Emergency motion passed on action short of strike (ASOS) 24/11/21

Text of an emergency motion passed regarding ASOS in the upcoming USS dispute at an Imperial UCU all members meeting on 24/11/21:

Imperial UCU notes that 

  • UCU branches which passed the threshold have a mandate for all the elements of ASOS listed on the ballot paper
  • UCU notifications of action to employers cite only work-to-contract and refusal of voluntary duties
  • UCEA has advised institutions that refusing to reschedule classes or cover for absent colleagues are not covered by the notification.

Imperial UCU believes that 

  • No HEC decision dictated the content of the notifications
  • This situation potentially undermines our industrial action.

Imperial UCU calls on the General Secretary and HEC to immediately rectify the situation by issuing corrected notifications of action to the employers.

UCU message on the USS pensions dispute for all staff at Imperial College London

Message for all Imperial College staff from branch UCU, 25/11/21

Dear Colleagues,

The Provost, Ian Walmsley, emailed all staff last Wednesday about next week’s industrial action by the University and College Union (UCU) over cuts to USS pensions. Vice-Provost (Education & Student Experience), Emma McCoy, also sent a separate email about the action to all students.

UCU officially represents all staff in USS who are about to see very significant cuts, on average more than 20%, to their pension imposed by the College. I am therefore writing to tell you why UCU believes industrial action is necessary.

First some background: UCU, together with Unison and Unite, negotiate the pay settlement for all staff, not just our members, every year. We also represent all staff in many workplace matters including policies over bullying and harassment, health and safety issues, precarious jobs, nursery fees, compulsory lecture capture as well as tackling gender and ethnic pay gaps. With almost no staff representation within senior management and governance bodies compared to our peer institutions, UCU plays a vital role in challenging the democratic deficit at Imperial. If you want your voice heard more clearly and are not a member of UCU, please consider joining us!

Back to pensions, these should be considered as deferred pay and a cut to pensions simply represents a cut to pay. Every member of staff needs to ask: what would I do if College threatened to cut my pay?

The first step would be to ask why such a cut was necessary. On this issue at least management and the unions agree:  as the email to students stated: “For several years, UK universities and trade unions have disagreed with the valuation placed upon the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).” For example, the risk that USS might not be able to pay our pensions is based on assuming that it underperforms compared to any 30-year investment period since 1900. That’s worse than over the 30 years that includes the first World War, the Spanish Flu epidemic and the Great Depression!

The second step would be to understand the effect of the cuts. I urge you to find out how this will affect you personally using either the UCU modeller https://www.ucu.org.uk/ussmodeller or the USS modeller  https://www.ussconsultation2021.co.uk/members/impact; with the latter, you can include the effect of the 2.5% inflation cap based on the historical average rate of inflation of 3.5%. Both modellers show that the cuts are worse for younger staff, in part because the eroding effect of this cap.  For example, a typical 37-year-old academic would experience a cut of between 23-35%.

The third step would be to challenge management’s response.  Rather than try to force a new valuation, Universities UK (UUK) have imposed nearly all of the burden onto staff. UCU has proposed alternative short-term proposals for a more balanced sharing of the cost of the 2020 valuation, while a long-term plan for USS is established on a more credible footing. Imperial management must take the lead and publicly call for these alternative proposals to be explored, for the sake of the staff that they claim to value.  Instead, rather than work with UCU in retrieving the pension they say that they value, management have attempted to drive a wedge between the staff and the students that we teach and support. On that score, students have good reason to be sceptical of the claim that “funds will be reinvested to directly benefit students and your education.” UCU has previously requested that pay withheld from striking staff be paid into the student hardship fund, but this request has been refused.

We now believe that the only path open to us to defend our pensions is to take industrial action. We do not want to disrupt the education of our students: we are the ones who know, teach, and support them. But the responsibility for the disruption lies fully with our employers. We are taking this action on behalf of all staff at lmperial, particularly our younger and future colleagues, many of them currently our students, who will lose the most. I urge you to join us, join UCU and support the action necessary to defend our pensions.

Vijay Tymms, President Imperial UCU

On behalf of Imperial UCU Branch

Imperial UCU motions on COVID safety and return to work

Text of two motions passed at an Imperial UCU all members’ meeting on 29/9/21:

Motion 1 on COVID-19 safety at Imperial College

Imperial College UCU notes that:

  • the UK currently has over 30,000 new cases of COVID-19 daily and fatality rates over a thousand per week. These are much higher than in comparable nearby countries
  • Vaccination significantly reduces the risk of death but the risk of infection far less. As the virus is airborne, masks are effective in preventing transmission.
  • current College policy is that “everyone [should] wear a face covering [in] most indoor settings on campus”. However, visible signage to this effect has been removed in most campus locations.
  • current DfE guidance states, “No student should be denied education on the grounds of whether they are, or are not, wearing a face covering.” However, staff are partially liable under health and safety law for their own and students’ safety. They have the right to suspend a face-to-face class and deliver it online if alternatives are unsafe. Denying a student education is not the same as denying participation in a face-to-face setting if the latter would be unsafe.

Imperial College UCU believes that:

  • rising UK infection rates show that government guidelines have failed to protect UK residents
  • Imperial College remains a hazardous environment for both staff and students.

Imperial College UCU believes the following protections must be in place before face-to-face teaching can resume:

  • masks to be required in all indoor areas for all those who can wear them, and in all cramped, crowded, poorly ventilated outdoor areas (eg, South Ken walkway, entrance to Beit Quad)
  • physical distancing to be maintained at 2m
  • room occupancy to be based on 12 – 17 L pp ps ventilation AND CO2 <800 ppm measured by real time CO2 monitors provided by College, with immediate evacuation if CO2 levels reach 800ppm
  • for prolonged occupation of rooms, refresh times to be calculated for removal of aerosols and measured return of CO2 to background level (~ 400-440 ppm). Speed of aerosol removal will depend on the rate of air circulation. A solid evidence base for this must be established
  • room occupancy limits for teaching to be the same for other activities, whichever is lower
  • radio microphones to be provided to individual teachers
  • no staff or student to undertake face-to-face activities if they feel unsafe; no action to be taken against such staff or students
  • teaching to maintain a level academic playing field. This may require default online teaching to avoid discrimination against protected groups unable to come onto campus
  • all measures to be equalities impact assessed before implementation
  • all risk assessments to be transparent and made available to staff and students

These measures will be subject to review and amendment in the event of new variants or new lockdowns.

We believe that failure to implement these measures would be a failure of the College in its duty of care to staff and students, leading to potential future legal action against both the College and those individuals who have signed off on inadequate risk assessments

Under Section 44 of the Employment Relations Act, staff have the right to remove themselves from a work situation they believe to be a serious, imminent and unavoidable danger without detriment or penalty.

Motion 2 on COVID-19 and flexible working at Imperial College

Imperial College UCU would like to be supported on staff flexible working arrangements during academic year 2021-2022 in the following manner

  1. Any Imperial staff member should be given the option to continue working from home if their roles do not need them to physically be in an office or lecture room and other alternatives are feasible to meet their job duties
  2. Any member who has been asked to return to campus for certain number of days should have the option to decline it, if they can work remotely and their performance is not affected by not being physically on campus
  3. Managers should work with their staff to allow flexibility on when to be on campus.
  4. Personal and travel arrangements should be considered with the safety of staff being a priority.
  5. Imperial staff should be supported if they choose to work from campus whenever they like provided they follow suitable health and safety procedures
  6. All imperial staff who are carers, vulnerable or have been shielding in the last 18 months should be given the opportunity to work from home if they like until further notice without any negative consequences

These proposals are subject to review and amendment depending on changed circumstances such as the emergence of a new variant or new lockdowns.

Branch UCU comment piece for Felix, published 29/10/21

Text from the comment piece for Felix

UCU strikes are an unfortunate last resort 

Our lecturers, teachers, administrators, technical staff, and researchers are voting on whether to go on strike 

It really doesn’t have to be this way. Staff members of the University and College Union (UCU) voting on whether to go on strike over huge cuts to pensions. But that’s what is happening, at Imperial, and in universities across the UK. Voting started on 18th October and runs until Thursday 4th November. If enough votes are in favour, lecturers, teachers, administrators, technical staff, and researchers will be taking the drastic step of withdrawing their labour and forming picket lines, to pressure university management to stop their severe and unnecessary cuts.

No-one wants to strike. It is always a last resort. Unfortunately, staff are having to consider industrial action due to intransigence by university employers — including Imperial — and their refusal to take an evidence-based approach to the University Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme.

The USS pension scheme  

A Defined Benefit pension scheme like the USS is a form of “deferred pay”: an employee agrees to defer, or put aside, some of their salary now, in return for a guaranteed income — a proportion of their average salary over their career — on retirement. Most academic and academic-related staff in pre-1992 universities in the UK, including Imperial College, are members of the USS. An employee and their employer make contributions into the scheme, which are collectively invested and, when the employee retires, their pension is paid out of collective USS assets. Imperial College — as part of the university employers’ organisation Universities UK (UUK) — wants to slash the benefits to its employees. The UCU estimates that, for example, a 35-year-old lecturer starting work now on spine point 29 at Imperial College is set to lose around 45% of their guaranteed pension income. This can be seen using the UCU modeller for predicting pension benefits: https://www.ucu.org.uk/ussmodeller

What is the dispute over?

Pensions are complicated. But in this case, this time around, UCU believes that the situation is relatively simple.

The main organisations involved in the current dispute are USS itself, UUK (representing employers), UCU (representing working and retired members of USS) and the Government via the Pensions Regulator (tPR). The Regulator requires USS to assess the value its fund every 3 years to decide whether making prudent assumptions about how the fund will behave in the future, it can pay out the pensions that it has guaranteed to pay. The last valuation was in 2018. USS then opted to perform an early valuation, in March 2020, just as the stock market fell due mainly to uncertainties caused by the global coronavirus pandemic. USS’s March 2020 valuation reported a deficit of £15.4bn. UCU and other commentators have criticised this valuation as unscientific and unreliable, as well as being untimely; see, for example: https://medium.com/ussbriefs/how-extreme-prudence-and-misguided-risk-management-sent-the-uss-into-crisis-baf78c35d9e1

However, UCU and its members are on very strong ground: even if one takes this March 2020 headline deficit of £15.4bn, calculated by the flawed USS methodology, at face value, 17 months later on August 31st 2021, USS assets were valued at £89.6bn which is £23.1bn higher than in March 2020:

https://twitter.com/StevenJulious/status/1451577519346524171?s=20

The prima facie evidence is that USS is now in surplus by many billions. And a more sensible scientific valuation methodology — as recommended by the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) set up after the 2018 strike over USS — would likely show USS now to be in surplus by even more.

The scarcely credible situation now is that Imperial College supports slashing its employees’ pension benefits on the basis of a valuation in 2020 that has been overturned by the events of the last year and a half. It is totally unnecessary. Staff are asking employers to not make the cuts and to work with UCU to make these damaging disputes a thing of the past. But employers are going ahead anyway. When pension cuts were proposed by UUK in 2018, on the basis of similarly flawed arguments, members of UCU went on strike to defend their pensions and won: the proposed cuts were not made and the JEP was set up, giving staff hope that economic sense, financial sense, scientific rigour and greater transparency would prevail at USS. But now in 2021, even more severe cuts are being proposed on even flimsier grounds.

What is happening now and what you can do

If the vote for industrial action is successful, UCU will go back to UUK and USS after 4th November and ask them to withdraw the planned cuts and work together. If they don’t then we’ll be in the situation no-one wants, and UCU members will withdraw our labour and picket campus. If staff do go on strike, we will be standing up for ourselves and for the College which needs a good, affordable, guaranteed pension scheme so that people want to work here and so that an academic or academic-related career is desirable and attainable for future generations. But we don’t want to strike.  You can help by writing to the Provost and President to ask them to be scientific, to look at the evidence and to show leadership by asking that UUK work with UCU to avoid this dispute.

Letter to Provost Ian Walmsley

Dear Ian,

Just over a month ago, 27/1/20, you wrote to all staff:

“This year’s pay and benefit consultation will be informed by the new Pay and Employment Benchmarking Report (from a working group led by Professor Nigel Brandon, Dean of Engineering). This compares salaries and benefits from comparable institutions in the US and Europe. The report will be reviewed by Provost’s Board this week, and a decision made on implementing its recommendations. Our aspiration is to be competitive in our compensation, recognizing the different environments in which we and our competitors operate. The report and the outcomes of the Board’s deliberation on alignment of pay to comparator benchmarks will be shared with you.”

In February’s FoE MC Summary, sent to EEE staff on 4/3/20 we were told:

“Audrey Fraser, Head of Reward, Engagement and Policy in Human Resources joined the FMC to provide an update on the pay and benefits benchmarking data generated by UCEA. The benchmarking now enabled comparisons of academic pay and benefits with leading London universities in STEM subjects, Russell Group universities, and selected US and European institutions. The data will be discussed at the March meeting of Provost’s Board, with the intention that this robust emerging data set will be used every 1-2 years to inform the approach to pay and benefits at Imperial. Members noted that the costs of living in/near London are also a significant factor for staff and a review of housing support is also going to be carried out over the coming year.”

 

The Pay and Employment Benchmarking Report was one of management’s responses to the 2018 industrial action. It is disappointing that consideration of this report by the Provost Board was delayed from January to March, especially as you were informed on 27/1/20 that members at Imperial UCU had voted for industrial action on pay. To postpone consideration by senior management of the pay information that might help them better understand the vote for action is difficult to understand. Certainly it meant that the Provost Board could not use that information to reassess the basis of our claim and consider if the strike could be averted in a timely manner.

Staff are very reluctant to take industrial action. In fact the current strike is the first on pay since Imperial left national negotiations in 2005. Richard Sykes, the Rector at the time, said a local settlement was necessary to give staff at Imperial the pay they deserved. But since Sykes left in 2008, pay levels at Imperial have fallen by 12.2% in real terms. That figure represents the subsequent drop in the value of the annual settlement at Imperial with respect to the local measure of inflation, CPIH London, as supplied by College to inform our local pay negotiations. College might be reluctant to use CPIH London, but it is the measure that best reflects the pressures staff at Imperial face.

In your latest response to us, below, you seek to assure us that our views will be taken into consideration. However, there is no mention of the Pay and Employment Benchmarking Report, and you state, without any justification, that national as well as local inflation should inform the pay settlement. It is difficult to feel reassured if key information is either being ignored or discounted.

Finally, regarding transparency, particularly the policy of pay in lieu of pensions, it should be noted how that policy affected pay for all staff after its implementation in 2016. Looking at ranked salaries in the period from 2015 to 2017, the College accounts show there was a very considerable uplift in the salaries enjoyed by the highest paid staff:

Such an increase was the result of a decision by senior management to compensate themselves for the change in pension taxation introduced in 2016. In the current dispute, in answer to a questionnaire from UUK, Imperial’s senior management stated they did not want to offer any compensation for the increase in USS employee contributions faced by the majority staff at Imperial.

 

All the best

Tom

_________________

W Thomas Pike

Professor in Microengineering
Optical and Semiconductor Devices
Electrical and Electronic Engineering
Imperial College London SW7 2AZ