resolve between AUT and the employers the dispute for academic and academic-related staff in pre-1992 institutions and the extent to which discrimination and casualisation affected this group of staff. There are identical problems in post-1992 universities and it was proposed that links between the Joint Negotiating Committee and the Lecturers' Common Interest Group for the 1992 universities and colleges could address the problems to the benefit of members in both negotiating groups. AUT stressed that such an approach must include NATFHE. In order to progress these discussions, it was eventually agreed that the UCEA would convene a meeting of the four major trade unions to discuss problems affecting all HE staff and with AUT's right to negotiate on its dispute being accepted.
At the meeting it was eventually accepted that it was for the AUT to negotiate a settlement to our dispute and it was not for others to determine how this was to be done. It is now expected that the Joint Negotiating Committee will be re-convened as soon as possible. Among the items for discussion will be the arrangements and timetable to address the issues of pay discrimination and casualisation.
The Lecturers' Common Interest Group (LCIG) on which the Association is represented with NATFHE, have rejected a 3.5% pay offer. If a settlement cannot be found for the pre-1992 institutions it is difficult to see how the post-1992 negotiations can be concluded.
It was noted that NATFHE had conducted a consultative ballot during the summer to ascertain support for industrial action in pursuit of an improved offer. Although the ballot returns indicated a high degree of support for various forms of action, the response rate was very low. NATFHE had originally considered conducting a formal ballot in the second half of October with action commencing in November, in the event of a positive result. However, NATFHE has now convened a higher education sector conference for early November and it is unclear whether any ballot will be initiated before then. Should NATFHE ballot their members on industrial action AUT Executive will authorise a simultaneous ballot of our members in post-1992 institutions.
At the meeting referred to above it was noted that the LCIG also had pay discrimination and casualisation as priority issues in their claim and there is an opportunity for collaborative work which can feed back into the respective negotiations. An urgent meeting is being sought with NATFHE in order to examine the scope for joint responses.
At its meeting on 1 October 1999 Executive considered the prospect of escalating the current industrial action. However, very recent legal advice from an as yet unpublished decision by the High Court indicates that the requirements for discontinuous action are such that our earlier actions against exams and admissions would fail to comply with legal requirements unless a series of unachievable conditions could be met. A further meeting is to take place with legal advisers to look at the implications of this decision. Any new action would in any event require a further ballot.
Until more progress has been made the existing continuous action must remain in place. Executive is very much aware that sanctions against external subject reviews and RAE submissions mean that members are under increasing pressure from employers. This means that action, although patchy, is beginning to take effect and it is vital to maintain the actions, in particular, those against the external subject reviews, the RAE, Ofsted and appraisal. Executive is keeping the action under constant review as negotiations develop.
The impact of the Bett Report
The background to the difficulties in getting any talks about pay discrimination and casualisation revolve around concerns about the recommendations of the Bett Report. Association policy is to retain academic and academic-related staff as a single bargaining unit, this is regarded as a vital issue to be addressed when implementing the Bett agenda. The proposals in the report are not acceptable as they stand. The employers and at least one other union believe that very little should be delegated by the National Council to the sub-councils. They feel that ad hoc arrangements to resolve our current pay dispute will prejudice talks about that structure. However, our immediate objective is to find a solution to the current dispute which addresses properly the issues of pay discrimination and casualisation. The employers apparent indifference to the immediate problems has not made for straightforward negotiations. We insist on talks with a firm timetable and the objectives of original annual claim.
David Triesman, General Secretary
A further factor which may be influential in any solution to the dispute is the next Comprehensive Spending Review, now called CSR II. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced that the next three-year spending review will be brought forward to cover the years 2000-01 to 2002-03. This means that it will overlap with the current medium-term public expenditure period for the year 2000-01. Any substantial injection of funds into higher education is most likely to come about if they are identified in this process and accepted by the Treasury. Whatever the outcome of the discussions on the Bett Report there are some elements within it which are non-controversial and present powerful arguments for additional funding to deal with salary issues, for instance, the pay inequalities and the harmonisation across pre-binary divide sectors. Also there is the prospect of a common settlement date for all groups of staff. These provide clear-cut cases for further funding for higher education pay within the CSR II. The Associations negotiators have pressed the employers to consider a joint submission to the CSR II on pay and we now believe this could be achieved.
The Advocate-General of the European Court has ruled that part-timers who have been unlawfully excluded from pension schemes are entitled to claim pension rights as far back as 1976. Unfortunately this is not the end of the struggle to obtain pensions for part-timers because the ruling now goes to the European Court. The court normally endorses the decision of the Advocate-General. If this is so in this case then the House of Lords will decide how the law is to be implemented. After that individual cases will go to local industrial tribunals. At the tribunals employees will have to demonstrate that more women than men (and in some cases more men than women) were excluded from their employers' pension scheme. If all goes well, lost pension rights will have to be purchased in pension funds by employers. Our lawyers estimate that this will happen in about two years time.
If you are a part-timer and not a member of USS it is important that you lodge a case NOW. It may be too late to go back to 1976, but anyone lodging a case now will have their claim backdated two years. AUT will act on behalf of all paid-up members. For further information contact me on ext. 3090.
AUT will be holding a one-day conference for black members on Thursday 18Th November, 1999. The timetable will include speakers and discussions on subjects including workplace issues in Higher Education, the Modood report and union participation. It will be held in the TUC's National Education Centre in North London. Lunch and refreshments will be provided and participants will have their travel costs reimbursed. For details contact Diana Clarke (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The report on 'Ethnicity and Employment in Higher Education' is available from Paul Hudson.
AUT's Women's Committee is currently seeking anecdotal evidence/case histories from women who feel the RAE has had a detrimental effect on their career/promotion prospects because they have taken maternity leave. Respond in confidence to Erica Halvorsen, AUT regional office, 104, Albert Road, Southsea, PO5 2SN.
The AUT is running training seminars. Although some are aimed at Committee members, others are could be of interest to any member. For instance:
Early retirement: getting the best deal. 12 January and again on 3 May
How safe is your workplace. 23 February
Dealing with a difficult boss. 22 March
All will be held in our Birmingham regional office and travel, childcare and subsistence expenses will be reimbursed. Places are limited. Further details can be obtained from Paul Hudson.
Our local pensions expert, Max Goldstrom, hopes to put on a seminar on the USS pension scheme in Belfast.
Members who pay their subscription by Direct Debit may have received a letter from HQ recently. This mailing was put in the hands of an agency and the result is a muddle. There is no need to fill up a new Direct Debit mandate unless you have changed your account details. In fact everything in the letter can be disregarded except for one item: the subscription deduction which should have taken place on 30 September will occur on 8 October. All future payments will be at the end of the month as usual.
Belfast AUT is holding a reception for new staff on Thursday 14th October at 5 p.m. in the Old Staff Common Room. We have sent out invitations to those arrivals that we know about. Please approach new academic and related staff, including research staff, in your area and encourage them to attend. If they have not received an invitation please contact Belfast AUT office (ext 3090). The same applies to existing staff who you think may now be interested in joining AUT.
Our Registrar, John Town, has moved to a similar post at Loughborough and this has left a gap in the administration, especially as he was also acting as Secretary to Academic Council. The post of Academic Registrar, for which interviews were held during the summer, has not been filled and no attempt will be made to fill it until a new Registrar is appointed. This leaves a big space at the top of Academic Council office, although by Statute Academic Council must appoint itself an acting Secretary at its next meeting. Emeritus Professor Robin Shanks has returned to work part-time in the Academic Council office. I understood that his role was only to look after academic policy, but he is now acting Academic Registrar. The process of appointing a new Registrar has started, with interviews being held at the end of October. In the mean-time the Bursar, James O'Kane, is performing some of the duties of Registrar.
There is also uncertainty as to who will take over the many functions of Denis Wilson, the Administrative Secretary, who retired on 30 September. However he will be working part-time on governance and the new Statutes. Denis had more than 30 years service in Queen's and his retirement dinner was very well attended. He was a member of that shrinking band of administrators whose long service is evidence of a commitment to Queen's that is recognised by the academic community.