UCU = useless crap union??

I just came across an interesting post on Stuart Elden’s Blog regarding the ongoing dispute with pensions in HE (I don’t remember getting the email Stuart received, but I’m not sure if that’s because I’m in the TPS, not the USS, or if it is yet another failure of the UCU’s communications…).

The email outlines the next step in the pension dispute which involves a ‘Working to contract’ policy as of next week. As quoted on Stuart’s blog, this entails…

  1. work no more than your contracted hours where those hours are expressly stated, and in any event not to exceed the maximum  number of hours per week stipulated in the Working Time Regulations;
  2. perform no additional voluntary duties, such as out of hours cover, or covering for colleagues (unless such cover is contractually required);
  3. undertake no duties in breach of health and safety policies or other significant employer’s policies;
  4. set and mark no work beyond that work which you are contractually obliged to set and/or mark;
  5. attend no meetings where such attendance is voluntary

In some senses tying into my previous post about working as an early career lecture and the demands placed as part of this, I fully agree that this seems to be an idea of someone with little to no knowledge of what is actually involved in working as a lecturer in HE.

My contract at Plymouth states that the University operates on a notional 37 1/2 hour week (approx.) and that, in spite of this, I am expected to work the hours required to undertake the various aspects of my role. Therefore, there is very little that should change under this action (still doing my teaching, marking, admin etc. as usual). The only potential things I’d miss out on would be doing the interesting/fun things I’ve agreed to do like going and giving guest seminars (I’ve a couple lined up for November and December in Oxford and Exeter respectively and there’s no way I’m cancelling them), doing peer-reviews for journals, reading/writing and other research related activities. Equally, at the moment most of the time I work above the standard nominal hours will be doing such research related activity and not doing these will only harm my future employment prospects/the progression of my career. Stopping doing these research-related things will have absolutely no negative effect on my employer in the foreseeable future (I’m certain this won’t run onto the REF, and I already have a submission for that already…).

One interesting thing here though is that is does highlight how in many ways as a lecturer I sort of see my self as separate from my employer and, especially being on a fixed-term contract, that I am almost a sort of free-lance researcher/teacher whose services the University has employed for a time. There isn’t necessarily all that much connection between  the priorities or agendas of the University on a day to day basis and what I need to prioritise to ensure my future employment. It is really different to other areas of both education and industry where you might have a CV to build, but this happens through your engagement and performance on your actual job, not a whole load of separate stuff that doesn’t necessary fall within the core aspects of your role and/or are not especially valued by your employer.

Anyway, I’m certain this, along with the previous pension-related actions, will be a resounding failure. We need to speak to the guy from the London Underground Union that’s been in the news this week…

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About Paul Simpson

I am currently a lecturer in Human Geography in the School of Physical and Geographical Sciences at Keele University. I've previously lectured at Plymouth University, and again at Keele before that. I completed my PhD (titled 'Ecologies of Street Performance: Bodies, Affects, Politics') at the University of Bristol in 2009.
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