Members email: Full review of HR policy provision

Version of email below sent to UoN UCU members on 19th February 2024.

Dear UCU members,

The University is starting a full review of HR policy provision with policies revised and developed to promote best practice and support a culture of inclusion aligned with university values. This was initiated as part of the People and Culture Strategic Delivery Plan (SDP) 2023-2026.

Some of the concerns the University wants to address include inconsistent format and content (including supporting standards and procedures); related accountabilities and responsibilities not consistently identified or articulated; lack of regular review and update.

Many of these policies, including those for disciplinary and grievance issues, are conditions of employment, and therefore must be negotiated with the recognised unions (UCU, Unite, Unison). UCU is starting the negotiation process with the University next month. To assist us with this we need information as to how well (or not) UoN policies are working in practice for our members.

If you have had experiences with an HR policy and in the course of this identified weaknesses in the policy or how it is implemented in practice, please use the following google form to provide them to us. We will collate this information (anonymously) and use it in to focus our negotiations.

Many thanks!

Best,

Andreas (UoN UCU Branch President)

UoN UCU takes action following immigration policy changes

This April, substantial changes to migration rules and income threshold will come into effect. Nationally, UCU is opposing these callous measures and is finding common ground with employers (e.g., UCEA, UUK) to jointly lobby government. The Migrant Members Standing Committee are prioritizing work in this area.

Locally, we have written to the University to demand they take supportive action for individuals affected as well as use their influence to oppose these changes. Amongst other aims, we are pushing the university to facilitate renewal of visas or category switching where that would enable individual members to apply under current, less stringent criteria. Correspondence can be found below. We will continue to monitor the situation and ensure timely action is taken by the university.

If you, whether for your own visa or as a sponsor for a family visa, are affected by these changes, please speak to your rep or contact Gertjan Lucas, UoN UCU Equality Officer and UCU Migrant Members Standing Committee (gertjan@gertjanlucas.nl). Further advice is available here under the heading ‘Information for members affected by changes to the immigration salary thresholds’. General information for migrant members, including legal support by expert immigration lawyers Bindmans, is available here. Note that access to individual legal support is subject to specific requirements. Please contact the branch (uonucubranch@gmail.com) in the first instance for case work support.

UoN UCU email to the VC and HR director 08/02/2024

As you will be aware, the government has announced considerable changes to immigration salary thresholds and some other aspects of their visa regime that will take effect in April or thereabouts. UCU has strongly condemned these changes, and other proposals under discussion which will be damaging to staff as well as students in the HE sector and beyond. We are aware that UCEA and UUK have expressed similar concerns. UCEA and UCU are working on a joint statement to lobby the government in this matter. We ask you use your influence in UCEA, and more broadly in the sector, to echo our concerns and oppose the latest acceleration in anti-immigration rhetoric that is using the lives of international staff and students as a political punching bag.

Moreover, these changes will be affecting our migrant members subject to immigration control and any member who acts as a sponsor for a family visa. To that effect, UCU is asking employers to support our migrant members to ensure their continued leave to remain in the UK.

On behalf of the University of Nottingham branch and its migrant members, I am writing to ask the university does as follows:

  1. Since the threshold changes have not yet taken effect, we ask you to support anyone wishing to renew their Skilled Worker and Family Visa visas before the end of March 2024 by expediting matters such as confirming sponsorship, providing employer letters, and so on. It would be a good show of faith in staff’s contribution to the university if you would identify anyone potentially affected by these changes and encourage them to investigate the option of an early renewal of their work or family visas.
  2. Where staff will fall short of the threshold and are unable to renew their visas ahead of the changes taking effect, we encourage you to explore options for topping up salaries in order to retain staff, avoiding life-destroying consequences for staff and considerable costs for you in replacing staff making considerable contributions to the institution.
  3. Where staff are unable to reach the new threshold for visa renewals due on or after 1 April but wish to apply for another type of visa (e.g. global talent, family), that you offer ad hoc support (e.g. emergency loans) to enable staff to engage with this process.

We look forward to hearing you will stand up for international staff who are facing a cliff edge the moment these immigration changes come into effect.

UoN response via Director of HR Operations 12/02/2024

Thank you for your email addressed to Shearer and Jaspal.

The forthcoming immigration changes will undoubtedly raise many challenges and the global mobility/immigration team in the HR department have been working through what these changes will mean for our staff and students and have submitted a paper to the People and Culture Committee for discussion on the 11 March 2024.

We are committed to connecting with Trade Unions thereafter for conversation and to ensure what is proposed in terms of support is fair and reasonable,  mindful of our duty of care and internal affordability.  

In the interim period, we propose any colleagues who have immediate requests, continue to connect direct with the global mobility/immigration team br-staffimmigration@exmail.nottingham.ac.uk

Communication will be key throughout the next few months and I’m expecting to receive a draft plan to review this week.

Please don’t hesitate to connect with me direct should you have any further questions and I appreciate Shearer and Jaspal will wish to remain close to this sensitive people challenge.

UoN UCU follow-up email 13/02/2024

Many thanks for responding to our email on the April immigration changes.

Directing affected staff to contact the global mobility/immigration team to discuss their individual situation makes sense yet limits the university’s immediate response to a passive one with little visibility. We presented proposals on what proactive steps the university could take, i.e., encourage and facilitate early renewal (bullet point 1) and/or category switching (bullet point 3) where that allows making use of current, less stringent visa requirements. You could write to staff you are currently sponsoring, as well as include a general message in the staff newsletter.

We understand that longer-term steps are part of the paper to the People and Culture Committee and would appreciate receiving a copy, as well as for the draft plan once available.

Last, we had mentioned an ask to lobby UCEA and others in the sector to take a stance against these changes and the growing anti-immigration sentiment these embody. We hope you can affirm the university will be acting on this request.

UoN response via Director of HR Operations 14/02/2024

To reconfirm we are prioritising a communication plan, which will include communication in the next week to individuals impacted by the forthcoming changes.  In the interim, if colleagues have immediate asks, they can continue to connect in with the immigration team in HR.

I can confirm we are exploring a wealth of options, including points you have referenced.   As this has a financial consideration, this will be presented to the organisation for approval.

We appreciate this is an extremely sensitive and anxious time for colleagues, therefore we are aiming to address the immediate asks in the next few weeks, with longer-term arrangements routed to PCC in March, as requested by the Talent Group.

We understand UCEA has met with sector bodies including Universities UK and the Russell Group to discuss sector concerns and potential influencing activities. I understand there is an agreement to send a joint letter to the Home Secretary to express concern at the significant increase to the salary threshold and the potential impact of the increase in the sector and also to seek clarification on some of the measures. We will explore how the University of Nottingham is tapping into these conversations and can respond to this point once we have all the facts.

As part of the communication and engagement plan, we will be happy to reconnect in the next few weeks.  In the meanwhile, please do contact me direct if you have any further questions.

We will be working closely with Finance, Leaders, Trade Unions and impacted staff to find fair and reasonable solutions to a particularly challenging ask.

UoN UCU follow-up email 16/02/2024

Many thanks for the further details on the actions the university will be taking in the more immediate future, this provides some measure of reassurance. We would appreciate receiving updates as you are able to provide them, and opportunities to feed into decision making.

Member email: Update on financial situation!

A version of the below email was sent to members on 5th February 2024

Dear members,

My colleagues Lopa Leach, Cecilia Testa and I have been in regular contact with management about the university’s financial situation. While there is a projected deficit this academic year, the university has also built-up cash reserves of £124 million over recent years. These reserves must not go below £50 million, but in our view this still leaves ample room for manoeuvre and cannot justify the severe cuts to our research, teaching and administration budgets. Management argues that the cuts are only this and next financial year. We, however, point out that these cuts have rather medium- to long-term consequences for the university’s reputation and research capacity. We will continue to press for a change in financial policy that addresses long-term financial sustainability without damaging university core business.

To discuss these issues in more depth, we will hold a members meeting on Wednesday, 28 February, 1 to 2 p.m. Details to follow, but please put the meeting in your diaries already now.

Best,

Andreas

Members update 31st Jan: Solidarity with Demonstrators at motion passed, national elections and hustings, Gaza protest, UoN finances, new national project, and Branch president handover

Dear UCU members,

At today’s members meeting, the attached motion [see below] including amendments was passed by a clear majority with only one abstention and one rejection. Our support for demonstrators in the School of Chemistry is testimony to the capacity of our local branch to support every member in every part of the university. Thank you!

Additionally, I would like to draw your attention to the current UCU elections. Information about the related processes and election addresses can be found on this webpage from UCU national. Importantly, hustings for the General Secretary elections are scheduled for tomorrow Thursday 1 February, 12.30-14.00 and for the position of Vice-President on Tuesday 6 February, 16.00-17.00  Over the last three to four years during our disputes over USS and the 4 Fights, we have learned how influential these roles are in determining UCU strategy. Please inform yourselves and make every effort to participate in these elections.

Please remember our local Gaza – Ceasefire Now protest on 7 February, 1 to 2 p.m. on University Park in line with general national UCU policy. Details about the event will be circulated closer to the time, but please put it in your diary already now.

Members will undoubtedly be concerned about the current rolling out of drastic financial cuts. Yet again, financial difficulties are immediately translated into cut-backs. I can assure members that the local committee observes the situation closely and is in regular dialogue with management. It will be important to raise critical questions at the various roadshows, currently underway at UoN. Please consult your local rep, who is involved in coordinating our UCU input. In general, some of you may still remember our Alternative Financial Strategy (AFS) from spring 2021. It may well be time for AFS 2.0.

Moreover, UCU is launching a new national project called The Future of Work in Post-16 Education. Its aim is to shape the future of education so that technology enables the work of staff and students, rather than acting as a barrier. This responds in part to the extended role of technology during the pandemic, and in part to AI developments since then. Online platforms may help members to innovate in the education and support they provide, and can make our lives easier. However, they also hold large amounts of personal data and mediate the intellectual property that members generate. The project will consider the threats and opportunities of technologies used in the sector, and how UCU should support members and branches to respond. Following a launch event this month, the next step is to establish a Working Group. Expressions of interest are sought from UCU members with all levels of knowledge of the technology arriving in our workplaces.

Finally, I have taken over the role of President of the local UCU branch from Howard Stevenson at the beginning of the current spring semester. I would like to thank Howard on behalf of the branch for his outstanding leadership in enormously difficult circumstances. As a result of the 4 Fights dispute and the related Marking and Assessment Boycott, especially August, normally a quiet month, was extremely busy with many local and national meetings. It is ultimately to Howard’s credit that we extracted ourselves from that dispute as best as possible.

In solidarity,

Andreas (on behalf of the local UCU branch)

Text of motion passed:

Motion on Solidarity with Demonstrators at UoN

This branch notes:

  • That demonstrators in the School of Chemistry had their pay cut at short notice by being moved from salary spine point 23 to point 18;
  • That there are worrying noises of demonstrators being ‘strong-armed’ into working despite the lower pay and that efforts are underway to bring in replacement labour from other schools;
  • That demonstrators continue to be employed via Unitemps rather than UoN directly even though they often work regular hours across the academic year;
  • That demonstrators have collectively organised and are refusing to continue working at the lower pay rate;
  • That due to a lack of postgraduates to demonstrate, academics in the School of Chemistry have been instructed to “prioritise lab demonstrating over all other tasks, except of course other teaching commitments, critical external activities or critical University committees.” Academics have been asked to cover “two four-hour slots per academic per week”;

This branch believes:

  • That any form of intimidation of demonstrators is completely out of order;
  • That pay cuts at short notice during a cost of living crisis are completely unacceptable;
  • That demonstrators, whose work involves great levels of responsibility for lab safety and often also includes marking of student work, deserve the same hourly pay as PGTAs employed in the delivery of seminars in the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, i.e. pay at the level of spine point 23;
  • That demonstrators should be directly employed by UoN;
  • That it is unacceptable for (academic) staff to be suddenly roped into a full extra day of work per week.

This branch resolves:

  • That we support the group of demonstrators, who refuse to work at the lower pay level, with up to £3000 from local branch resources;
  • That we start a campaign for raising further funds in support of demonstrators in the School of Chemistry;
  • That we press for direct employment of all demonstrators with UoN in our ongoing negotiations with HR;