Bristol UCU Newsflash, 6th July 2021

1) Save USS 

Members may be looking forward to some well-earned leave. One issue remains pressing. As made clear at our recent branch meeting and through our UCU modeller [link], there is an attempt once again to degrade USS, with steep rises in contributions and cuts to benefits on the negotiating table.

Now is the time for our employer and all employers to act as well as talk tough. USS universities say they do not agree with USS’s recklessly prudent and largely discredited 2020 valuation, and the large unwarranted deficit that it generates, yet leave said valuation and USS Trustees unchallenged. Instead, they announce unnecessary benefit-reducing proposals.

Over the next two months, USS employers have a decision to make. They can ‘either work with us to push USS to scrap its valuation, and make the changes necessary to maintain current benefit and contribution rates, or [they] can choose to face a ballot for industrial action, which UCU members voted for at this year’s congress

UCU negotiators remain open to some scheme reform such as progressive contribution structures to enable more low-paid staff to join and stay in USS. What is unacceptable is a university mission group such as UUK pushing through damaging cuts to UCU members’ pensions instead of deescalating a dispute through increased employer support and taking on the USS Trustees through sensible reform [link].

Following the meeting of UCU’s Higher Education Committee last week, a meeting which was informed by branch feedback, a Higher Education Sector Conference has been called for early September. This Conference will decide the next steps in the USS dispute [link], such as industrial action, as well as in our other Four Fights dispute [link].

2) Bristol UCU Pension + 4 Fights Briefing with UCU Head of HE Paul Bridge, Wednesday, 21st July, 13:00-14:00, via Microsoft Teams

Bristol UCU members are invited to a briefing on the pension and Four Fights (pay inequality, job security, workload and pay devaluation) disputes on Wednesday, 21st July. UCU’s Head of Higher Education Paul Bridge will be our main speaker and able to answer any queries members may have.

To join the Briefing on 21st July, click on the link below:

3) Hybrid Working, Health and Safety and the New Academic Year

In the absence of detailed government guidance, working and studying at the University of Bristol next academic year remains an uncertain proposition. With the relaxation of legal restrictions and ministerial announcements that there will be a return to in-person teaching [link], there is not yet a ‘baseline of protective measures’ that universities will need to adopt to keep workplaces safe (as of the time of writing).

Bristol UCU, and UCU across Higher (and Further) Education, remain committed to pushing employers to adopt a range of necessary health and safety measures that are well within the employer’s gift and can be made regardless of the low baseline that the government has consistently set during the current pandemic.

In short, all staff working on campus should have adequate PPE, social distancing should be maintained, rooms should be properly ventilated if they are to be used, and room and workplace risk assessments should be easily accessible to all staff. For those staff who do not need to work on campus, and have an alternative, adequately resourced workplace, the new trial blended working policy [link] should trump any unwarranted presenteeism.

UCU’s own baseline of protective measures can be read by clicking the link below:

Members’ attention is also drawn to the University’s Long Covid Factsheet [link].

4) Fighting Fund Contribution

Bristol UCU Exec approved a £1,000 contribution to the UCU Fighting Fund [link]. This follows our £10,000 contribution to the Fund earlier this year.

The Fighting Fund is currently supporting UCU members at Hull, Leicester, Liverpool, Aston University, Novus Prison Education, University of Chester, to name but six branches facing job cuts and unsafe working conditions [link].