The Importance of Casework.

As branch union representatives and officers, casework is one of the most important aspects of what we do. However, I have learned over the past 15 years that the most effective way of using local branch resources, when representing members, is to identify key areas of concern and collectively deal with them.

As our regional offices are subject to increasing pressure to support branches across the nations that are being subjected to savage job cuts and fire and rehire attacks, more of the work that they might do now falls on us locally.

There are ways to minimise casework and maximise branch resources and expertise.

I have developed strategies in my branch for achieving positive outcomes for as many members as possible, with the added bonus that non-members gain, and often subsequently join UCU.

A major advantage of the strategies we employ is that no single caseworker is ‘set up’ as a caseworker ‘hero’. This is important because it avoids the targeting and victimisation of caseworkers. And of course, it’s always problematic if a branch relies on one caseworker. Strategies and local knowledge is best shared.

Strategy 1. Negotiating policies and processes.

Whenever I am involved in negotiating policies and processes, I ensure that final ‘drafts’ are shared with members for comment. That way can be sure that we are best representing their views, and needs.  More importantly, we use this to persuade management of the changes and adaptations we are seeking. We remind our management that members are sovereign: we represent them.

And together with our sister union UNISON we ensure important inclusions for our members. When for example the unions negotiated a Performance Management Process, we ensured that it was redrafted as a Performance Management and Support process, shifting the emphasis from the disciplinary process to that of a supportive, developmental process, titled Performance Framework (Support and Development).

We, the joint unions, ensured that clauses were included to protect staff with disabilities, whether or not they had been disclosed, and to protect staff who revealed personal or domestic problems were, or were suspected to be, a contributory factor in ‘performance issues’.

We also insisted that the process should include the principle that a member of staff could not be dismissed because of failure to perform to the required standards of job performance unless the opportunity to improve and warnings had been given.

We have used this policy to protect members who have been unfairly threatened with performance management by egregious managers.

Together with our regional official, I negotiated the first policy to convert casualised staff to permanent fractional contracts in our region. At the time this was sector leading. As a result of that policy, over the past several years, almost a hundred staff have been converted to fractional contracts, several, full-time permanent posts.

Strategy 2. Aligning Casework with Policies

Members, with disabilities, caring responsibilities, and personal issues often call on the union for support.  Almost without fail, every year, when workloads are being agreed, we have to remind managers about reasonable adjustments, and the need to incorporate constraints on members teaching time/office hours to account for caring responsibilities.

As health and safety officer I recently negotiated a pilot study to assess the efficacy of the UCU Reasonable Adjustment Passport. Already this is having a significant, positive, impact for members. Use this passport in your branch – it’s available here.

Whenever a casualised member calls on the union for support, the first thing we do is check their eligibility to be converted to a permanent contract. Time and time again this has resulted in that member being converted to a secure fractional contract. From there, we can ensure that our member has a workload that complies with our agreed Workload Planning policy. That policy, in essence allows staff who were working on what was in effect a teaching only contract, to a contract that allows for 1/3 education, 1/3 research, 1/3 academic citizenship. This often means that their secure contract is increased. Because, as we know, casualised staff do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to teaching and marking.

Another example of collective casework is where we recently submitted a collective grievance because a pay progression and promotion policy negotiated by UCU in 2014/15 was not being followed. As a result that grievance led to either pay progression or promotion for more than 20 members of staff. The majority of those staff were female, and or, BAME. And we are now planning to renegotiate the process, which will improve opportunities for all academic members of our branch. We are currently working with our sister union UNISON, toward a collective pay progression and promotion agreement for professional, technical and support staff.

In a similar vein, last week I submitted a collective grievance in respect of the non-renewal of part-time hourly paid contracts and the ending of fixed term contracts, contrary to agreements with our management. Along with many others, my branch, Bournemouth University UCU, took industrial action, the 4 Fights dispute, to protect casualised workers, and we know that the work arising from the non-renewal of contracts, and termination of fixed term contracts, will fall on members. Because for sure that work is ongoing.

Collective grievances are powerful, and can, in my branch’s experience, improve the terms and conditions of many members in one smart action.

Finally, and probably most importantly, it is essential that branches negotiate sufficient facilities time for this critical case work to be done.

I would be happy to share with anyone who contacts me privately, our strategy for achieving the facilities agreement that we have at Bournemouth University UCU.

Collective Grievance: fixed term and part time hourly paid contracts. 

Dear [ xxxxxx]

This collective grievance is submitted on behalf of Bournemouth University UCU members who have been or are currently employed on part-time hourly paid and fixed term contracts, and those who would be impacted by the ending, and/or nonrenewal of those contracts. For the avoidance of doubt we refer specifically to the nonrenewal of part-time hourly paid contracts and the ending of fixed term contracts.

BU UCU is concerned about the way in which the process of ending of fixed term contracts is being undertaken, in particular where due process is not followed. This is exampled in cases where HR guidance to line managers has not been followed, i.e. a two-week period between the first and second consultation meetings in order that opportunities for employment within BU can be explored by both the line manager and member of staff whose contract is being ended. There has been confusion amongst line managers and HR advisors as to whether the ending of fixed term contract is a redundancy, this is important as it has implications for the employee.

BU UCU is further concerned that failure to renew part-time hourly paid contracts and the ending of some fixed term contracts will lead – and in many cases already has led – to increased workloads for remaining staff. The action of transferring work to remaining staff calls into question the reason given for the ending of these contracts; work has not ‘ceased’ and cannot therefore be legally said to no longer exist. BU UCU contends that if this work remains extant, then casualised contracts should be continued or extended.

BU UCU has identified potential equality impacts on the nonrenewal of part-time hourly paid contracts and ending of fixed term contracts. This will be evidenced through the implementation of the outcomes we are seeking.

In March 2020 BU gave an assurance in meetings with UCU and UNISON representatives and in ‘frequently asked questions’ provided to staff that where fixed term contract work was paused or delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic these contracts would be extended. Unfortunately BU has reneged on this assurance.

BU UCU and BU are aware of health and safety impacts on staff where fixed term contracts are ending and part time hourly paid contracts are not being renewed, nevertheless, these concerns have not been addressed.

Outcomes sought.

Fixed term contracts

BU UCU is seeking a full analysis of data, giving reasons for ending fixed term contracts and arrangements made for the transfer of remaining work to other staff.

Part-time hourly paid contracts

We request a full analysis of data citing reasons for nonrenewal of part time hourly paid contracts.

Equality impact assessment

We request an institutional equality impact assessment addressing, in particular, the impact on women and BAME staff, and women and BAME staff as a proportion of total BU staff, of the ending of PTHP and fixed term contracts.

Workload planning

We request a workload planning audit in each instance of the ending of either fixed term or part-time hourly paid contracts

Health and Safety

Local stress risk assessments to be carried out where changes are made to remaining staff workloads as a result of the ending of PTHP and fixed term contracts.

We draw your attention to a commitment in JCNC that grievances will be progressed in a timely manner according to policy. We therefore request the provision of relevant data and analysis noted above by 17 August 2020.

For and on behalf of BU UCU

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