UCU’s Scottish congress took place on Friday 23 March at the Golden Jubilee Conference Centre in Clydebank near Glasgow. Around 60 delegates from branches across Scotland came together at the end of the week when the first phase of strike action in the USS dispute ended. After a meal the night before with guests including MSPs, senior civil servants and journalists joining delegates the conference proper started on the Friday morning. Given the timing, the pensions dispute – at last for those branches in the scheme – was a significant point of discussion but delegates also considered motions on many other subjects important to Scottish higher education. These included violence against women on university campuses, how we build UCU into an even more effective union, excessive principals pay and the funding of higher education, and Brexit as well as revising UCU’s rules and standing orders to bring them up to date a decade after our formation.
The debate on sexual harassment and gender based violence was informed by a presentation by congress’ key-note speaker, Anni Donaldson from Strathclyde University’s Equally Safe in HE project. As well as hearing background on the problem in Scottish universities and society, congress also heard details of the project’s newly launched toolkit which allows institutions, unions, staff and students to challenge gender based violence on campuses.
A list of the motions passed at the congress is included below. There were a small number of motions which congress did not have time to consider and which were therefore remitted to the UCU Scotland executive committee. The union’s executive will also progress action on the motions passed over the coming year.
Resolutions of the 12th UCU Scotland Congress, 23 March 2018, Golden Jubilee Conference Hotel, Clydebank
- Violence against women
Congress notes and supports the Domestic Abuse Bill recently passed by the Scottish Parliament. Congress welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to tackling violence against women by supporting the NUSS campaign against violence against women on campus. UCUS endorses the Scottish Government’s recognition of the need to address all forms of violence against women as part of a coherent analysis of gender-based power, and encourages UCU branches to support local campaigns to tackle gender-based violence that adopt this approach.
- Combatting domestic abuse
Congress recognizes that domestic abuse is an issue which affects staff and students in the HE, FE and ACE sectors of post-16 education irrespective of class, race, or gender, and welcomes legislative steps to eliminate all elements of this. Congress notes and welcomes in this regard the passing of the Scottish Parliament’s domestic abuse bill which recognizes the concept of coercive control as a crucial element used by the perpetrators of abuse.
We also welcome universities which have recognised the elimination of gender based violence on campus as a priority.
Congress asks the union to ensure that current advice to union members regarding Domestic Abuse should draw on the best work taking place in the different jurisdictions of the UK to ensure that our advice to members is relevant, up to date effective and practical.
- Sexual harassment policy
Congress acknowledges that a 2011 survey by the NUS noted that one in four female students had experienced unwanted sexual behaviour while at university. This is a UK wide phenomenon. Figures on sexual victimisation released from an extensive survey of 10,000 adults who took part in the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS) for 2014-15 noted young people, particularly young women, experienced the highest level of stalking and harassment: 12.7 per cent of 16 to 24 years old women had experienced at least one type of stalking and harassment in the last 12 months. This figure was approximately double the average rate of 6.4 per cent. Congress welcomes initiatives against sexual harassment of students or staff such as Cambridge University’s Breaking the Silence approach, GCU’s Gender Based Violence Policy and Strathclyde University’s ‘Equally Safe’ policy. We call on UCU Scotland to actively campaign on this issue in the coming period.
- International solidarity with LGBT+ and Disability Organisations
Congress deplores 1. The lack of human rights of LGBT+ people and continued persecution and criminalisation for sexual orientation and/or gender identity in many countries e.g. Chechnya. 2. The continued exclusion, including from education and employment, lack of human and technological support, othering and marginalisation of disabled people in many countries worldwide. Congress recognises the importance of international solidarity and the valuable lessons we can learn from it. Congress encourages solidarity with LGBT+ and disability organisations worldwide and asks UCU Scotland to:
1. Use the website to highlight abuses, campaigns for change and solidarity actions, including letter, signing petitions, demonstrations, political pressure and fund raising.
2. Encourage members to submit information for the website
3. Circulate to members and branches at least one call for solidarity action with LGBT+ and/or disabled people internationally regularly.
4. Develop links with LGBT+ and disabled trade unionists and LGBT+ and disability organisations internationally.
UCU Scotland Congress recognises the improvements made in the revised Scottish Code of Governance published in 2017. In particular the recommendations for staff, student and trade union involvement in arrangements for determining senior pay are to be welcomed. However it is recognised that a minority voice on remuneration committees will not of itself address the issue of excessive executive pay and that broader action is required. Congress instructs the executive to push for UCU involvement on remuneration committees and to produce guidelines for alternative models of determining senior pay. Guidelines should include advice on possible multipliers of average pay, job sizing, and extending the salary scale beyond point 52.
- The contribution of universities to the common weal’ of Scotland
Congress notes the worthwhile activities of the ‘Reclaiming our University’ movement calling for fundamental reform of the principles, ethos and organisation of Higher Education, with the aim of ‘restoring universities to the communities in which they belong, fulfilling their civic purposes in a manner appropriate to our times, and operating in the defence of democracy, peaceful coexistence and human flourishing’.
Congress believes that the trade unions in the sector have a key role in collaboration with our colleagues in the student movement and Scottish Government, to promote the positive benefits of higher education to Scottish society. Congress therefore asks the Scottish Executive and local branches, to consider how to continue to renew the national conversation on the contribution of universities to the common weal’ of Scotland and its people.
- Health and safety awareness at Higher Education Institutions
UCUS believe that staff and students should be able to work and study in a safe environment. UCUS believe that the views of staff on safety/well-being at each HEI should be represented by TU’s at a forum where issues around safety and (especially mental health) well-being can be raised.
UCUS Congress notes that the Health and Safety at Work Act and the SRSC regulations provide a starting point for all HEI to have a functional and productive Health and Safety Committee. UCUS resolves to produce guidance to all member branches in respect of the proper constitution of a Health and Safety committee ensuring each HSC have equal numbers of management and union representatives.
UCUS Congress also asks that UCUS Executive write to each HEI asking if it has a safety committee and what is its composition and what steps it will take to align with the Act.
- Higher education inequality
Congress notes the Audit of HE report that “strong overall financial position masks underlying risks within the sector. Surpluses and reserves are concentrated in a small number of universities”. Audit Scotland note, of 19 universities, two accounted for 41% of total income, and eight accounted for 79%. Such inequalities pose a risk to members’ jobs, and a two tier system with a ‘race to the bottom’.
Congress believes that Scottish Government and SFC have a duty to consider the overall health and collective viability of the higher education sector through their system of funding. Congress calls on the executive and officers to address this issue with the Government and SFC, and as well as calling for increased funding to the whole sector to support measures that would reduce inequalities in funding between universities over time.
This would strengthen the ability of Scotland’s universities collectively to withstand hostile actions from forces that would undermine their independence and social, scientific, economic and cultural contribution.
- Using Athena Swan to challenge cultures of exclusion and advance the equality agenda
1. Universities are taking Athena Swan very seriously due to the impact on funding.
2. The potential for using AS to advance the equality agenda and the risk of window-dressing activities which do not lead to meaningful change.
Congress agrees to ask HEC to:
1. Collect information from members and branches on successful initiatives
2. Produce and circulate guidelines on the effective use of AS.
3. Encourage branches to use AS to encourage departments, schools and institutions to:
a. Organise regular seminars and poster campaigns on e.g. removing barriers to trans students and staff, ending violence against women, intersectionality and celebrating the equality calendar
b. Provide non-binary options in data collection and do not collect unnecessary data.
c. Provide sufficient gender neutral facilities, including toilets and changing facilities.
d. Move beyond equality audits in ending the gender pay gap.
e. Start to dismantle institutional sexism and other discrimination.
Congress notes the continued participation of a number of Scottish universities in the TEF and further notes, while the public debate around the rights and wrongs have died down, that it is important to continue to pressurise those universities who do participate to withdraw and those not participating not to join. Congress believes that the same arguments used against the TEF – that it brings increased marketisation to higher education and that the existing Scottish system of quality assurance is superior – remain the case and resolves to ensure that Scottish higher education institutions’ involvement in the TEF is minimised.
Congress therefore calls on UCU Scotland to maintain opposition to the TEF and to continue contact with the Scottish Government and Universities Scotland making our opposition clear.
One of the biggest obstacles to stopping privatization is the level of secrecy at the top of Scotland’s educational institutions. Areas such as food service, cleaning, security, printing and others are sold off to the detriment of jobs, workers’ rights, student experience and the education sector as a whole. With layers of bureaucracy protecting managers who oversee such deals, their actions can’t be held accountable.
Congress calls for and commits the union to campaigning for a full opening of the books. Unions must be given access to all the financial figures, including where money goes, where it comes from and how much. We must use this information to campaign for the reverse of all privatizations and outsourcing and the creation of democratic, public controlled education service that our students, staff and communities need and deserve.
- Workload and managerialism
Congress notes that, despite the Scottish Government’s modest increase in the budget for Higher Education in last year’s budget, the ongoing impact of successive cuts is still being felt by staff with unmanageable workloads and work-related stress. This is exacerbated by the imposition of, and senior management collusion in, externally imposed regimes of dubious value, including REF, TEF, NSS and student surveillance. The increase in managerialism associated with demands for increased productivity, excessive reporting regimes, and gimmicks designed to promote competition between institutions.
Congress supports UCU’s campaigns for a manageable workload and an end to unnecessary competition in the sector.
Congress affirms its commitment to a Higher Education sector which is democratic, collegiate, cooperative and values its staff and their work.
- Women and pensions
Conference notes the disproportionate impact upon women in the workplace in terms of the gender pay gap, breaks in employment service due to caring responsibilities and being excluded from promotion.
This negative impact continues into retirement where many women will have lower NI contributions, lower pensions and an expectation by society to re-engage in caring responsibilities. This will all be reflected in a woman’s work-based pension and state pension incomes combined.
Disabled women are further subject to additional pressure on their retirement income as many will not have their disability leave recorded correctly, mainly due to pernicious absence monitoring practices, and therefore may be more likely to have increased breaks in their employment history.
Conference calls on UCU Scotland to execute an Equality Impact Assessment upon the outcome of a work-based retiral pension, in comparison to men, for:
- Part-time women members
- Disabled women members
- Women members of the union.
In proposing changes to the designed benefit USS pension by the Employers (Universities UK), USS noted that “Benefits already earned by both active and deferred members are protected by law and in the scheme rules. Benefits already being paid to retired members are not affected by this decision”. There is, however, no explicit assurance that future payments to retired members will continue to be linked to inflation indices. The current arrangement of CPI index linked to a cap of 5% is inadequate for a sustained period of increased inflation.
Congress supports the continuation of inflation linked protection of pension payments for those currently retired and those that will retire with a defined benefit pension, and instructs UCU Scotland to arrange briefing sessions for members in pre 1992 branches prior to the UCU Congress 2018.
- Organising and networking
Congress recognises that equality and anti-casualisation are at the heart of UCU and the urgent need to tackle climate change and other environmental problems before a major crisis occurs.
Congress agrees to ask Executive to:
1. Re-activate the Anti-Casualisation and Equality and Human Rights Networks.
2. Produce and circulate to branches and members guidelines on introducing equality, sustainability and anti-casualisation issues in teaching and negotiating with management to introduce policies and provide support to do this.
3. Encourage branches to get their institutions to introduce policies on including equality, sustainability and anti-casualisation issues in teaching.
4. Enable the networks to work with student and community campaigns, including on divestment and zero hours, and with Ethics for USS.
- Supporting branches in disputes
Congress congratulates branches across Scotland for delivering resounding ballot results, leading to serious and sustained industrial action to defend our pensions, in the face of damaging proposals from the employers which would effectively destroy the USS pension scheme.
Congress recognises that this action is not easy and will impact particularly on members on insecure and casual contracts. Congress calls on UCU Scotland to investigate and implement mechanisms to activate support and solidarity from branches not in the dispute and from sister trade unions, for those branches in dispute.
- Policy in action
Congress notes the strength of UCU’s activist network and the commitment that many members demonstrate by participating in the critical stages of particular campaigns, for example by taking industrial action. Congress also notes, however, that union issues could take a more prominent role in the daily working lives of our members. Increasing discussion of union issues in the workplace and harnessing the organising potential of the broadest range of our members will be central to the future of UCU.
Congress therefore resolves to develop materials that explain how specific UCU policies can be discussed and put into action by all members of the union in daily working life (e.g. ‘Anti-casualisation in action’).
- Working with postgraduate students
Following the initiative of offering free membership to PhD students and postgraduate students who teach, Congress asks the Scottish Executive to consider an extended meeting or a conference aimed at examining how better to work on behalf of this section of our membership. This could examine best practice in combatting casualised contracts, achieving maternity and paternity pay for PhD students and other issues of particular relevance to members in this category. It could also give advice as to how best to draw up a local claim in each of Scotland’s universities on behalf of this community.
- Improving our work with Black and Minority Ethnic members
Congress asks the Scottish Executive to facilitate a discussion amongst Black and Minority Ethnic Members in Scotland with the aim of drawing up a medium term plan for improving our offer to BAME members, and the prominence given to the issues facing BAME members of the union.
- Academic-related, professional service and technical staff
- Recognises the significant contribution to the union of members in academic-related, professional service and technical roles (ARPS) in Scotland’s universities;
- Acknowledges that for historical reasons UCU’s position in relation to recruiting and representing ARPS staff is not consistent across the UK and between pre-92 and post-92 universities;
- Affirms that in practice, there is no reason why this group of staff should have a fundamentally different experience at pre-92 universities as opposed to post-92;
- Encourages branches where no other trade union represents ARPS, actively to recruit members from this job group;
- Endeavours to ensure that ARPS and academic members in Scotland can play an equally active role in branches, UCUS and UCUUK without interfering with the responsibilities of other unions;
- Agrees to seek further clarity on UCU’s role in representing this group of staff and work towards the removal of current anomalies
- Freedom of movement, immigration and Prevent
Congress notes the rise in racist and xenophobic incidents on university campuses. Congress believes that such behaviours demonstrate and grow from increasing intolerance and a subsequent rise in populism.
Congress recognises that many people feel threatened by these developments, and that we can see attempts to exploit these insecurities. Similarly, congress believes the Prevent duty stigmatises students, and while implemented differently in Scotland, should be scrapped.
Congress believes that freedom of movement is an important principle, and should not be lost when the UK departs the EU.
Congress calls on Executive to campaign for:
- The free movement of labour and against Points-Based Immigration Systems
- The right of EU citizens living and working in the UK to stay
- International students to be taken out of net migration targets
- The Prevent legislation to be scrapped.
- Supporting staff and students under threat from Brexit
Congress notes the continuing lack of clarity over how the HE sector will suffer under Brexit and welcomes current commitments from the Scottish government to underwrite places for EU students starting university in 2019/2020. Congress also notes the continuing lack of clarity on parity of employment rights for EU nationals with UK nationals following Brexit.
Congress calls on branches to raise the prominence of the issue of safeguards for EU staff and students in their current work and give increasing solidarity to those who are directly affected by current government policy regarding Brexit.
- Support for overseas staff
Congress calls on Scottish Universities to have an adequate and efficient support system in place for academic staff from overseas. Universities continue to avail of the skills and training of staff born, educated and trained overseas yet leave the excessive and exhausting processes of seeking advice, meeting and paying for visa requirement to the individuals. Congress calls on UCU Scotland to launch a consultative process with overseas staff to inform a UCU intervention on this matter.
- Just Transition
Given the imperative for a just transition to a low or zero carbon economy, as affirmed in the Paris Agreement of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Congress notes:
- the implementation of motion from 2017 Congress, which confirms that there is interest from both Aberdeen and RGU branches to host an event on Just Transition;
- ongoing work of the Just Transition Partnership to which UCUS contributes;
- support from the Just Transition Partnership to collaborate with UCUS on an event;
- The Scottish Government’s announcement to establish a Just Transition Commission
- The timeliness and significance of a potential UCUS/JTP event
- The role which education must play in preparing workers for the new economy.
Thus, Congress calls on Executive to organise a conference in collaboration with the JT partnership and other trades unions, in Aberdeen, on Just Transition and the role of education.
- Grenfell Tower
Congress notes the monthly silent mass marches in Kensington in solidarity with the campaign for justice for the victims of Grenfell Tower; the parallel march on 14 February in Manchester; and the call for UK-wide events to mark the first anniversary of the tragedy on 14 June. It welcomes the Edinburgh TUC motion to STUC’s 2018 congress calling for solidarity actions north of the border.
The Grenfell campaign has drawn attention to critical safety issues of concern in Scotland – including in some tertiary education institutions – as well as in the rest of the UK; has raised awareness of the profound humanitarian issues that arise from the social consequences of public policy over several decades; and is of unique relevance to the broader fight against austerity.
Congress calls on Executive:
To support the ETUC motion at STUC Congress;
To encourage, and assist with, anniversary events in June.
L1. Combatting Racism
- UCUS is a sponsor of Stand Up To Racism (SUTR).
- The presence on the SUTR march in Glasgow on UN anti-racism day 2018, of the Confederation of Friends of Israel (COFIS) holding Israeli flags.
- The decision by the Muslim Council for Scotland to withdraw from SUTR in expectation of COFIS’ presence.
Therefore, Congress instructs the UCU Scotland executive to contact SUTR Scotland to indicate that, for UCUS’s ongoing support, we require reassurance that any organisation that supports racism will not be welcome at future SUTR events in Scotland.
L2 Compulsory Redundancies
Congress note that UCU takes discrimination against union members and representatives seriously and will actively pursue protections under the law, and correspondingly, the existential threat to Abertay UCU, caused by the recent redundancy situation as regards AUCU officers. Congress also notes that threatened multi-redundancies have been avoided and that AUCU officers and committee have played an important role in this development, while any continuing threat is now solely directed at one officer.
Congress robustly condemns the threat of redundancy against AUCU officers.
Congress resolves to ensure appropriate actions are taken to voice, and where necessary, openly campaign, as regards our concerns, and remits UCU Scotland Executive to act accordingly.
L4 Building on the industrial action
Congress congratulates members and branches on the overwhelming support for strike action during the first phase of the USS dispute, the mobilisation of members, and the preparations they are putting in place for future phases of the dispute. Congress also welcomes the solidarity expressed by post-92 branches, sister unions, political parties, and the magnificent support from students. Congress notes that while the dispute legally focuses solely on UUK’s proposed changes to the USS scheme, discussions on picket lines, on social, print and broadcast media, in student occupations, at meetings and rallies, has focused also on wider issues including the marketization of higher education, principals’ remuneration, governance, and the indefensible use of casual contracts in the sector. Congress calls on UCUS executive to continue working with branches to consider ways to use the energy and commitment of members demonstrated in the dispute to further progress these issues.
L7 UUK and the USS dispute
Congress notes that:
- A minority of Universities UK (UUK) members (42%) refused to commit to the level of investment risk proposed by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) in September 2017.
- The fairness and transparency of the UUK consultation process has been brought into question.
- It seems this refusal to accept the already highly prudent level of risk proposed by USS in September that is preventing a negotiated settlement to the current dispute over USS from being achieved.
Congress instructs UCU Scotland to:
- Press UUK to adopt the level of risk proposed by USS in September 2017 by reverting to the September valuation assumptions.
- Press UUK and UCU negotiators to agree proposals, on the basis of the September valuation assumptions, seeking to maintain the structure of USS benefits at their current level.
C1 USS dispute
- congratulates members on the strong strike action, which is transforming the union and which will also enable us to win on marketisation, casualisation, equality issues.
- thanks students for their wonderful support throughout the strike.
- recognises that it is strike action which brought employers to negotiation and will eventually win the dispute, but that political pressure is also useful.
- recognises the strong rejection by all UCU Scotland branches of the proposals and the growing support for the status quo (no reductions in benefits or increases in contributions).
- notes that the current valuation of the USS pension scheme is based upon unrealistic assumptions.
- Believes the USS scheme should instead be valued on an ongoing basis, i.e. as a going concern. If the USS Board need the Government to guarantee the future of the scheme, then USS and UUK should join UCU in calling for a government guarantee.
- Further believes that on an ongoing basis there is no need for changes in contributions nor benefits.
Congress mandates UCU Scotland to:
- officially support the status quo for USS pensions and call for an immediate halt to proposed changes to the pension scheme.
- propose that this halt period should be used to carry out a fully transparent and independent valuation of the USS fund, its governance and the valuation methodology used. This valuation should include a full gender and equalities audit.
- propose no changes to the pension scheme should take place until after the outcome of this new valuation process and members have been balloted.
- agree that the replacement of missed work due to striking should not be included in any proposed agreement.
- call on the Scottish government, including through a rally at the Parliament, to put pressure on Westminster to support USS and maintain the status quo e.g. by guaranteeing the ‘deficit’ or removing the requirement for ‘full funding’
- encourage members to write to and lobby their MPs and MSPs
- submit this motion as a late motion from UCUS to UCU Congress.
L12 USS dispute
This Congress notes:
- That the evidence base for the proposed cuts to USS has been widely discredited and has been rejected by a majority of University leaders;
- The strength of the opposition to the proposed settlement (12/3/2018) across the UK.
Congress believes that it is illogical as well as detrimental to members to pursue changes to USS in the absence of a credible evidence base.
Congress calls on UCU Scotland to:
- Support branches in working with students and mobilising for escalation of the dispute, including further strike action;
- Work with national leadership to demand retention of the USS status quo pending a further valuation in which members can have confidence;
- Work with MSPs to use their influence with university leaders to bring UUK back to the negotiating table; and,
- Seek out and pursue fund-raising opportunities to support the Fighting Fund/local hardship funds.
Amendments to UCU Scotland rules and standing orders
Congress agrees to amend the rules and standing orders of UCU Scotland as per the amendments detailed in paper UCUS/2021 (‘Amendments to UCU Scotland rules and standing orders’).