Notes from the 2019 AGM

This is a copy of the notes from the AGM held on 8 May, 2019. These notes were circulated to all members on 21 May, 2019.

50 members in all attended QM UCU’s AGM on Weds 8 May to address a number of pressing issues on campus and in the sector.

Bullying and Harassment: Branch committee reported that there is a significant problem of bullying and harassment in HE institutions. At QMUL staff surveys in 2014 and 2016 showed the problem getting more prevalent and to be systemic, widespread and ingrained in workplace culture. This was confirmed by the recent independent Affinity Health at Work report, which examined the problem in detail at QMUL. Among a range of issues, QMUCU has particular concerns about the capability policy being improperly used to review performance, particularly in the run up to REF, with pressure applied on colleagues to change from teaching and research to teaching and scholarship allocations.

The union has been pushing to get this issue on the agenda, and has made some progress, with QMUL finally putting out statement saying it has zero tolerance for bullying of staff. The statement is important in sending a signal on the issue. However, what we don’t have is the policies, training and support that would make this formal commitment a reality. The QMUL grievance procedure and the composition of grievance panels in particular need to be reviewed, especially given their unsuitability for dealing with cases of sexual harassment.

Another key achievement has been the re-establishment and reform of the Wellbeing Group to deal with issues such as this. At QMUCU’s request a reporting line has now been established to the Health and Safety Advisory Group (which carries statutory duties). We will be attending this group regularly alongside other unions to ensure bullying/harassment are dealt with in a clear and accountable way, and not reduced to superficial self-care initiatives.

There are a number of areas where we are pressing to make progress:

Grievance procedure and composition of panels: the grievance procedure is the only policy in place that gives staff any kind of redress, but it is not very widely used and where it has been the level of success is poor. Of 25 recent cases taken, for example, only 4-5 were upheld. There is a particular concern about panels not being representative of the staff body and those most likely to be affected by these issues (in terms of ethnicity, gender and grade for example) and we want this reviewed and changed.

Risk assessment & workload: QMUCU also wants a workplace wide stress risk assessment where we systematically log where all risks are to staff in terms of workload, for example. Only recently a colleague at Cardiff University took his life citing the immense pressures of workload. We want a risk assessment conducted such that if a risk is identified action must be taken.

There is clearly a cross over between issues of bullying/harassment and questions of how we deal with issues of equality and inclusion – a situation that is in disarray because of number of staff have resigned citing concerns about QMUL being institutionally racist. Tackling this alongside gender discrimination, is also going to be a priority area for the branch.
But in order to progress we do need more members engaged and involved in helping us to raise these issues collectively.

Members raised a number of questions, points:
Why are grievance procedures not more successful and what is the gender break down of cases? Via an FOI QMUCU did request a gender breakdown, but the numbers are so small, they don’t become identifiable. We believe a big reason why cases are not successful is because the people on these panels are at a senior level in the universities. If there’s to be progress, this has to be changed.

It was suggested that one of the problems is that the procedure means colleagues feel they either launch formal complaint or shut up – and that we should look to establishing steps in-between that.

Question was asked about the role of dignity and disclosure reps in departments/school. Dignity and disclosure officer roles were launched – but not with union support. They were introduced before the dignity policy was written and they are voluntary roles with no time given to these people to perform the role. The person who led on that role has also since resigned – citing institutional racism. There is a statutory role for Health and Safety reps/committee with statutory powers – and QM UCU believes this would be much more effective and accountable in addressing the problem.

Galvanising action: There was a forum organised earlier this year where people talked about their experiences as survivors of sexual harassment. We will host another forum to move these key points forward. If QMUL needs to apply for the next Athena award – they will need good data, so it is important we use this window to press for action on these issues.

Gender and BAME inequality and discrimination
Committee referenced the most recent “Pay Gaps reports 2019” published by QMUL. A reading of the report suggests things have improved, however committee members who are more expert in this issue, have serious concerns, stating that this is a consequence of the way data has been collected rather than evidence of any substantive change. What is clear, is too many members feel that they are on the receiving end of discrimination.
As part of addressing this problem we plan to host a series of forums where colleagues can come together to talk about the issues they are facing and generate a report for the branch so that all of us can work towards action.

The first of these is Weds 29 May, 10.30am-12noon. QMUCU and QM UNISON are hosting a gathering for debate, support and action concerning institutional racism in Arts One: 1.28 (see flyer at the bottom of this email)

We also want to develop data in order that we can review and pinpoint where some of the structural problems are that need to be tackled. When we look at promotions, for example, there is a disappearance of women and BAME colleagues at the top of the hierarchy. If there is an inequality of opportunity it doesn’t matter if promotions policy is “blind” as colleagues are prevented from access to activities that enable them to apply. These are the kind of questions we need to grapple with.

Members raised a number of questions, points:
A number of colleagues evidenced the barriers imposed on them because of assumptions made about their having children. Female colleagues reported being put under pressure to take annual leave when their kids are sick, being discouraged from applying for flexible working, or excluded from activities/meetings because they are hosted after 4pm. Another reported being moved off research after maternity leave. And there was also experience of policy going backwards on this, with pressure to roll back on carers allowance in the context of a restructure.

Another colleague raised the importance addressing gendered obstacles to career progression for female academics. In particular, it was argued that the lack of transparency around these procedures needs to be tackled in order to identify potential practices of indirect discrimination and establish a more transparent and fair system.

Anti-casualisation
QMUCU are currently running a survey of casual staff, broadly defined as anyone employed by the university in a non-permanent way. Some of key issues that have emerged from survey so far include that two thirds said they had been paid more than a month late; and a third hadn’t received their contract by the time teaching started. There was also a case of a department seeking to reduce people’s hours after contacts already been agreed, though they withdrew this threat after being challenged. It is clear that there are too many sloppy interpretations of policy which get applied differently in different departments. In addressing these issues:
QMUL has written to QMUCU to request a joint review of the 2017 assimilation agreement
QM UCU will be organising a forum for casual and non-permanent staff – to be announced
WE also encourage members to fill in the surveyin if you haven’t already.

It is also clear that the increasing reliance on precarious employment generates instability for everyone, and it is vital for all of our working conditions and security that we use our collective leverage to improve conditions for our AL, fractional colleagues.

Teaching and scholarship Contracts: There are concerns that workload and allocation of work are gendered and that the emotional labour involved in student support is undervalued. We called a special branch meeting to discuss this and have a rough draft of a report on the issue – although we do want to gather more data to get a clearer picture of what is happening. Not long ago QMUL was singled out in a Times Higher article because of the significant increase in T&S contracts since the last REF. QMUL are embarrassed about this, and this means we should be able to make winnable demands. If we don’t regularise the casualised – the casualised become regularised.

Motions passed:
The following three motions were passed:
Increasing local subs to fund organising activity
Support a boycott of Senate house in support of outsourced workers
Developing a branch campaign against institutional racism.

You can view them here:
http://www.unions.qmul.ac.uk/ucu/

Branch Committee 2019-20: The branch committee for 2019-20 was also elected. You can see roles and how to contact people here: http://www.unions.qmul.ac.uk/ucu/LocalCommittee.htm.

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