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UCU Scotland Congress 2020

Resolutions of the 14th UCU Scotland Congress, 11 September 2020.

L1  Covid-19 and UCU

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an immense impact upon every aspect of life. Congress commends the work of university staff who moved education to remote delivery, at a time of deep uncertainty, and when attempting to manage a raft of competing demands in the public health emergency.

Congress notes the work of UCU, in ensuring a safe and healthy educational environment for students and staff, assessing the impact of the pandemic on the sector, making a case for funding and support for higher education, and in challenging employer attempts to cut jobs, terms and conditions.

Congress calls upon the union to continue to pursue:

  • safe and healthy workplaces
  • a diverse and vibrant well-funded university sector
  • fair work, avoiding redundancies and cuts to terms and conditions
  • secure employment contracts, manageable workloads, and an end to the gender and race pay gaps.

L2  Covid-19, virtual learning and workloads

Conference notes the swift and effective way that staff across the sector worked in mid-March to move learning, research and student support to virtual and online platforms to ensure that education could continue in the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown. The transition to remote working, along with the extensive preparations for the new academic year - which has often included a range of different contingency plans, such as in person and virtual teaching - has increased the already astronomical workloads of staff in the sector. The shift to online learning and virtual education also raises a range of ethical, pedagogical and technical questions. Conference calls on the union to renew and update its bargaining guidance on virtual and online learning, drawing on the recent UCU Scotland commissioned report 'The Automatic University'; and to support branches with local workload claims in light of Covid-19.

L3  Re-opening of campuses

Congress notes that, in the reopening of campuses following the COVID-19 lockdown, Scottish universities are putting pressure on staff to provide high levels of on-campus teaching and student support in smaller groups of students in addition to online and hybrid teaching. This is leading to increases in already stretched workloads.

The drivers for such high expectations appear to be financial, exacerbated by underfunding and the artificial market in Scottish higher education.

Congress believes that judgements concerning the appropriate mix of online and safe on-campus teaching and support is best made by staff themselves, in conjunction with risk assessments developed in consultation with union representatives. Congress believes that no employee should be under pressure to work on campus more than they judge to be necessary.

1  Reducing casualisation in HE/FE sector

Congress applauds UCU's ongoing work to reduce casualisation in the sector.

Congress notes a 2016 motion instructing UCUS to examine how zero-hour contracts are being replaced.

Congress notes practice at the University of Aberdeen to describe zero-hour contracts as 'temporary services' and some open-ended contracts as 'activity-limited'. Whilst it is acknowledged that open-ended 'activity-limited' contracts are superior to fixed-term contracts, they are in practice, not open-ended.

It is suggested that these and other such categorisations are misleading, hide the extent of casualisation in the sector, and obfuscate universities' employment statistics.

It is unclear how widely such misleading terminology is used. Congress therefore instructs UCUS to:

  • review contract types and nomenclature used in Scottish universities
  • classify contracts into types ('open-ended', 'fixed-term', etc)
  • reject zero-hours arrangements
  • propose standard contract types, nomenclature, and use contexts for the sector
  • lobby Scottish government and the Scottish Funding Council to require these in their KPI requirements.

2  Equality and casualisation

Casualisation is widespread in Scottish institutions, with some of the highest rates of insecure contracts in the UK.

UCU Scotland notes:

  • 53 percent of academic staff in UK universities are on insecure contracts (UCU 2018)
  • women and/or BAME persons are disproportionally employed on insecure contract(s) (UCU 2019)
  • precarious working conditions are barriers to speaking out about unfair treatment and equality issues for fear of losing work.

UCU Scotland resolves to:

  • support casualised members with consideration given to discrimination based on protected characteristics, aggravating the impact of casualisation
  • pressure Scottish universities to end zero-hours contracts and move to secure contracts such as fractional and/or permanent ones
  • support branches in investigating the use of casual contracts or temp agencies in recruitment
  • address inequality within the trade union movement, working to remove barriers for casualised and/or traditionally marginalised groups
  • share good practice between branches on addressing casualisation and equality concerns.

Performance management

Congress:

  • endorses the professional integrity and academic freedom of academic and academic-related, professional support and technical staff in Higher Education
  • condemns the growth of performance management and other New Public Management techniques in Higher Education, which use 'appraisal', 'performance enhancement', 'professional development' and similar euphemisms, to legitimise top-down managerialism, micromanagement and unnecessary manager intervention in professional decision making
  • acknowledges that University employees, as professionals, are entitled to reflective, self-generated professional development and appropriate support from their institutions, without manager interference in their professional work
  • supports branches which are challenging performance management and other forms of managerialism
  • requests of UCUS officers and officials, appropriate support for negotiations and campaigns and other activities in challenging performance management in Higher Education.

4  Workloads and health & safety

UCU Scotland notes the work undertaken by St. Andrews UCU, Strathclyde UCU and Glasgow UCU to examine excessive workloads, rising casualisation pay inequalities

UCUS congratulates these branches in undertaking these initiatives

UCUS resolves to promote the reports emanating from these reports and to develop these studies across all UCUS branches

UCU Scotland further resolves to present a UCU Scotland report on excessive workloads and casualisation to the Scottish government prior to the Scottish elections in 2021.

5  Better collaboration with EIS University Lecturers' Association

Congress notes:

  • the crossover in potential members in Scotland between UCU and EIS ULA
  • the EIS ULA decision to use a disaggregated reballot over pay
  • that UCU already has joint membership agreements with a number of other trade unions
  • established joint-working arrangements with other unions in many institutions.

Congress believes:

  • many of the struggles we are involved in are not restricted to union-specific silos
  • working effectively across sector trade unions is a fundamental aspect of both solidarity and effective action
  • mobilised membership is essential in the face of anti-TU legislation.

Congress resolves to:

  • initiate dialogue with EIS ULA, exploring better collaboration including but not solely on the matters of closer cooperation and potential joint membership
  • promote and support UCU branches in working more closely and effectively with EIS ULA members in their institutions
  • facilitate a Scotland-wide event to bring together rank & file members of all campus unions.

6  Unison

UCU Scotland recognises the need for cross union coordination and solidarity.

Whilst the national strike carried out in late 2019 was inspiring and positive, it would have been much more effective had Unison also struck. Whilst Unison members voted to strike, the turnout did not reach the 50% threshold. UCU has developed methods of beating anti trade union laws with Get The Vote Out campaigns. UCU Commits to extend an arm of support to other trade unions in higher education, particularly Unison and offer branch level support for Get The Vote out campaigns including for the next round of strikes.

7  Scottish elections 2021

UCU Scotland notes the Scottish elections taking place in 2021.

UCU also notes the work undertaken by the Education Committee on the production of a manifesto for higher education in Scotland and the Scottish government's Fair Work Agenda's similarity with our demands on casualization, pay equality and limits on excessive workloads.

UCU Scotland resolves to hold a conference in the Autumn of 2020 to launch the manifesto prior to the Scottish elections and to use the manifesto to promote UCU Scotland policy around higher education.

UCU Scotland further resolves to call on the Scottish government to implement proposals around the Fair Work Agenda in universities and prepare for ballots on industrial action if these are not adopted.

9  Second independence referendum

Congress notes the call from the Scottish government for a second referendum on Scottish independence, the ongoing debate between the Scottish and UK governments, and the wider discussion amongst political and civic Scotland. Irrespective of the timing of any vote, Congress affirms the right, as set out in the 1989 claim of right and signed up to by the Scottish Trade Union Congress, for the Scottish people to determine their future.

Congress believes that if a further referendum is held that UCU Scotland should engage in the debate and examine the issues, opportunities, threats and challenges to Scottish education, our economy, and society generally, to ensure that our universities are best placed for the future whatever the result of a referendum.

10  Automation and new technology

Congress welcomes UCU Scotland's Automatic University report, which outlines the impact of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) in our sectors and begins to set out some of the challenges and opportunities posed by new technology.

Congress notes that automation and AI is changing the nature of work for staff in the post-16 education sectors. Congress calls upon UCU to use this report as a base to develop the union's strategy to new technology - which should include workshops, bargaining guidance, reps training and development - to protect jobs and professionalism, and to develop new opportunities for all of those working and studying in post-16 education.

11  Vulnerability of post-92 institutions

Noting Audit Scotland's report on the relative fragility of the modern universities within the higher education sector in Scotland

Noting UCUS policy in support of an equitable and diverse sector, and the Scottish government's responsibility to ensure the survival of the smaller universities without jeopardising the larger universities,

Congress:

  • notes that members in post-92 institutions involved in the '4 fights' dispute, advocated that the collective bargaining strategy in this dispute should be clearly distinctive from that of the USS dispute
  • notes with concern that the HEC has agreed a strategy of industrial action which does not recognise the distinctiveness of the two disputes.

Congress resolves to establish urgently a commission within UCUS structure to develop strategy for the protection of the interests of post-92 universities in Scotland

12  Heriot Watt Orkney campus pickets

Congress notes the importance of picket lines to successful strike action. Congress further notes that in small and in rural workplaces the dedication shown by members, often acting alone or in small numbers, to staffing picket lines is especially worthy of note. Following contact from Heriot Watt branch, congress cites Heriot Watt UCU branch members Dr Joanne Porter, her picket dog Monty, and Dr David Woolf and his dog Cal in recognition of their stalwart contributions with their 'Starfish of Solidarity' from the Brough of Birsay, to the Standing Stones of Steness in the ongoing dispute. As the most northerly and isolated pickets in UCU, though separated from comrades by distance and geography, congress thanks them for their outstanding dedication and example in the struggle for workers' rights which the branch feel lifts the whole union.

13  Pensions

Congress notes:

  1. calls to reduce pension benefits for those in receipt of occupational pensions, such as USS or TPS, has raised concerns about the perceived 'generational unfairness' in pension provision
  2. in the Guardian on 2nd December 2019, retired Professors of Law and Politics, Hadden and McLellan called for UCU and USS to make an 'effort to share the burden of paying for adequate pensions for us all'and that'We have established that this can be done within the current law'
  3. many in receipt of pensions have small incomes, they pay tax and have no means to defend themselves against reductions. It would be a gross breach of trust to reduce their income as they plan their future.

Congress urges:

UCU not to support any future attempts to reduce the benefits of those retired and in receipt of pensions such as USS or TPS.

Following the FBU success in protecting firefighters' pensions - Congress asserts that all pensions should be of the same quality of USS and TPS

Congress resolves to instruct UCUS executive to:

  1. challenge any claims that USS is unable to continue paying benefits at current arrangements.
  2. put pressure on Scottish government to continue current arrangements without increasing member contributions.

14  Fighting institutional racism

Racist discrimination and far right politics are on the rise in the UK, reflected in institutional racism which is also a longstanding problem in Scottish universities.

UCU Scotland notes:

  • institutional racism is discrimination and/or prejudice against people from minority ethnic backgrounds manifested in organisational policies and culture
  • institutional racism is commonplace in Scottish universities, seen in curricula, staffing inequality, and exclusionary practices including staff monitoring and Prevent
  • universities have a public sector duty (Equality Act 2010) promoting good relations with people with protected characteristics and mitigating discrimination.

UCU Scotland resolves to:

  • work within UCU structures to promote good practice between branches on addressing institutional racism
  • encourage branches and Scottish officers to addressing institutional racism and exclusionary practices within UCU itself, eg. by removing barriers for BAME members to engage with the union
  • support branches in implementing working groups and/or BAME reps on committees, including securing facility time for such activities
  • encourage branches to engage in initiatives aimed at decolonising the curriculum in higher education
  • circulate information about good practice, if any, and successful campaigns
  • campaign for institutions to publish data on race pay gaps and numbers of black and ethnic minority people at senior levels of the institution
  • name and shame institutions which do not improve their practices in response to UCU campaigns.

16  Migrant, right to remain and institutional racism

Congress reaffirms UCU's commitment to opposing racist immigration legislation and supporting internationalism of universities.

Congress deplores:

  1. the continuing institutional racism in many universities.
  2. the fear and uncertainty about their future experienced by many EU colleagues and students, and other ways that people who are not UK citizens are prevented from collaboration with Scottish universities
  3. the discrimination and racism experienced by many international colleagues and students.

Congress instructs HEC to campaign together with students, other trade unions and community groups to put pressure on UK government to:

  1. Give all EU and international colleagues and students who want it an indefinite right to remain
  2. remove visa restrictions which can cause international students to miss the start of term and prevent international colleagues participating in project meetings, conferences and academic exchanges
  3. strongly encourage universities to actively support EU and international colleagues and students, including by not increasing fees for EU students.

17  Ending the hostile environment

Congress remembers Theresa May's comments when home secretary in 2012, that she aimed 'to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration'. This 'hostile environment' has underpinned successive Conservative government's approaches to immigration, characterised UK government hostility towards migrants in the UK, and given a green light to the rise in racism, Islamophobia and general anti-immigration sentiments in the UK.

Congress rejects the 'hostile environment' which has created suspicion, division, and is fostering racism in the provision of public services, benefits, employment and housing

Congress calls on the UCU Scotland to:

  • reiterate its opposition to the UK government's 'hostile environment'
  • work with others to send out a clear message that Scotland welcomes citizens from Europe and across the world, to come to live, work study, or to seek refuge here
  • make representations to the Scottish government to oppose the 'hostile environment'
  • put pressure on the Scottish government to ensure that asylum seekers in Scotland are not made destitute and housing is provided for them regardless of legal status
  • put pressure on the Scottish government to put pressure on the UK government to revise current racist immigration legislation to remove points based immigration and make it more welcoming.

18  Equality legislation

UCU Scotland Congress notes the importance of equality legislation and the risk of it being weakened as a result of Brexit.

Congress instructs UCUS executive to campaign together with students, other trade unions and community groups to put pressure on the Scottish government to:

  1. commit to maintaining and strengthening equality legislation at Scottish level
  2. put pressure on the UK government to maintain all existing equality legislation
  3. study equality legislation elsewhere and, where stronger than existing Scottish or UK legislation to introduce it and put pressure on UK government to do the same.

19  Commercial sexual exploitation

Congress notes:

  • ongoing pressure on female students to engage in Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE), including prostitution
  • UCU Scotland policy in support of Scottish government's commitment to tackling Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG)
  • Scottish government's definition of VAWG includes 'commercial sexual exploitation including prostitution, pornography and trafficking'
  • UCU Scotland policy deviates from UCU policy, which supports decriminalisation of sex work
  • public policy on the sex trade in Scotland is the responsibility of the Scottish government
  • the legitimacy of UCU Scotland policy deviating from UCU policy on issues controlled by the Scottish government
  • the importance of tackling the causes of prostitution (including: poverty and financial pressures on women; cultures of male entitlement; coercive control and sex inequality) as well as the provision of support for prostituted women in, and in exiting, the sex trade.

Congress therefore reasserts its support for tackling VAWG, including prostitution and other forms of CSE.

UCU Scotland agrees to:

  • put pressure on the Scottish government to provide additional financial support to students to remove financial pressures to engage in sex work.

20  Sustainable Development Goals Accord

Congress notes the purpose of the SDG Accord is to inspire, celebrate and advance the critical role that education has in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the value it brings to governments, business and wider society. It is a commitment learning institutions are making to one another to do more to deliver the goals, to annually report on each signatory's progress, and to do so in ways which share the learning with each other both nationally and internationally.

Congress agrees that UCU Scotland, as a national support organisation, should sign the SDG Accord, and instructs the UCU Scotland Executive to do so at the earliest opportunity.

21  UCU and CoP26

Congress notes:

  • the 26th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Scotland in November 2020
  • the Paris Agreement demand for a rapid reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to keep average temperatures below 2oC above pre-industrial levels
  • the Scottish government's target of reducing greenhouse gases to net zero by 2045
  • friends of the Earth's demand of net zero by 2040, and Extinction Rebellion's by 2025
  • UCU involvement in trade union campaigns to tackle climate change, including the campaigns for climate jobs and just transition
  • UCU Scotland's membership of the Scottish Just Transition Partnership, which led to the establishment in Scotland of the Just Transition Commission.

Congress commits to:

  • UCUS's ongoing participation in the Just Transition Partnership
  • participation in civil society activities associated with CoP26
  • an end of fossil fuel extraction and just transition to zero carbon economy urgently, with full involvement of the trade union movement
  • make time of officers and officials, and financial resources, available for engagement in COP26 civil society mobilisation.

22  Climate change

UCU Scotland notes:

  1. the COP26 conference taking place in Glasgow in November. COP stands for Conference of the Parties, countries that have ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  2. calls from Campaign Against Climate Change, Friends of the Earth, Extinction Rebellion and many others for protests at COP26.
  3. UCU and other trade union's affiliation to the Campaign Against Climate Change https://www.cacctu.org.uk/affiliation_list

UCU Scotland resolves:

  1. to support all activities by campaign groups around COP26 which promote action over climate change
  2. to organise and sponsor a trade union fringe meeting on climate change at COP26.
  3. to Affiliate to Campaign Against Climate Change
  4. to support Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign's call for the official observer status of the Israeli Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) to be revoked on the grounds of its direct involvement in land confiscation and ethnic cleansing.

23  Action on Climate Change

Congress welcomes the declaration of climate emergencies at several institutions. Congress deplores the limited action too late institutions are taking and the fact that not all have disinvested from other carbon investments.

Congress instructs NEC and the General Secretary to work together with branches and student unions to:

  1. determine best practice in action against climate change and circulate a briefing to branches to support campaigning
  2. together with other trade unions to put pressure on the government to take stronger action against climate change.

Congress encourages branches to work together with student unions to:

  1. campaign and put pressure on management to implement this best practice and disinvest if they have not done so
  2. organise teach-outs and other activities on climate change during all industrial action
  3. actively participate in student climate strikes and the protests and the COP26 meeting in Glasgow in November.

24  Solidarity with students and staff in India

The protests across India against issues concerning the Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 have met state-sponsored repression on university campuses.

UCU Scotland notes:

  • UCU UK's 17 December 2019 statement of solidarity with students and staff on university campuses in India, condemning the Indian state's assault on free speech
  • the escalation of the conflict, including the police invasion of Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University, and the violence of ABVP cadres against students at Jawaharlal Nehru University.

UCU Scotland resolves to:

  • issue a statement referencing recent events in solidarity with students, staff and other citizens protesting in India
  • work with students and academics from South Asia to organise against the continuing assault on free speech in the country
  • organise, promote and share good practice on events, such as seminars, public meetings, or talks providing information on the CAA, NRC, and the threat of Hindu fundamentalism to the social fabric of India
  • lobby the Scottish government to issue a strong statement condemning the attacks
  • work to support organisations and unions such as the JNU Teachers Association which are working in Indian universities to challenge this repressive situation
  • to condemn in the strongest terms the anti-Muslim nationalist pogroms ongoing under the pretext of pro CAA and NRC action.

25  Palestine

Congress notes:

  • the Palestinian call for international week of action to support the Great March of Return (GMR) 24-30 March 2020
  • 70% of the population of Gaza are refugees, entitled to return to the homes, now in Israel, from which their families were evicted in 1948, a right denied by Israel in defiance of UN security council resolution 194
  • GMR is a popular, unarmed civilian movement of resistance to the denial of rights to Palestinians
  • GMR 2018-19 was met with violence by Israeli occupying forces against unarmed nonviolent protesters, children, medical personnel and journalists, resulting in over 250 deaths and 8,000 injuries, which the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry believes, may constitute a crime against humanity.

This congress agrees to send a public message of solidarity to the GMR, and encourages branches and members to take solidarity action, including supporting STUC endorsed campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions.

Last updated: 7 January 2021