Guest Post by Sarah Annes Brown
Although there are some divisions over strategy within the University and College Union, there was consensus over many of the most pressing problems facing members in HE and FE today.
Workers in our sector have seen the real-term value of their pay eroded, as well as further attacks on our pensions. Meanwhile workload problems have intensified in the face of increasing demands from employers.
Casualised contracts are a huge problem in HE, and whereas many members are stressed through overwork, others are on zero hours contracts with no certainty from one year to the next whether they will be offered any work at all. They also sometimes face less favourable treatment – for example being denied an institutional email or access to resources.
Inequality is a problem for our sector, and motions were passed in support of anti-racism, disability rights and LGBT equality. Other motions condemned violence against women and deplored bigotry aimed at Muslims and immigrants.
Colleagues in many branches are facing redundancy, unfair dismissal and aggressive performance management. At the University of Salford, for example, two colleagues were sacked, with no recourse to appeal, after they raised concerns about a restructure. It is thought that their union activism may have played a part in their treatment.
In the light of the increasing problems faced by workers in education, it’s not surprising that there was strong support for a motion calling for more cooperation with other TUs to explore the best ways of ensuring success and repositioning UCU as a fighting union protecting members’ pay, pensions and conditions. It also urged the NEC to act more quickly to authorise emergency strike action.