We are aware that a number of our members have raised concerns and questions about the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Today representatives of all three campus trade unions met with Ian Callaghan (Chief Resources Officer) and Helen Wiseman (Director of People and culture), to seek clarification over these and gain a clearer understanding of the universities’ response to the developing situation. We have been reassured that:
- The university encourages staff to work from home where possible and will be surveying staff requirements to implement this policy.
- Heads of Schools/Services have been asked to identify “essential” staff who will be required to work on campus. This will be reviewed by the Executive Team as soon as possible.
- Cleaning and maintenance staff will be given individual guidance by managers.
- Catering will operate a “vacation level” service.
- The Sportspark is closed and the Sainsbury Centre is closing tomorrow. The Library remains open but this is with reduced staffing and is being kept continually under review. Options include moving to self-service provision and closure.
- Managers are being encouraged to set up WhatsApp groups to communicate with their staff and use other remote tools such as Microsoft Teams.
- For those following government advice regarding self-isolation, the normal sickness absence policy will not apply and there will be increased flexibility regarding the time off for dependents.
- In the event of a research shut-down staff and student research contracts will be honoured by the university. The university is in contact with the Research Councils and is waiting for their positions on arrangements for research funding.
The main take away point is that colleagues should follow government advice and that the university and campus trade unions are doing all that we can prioritise staff welfare at this difficult time. We appreciate that the university is doing all it can to respond to this unprecedented situation and that we will continue to work closely with them to support staff and students. If you have any questions or further concerns please get in touch your local branch office/union Rep.
UCU, UNISON and UNITE UEA branch committees
Prize-winning author Jon McGregor has pulled out of an appearance at the University of East Anglia due to the ongoing dispute over pensions.
The author was due to appear at the UEA Spring Literary Festival on Wednesday (7 March), but has said that he will not cross the picket line. Instead, he will headline an evening of readings at the Students’ Union in support of striking staff.
The ‘Writers for the Strike’ event will run from 5 – 7pm on Wednesday and will feature readings from leading authors including Sarah Perry and Megan Bradbury, as well as inputs from staff and students. It forms part of the ‘Alternative University’ – a programme of teach-ins and discussions organised by members of the University and College Union (UCU) taking strike action.
Author Jon McGregor said: ‘Although I had been very much looking forward to reading at the UEA Spring 2018 Literary Festival, I will not be able to do so while strike action in defence of university staff pensions is ongoing. I fully support the UCU action, and – in common with a number of university vice-chancellors, government ministers, and the opinion pages of the Financial Times – call on Universities UK to return to meaningful negotiations immediately to avoid any further disruption not just to students but to the role universities have to play in the wider cultural life.
‘I have never crossed a picket line in my life, and am not about to start now. Instead, I will be joining staff, students, and writers for an evening of readings and discussion as part of the Alternative University being put on by the Student Union.’
The pension dispute centres on proposals to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) – a move which UCU says would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up.
In the recent strike ballot UCU members overwhelmingly backed industrial action. Locally, 87% of UCU members at UEA who voted backed strike action on a turnout of 66%.
UCU UEA branch spokesperson Ben Little said: ‘We really appreciate the support of all the writers and students who are making Wednesday’s ‘Writers for the Strike’ event possible. Strike action is always a last resort, but the threat to our pensions is so serious we have been left with no choice. We hope the university will seek to minimise any further disruption to students by ensuring that Universities UK commits to proper negotiations to resolve this dispute.’
UEA branch voted overwhelmingly – and on a record turn-out – to take strike action to defend the DB pension.
While there is debate over the financial implications of this, there is no evidence that maintaining a DB scheme is impossible. We believe that negotiations should resume to look at ways of managing the scheme.
The proposed change from UUK will disproportionately affect those at the start of their careers, or those intending to enter the profession in the future. We do not believe it is right that those colleagues should have worse work benefits than those later in their career; this would not be an act of solidarity, and is contrary to the communal ethos that underpins a university.
It is in this spirit that 1,000 professors – likely to be relatively unaffected by these changes – signed a letter to the Times Higher stating, “we want to stand shoulder to shoulder with all our colleagues, and especially the next generation, to defend our profession”. Similarly, we reject the current proposal on the grounds of its abandonment of early career staff, which will damage those colleagues as individuals, and the profession more broadly.
The planned strike days are as follows:
Week one – Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days);
Week two – Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days);
Week three – Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days);
Week four – Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)
There are strike FAQs here https://www.ucu.org.uk/uss-action-faqs
If you support the defence of pensions, and want to take strike action, it’s not too late to join UCU – https://www.ucu.org.uk/join