Category Archives: Social Protection

Industrial action in the University: the last resort of employment relations

Members of the biggest union in the Higher Education sector, UCU, are about to enter the biggest strike in the history of Higher Education in the UK. The Union called for a 14 days strike in order to fight drasyourpensionaxed1tic changes to the employees’ pensions. The employers’ association UKK wants to cut pensions by 40% and make them entirely stock market based. The UCU is resisting these cuts, fighting for better pensions. Pensions are earned and deferred wages, so cuts in pension are essentially wage cuts. Academics in the sector have already seen their pay decrease in real terms by 16% over the last five years. The union also sees the employers attempt as a wider attack on the education system becoming increasingly marketised and predicated on overwork by staff and drastic indebtedness amongst students.

Industrial actions are a last resort, when negotiations between employers and employees fail. They are not in the interest of staff who lose out their wages for each and every day they take industrial action. Nevertheless, employees are ready to take up this sacrifice in order to protect their interests and more broadly their beliefs of how employment should be organized, particularly in universities who have purported commitments to equality and inclusion and fair conditions.

In the current case, many employers are being extremely aggressive, threatening to dock between 25% to 100% of staff salaries indefinitely, if individual staff does not make up with the loss of labour due to the strike. In particular, they want employees to reschedule lectures that have been missed due to industrial action, some vice chancellors are even threatening to sue staff if students claim fees back.

As a research centre committed to examining contemporary employment relations, CERIC has received a number of comments from international scholars and trade unionists that show that an industrial action is never alone about a single issue but always also a civic act with broader social impact. Amongst others, these have included support from: The University of Aarhus, Denmark; KU Leuven, Belgium; University of Padova, Italy; and Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, Mexico.

Solidarity notes

Before ending this seminar I would like to say that I support your strike and I hope that this can also give greater power to a strike that some colleagues are organizing in Italy. Obviously nothing similar to your radical position, but just a one day strike that in any case has provoked panic in many colleagues. And this is very paradoxical in particular for people that study labour, sociology, employment relations, power and so on. In fact a strike is a very well-known situation even if we are usually studying it rather than doing it.

I think your strike is for the future, because pensions for many of us are the future. A pension is a crucial part of the wage, we call it deferred wage, but it is our wage. It is not a gift from anyone. I think it is a shame that people speculate about pensioners, because older people are in a particular situation: they are becoming weaker, sometimes they have health problems and maybe are not sure about the value of their pension. So in a sociological language we can say that pensioners are becoming precarious, but differently from the young, a pensioner has no longer the power to move in the labour market or to emigrate abroad.

Someone could describe academic lecturers as insiders, and someone could also say that we are privileged in the labour market. We may consider this to be true. But I think that our precarity will not solve the problems of others’. Quite the contrary: the worsening of our working conditions can only deteriorate the condition of precarious colleagues.

So I hope you can win your struggle and hoping that also in Italy this one-day strike can be successful. Remembering that the strike is important not only for the moment at which it happens, but it also has repercussions in the social relations that we are able to build after it. Inside and outside our workplace.

Associate Professor Devi Sachetto, University of Padova

I was a part of the British university system between 2008 and 2014. During this period I saw how working conditions – the conditions for good teaching and research – rapidly deteriorated. Not only due to government defunding, but also due to university managements attempting to transform institutions of learning and critique into corporations, rewarding themselves handsomely in the process.

So I consider it both just and important to resist the attack on pensions. Your students and non-academic colleagues at the university must know that your fight is a part of a broader fight. The pension cuts are a part of the construction of the defunded university, in which a precarious workforce is asked to serve heavily indebted “customers”, in order that the state can save money for noble causes such as bank bail outs and tax cuts for the wealthy.

In many ways, the British university system serves as a model for university development in Denmark. For this reason, your struggle is our struggle. Never forget that. When you are fighting to stop the downward spiral of British universities, you are helping your colleagues internationally too. And know that you can win: concerted resistance based on solidarity between lecturers and students has managed to stop some of the worst reforms of the Danish University system, including the introduction of student fees. In solidarity and friendship.

Dr Bue Rübner Hansen, University of Aarhus

Having done my PhD in the UK, I follow the debates about higher education there with great interest. I have been distressed to hear about the experiences of my friends and colleagues at UK universities who are facing declining pay and increasing precarity. The marketization and casualization of the university labour force is a trend we are seeing in North America as well, and it is one that we must resist. The proposed changes to the pensions scheme are unacceptable. I strongly support the strike action by UCU and from Ottawa, I teach and write in solidarity with my comrades in the UK.

Dr Megan Rivers-Moore, Carleton University, Canada

I send my full solidarity to the UCU strike, we have the same problem here in Mexico with the AFORE stock market-related privatised pensions introduced here in 2008, which our union opposes.

Dr Patrick Cuninghame, Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana (UAM), Mexico City & member of the Sindicato Independiente de los Trabajadores de la UAM (SITUAM)

The Rutgers Executive Council of AAUP-AFT Chapters voted unanimously to stand in solidarity with University and College Union members in the United Kingdom on February 20, 2018

Whereas, Members of the largest union of university teaching staff in the UK, the
University and College Union (UCU), are fighting to stop an outrageous attack on retirement benefits;

Whereas, University administrators propose to end the current guaranteed pension plan, replacing it with individual investment accounts, on the pretext of a fictional deficit “crisis;”

Whereas, Workers in the United States, including New Jersey educators, are very familiar with the use of manufactured “crises” to undermine retirement plans, which attack workers’ long-term security by stealing their own deferred wages; Be it resolved that the AAUP-AFT chapters at Rutgers University call on Universities UK to give up their shameful attack on defined-benefit pensions and negotiate with UCU in good faith;

And be it resolved that we stand in solidarity with the members of the UCU, saluting their commitment to security, equity, and dignity in the workplace and in retirement.

Rutgers Executive Council of AAUP-AFT Chapters, USA

Working conditions and social rights of people are under growing attack all over the world nowadays. This strongly contradicts not only with a rationale of social democracy and social justice but also with the basic principle of decent working life within workplaces and society overall. In solidarity.

Professor Valeria Pulignano, CESO – KU Leuven 

I would like to express my full support for the strike launched by the University and College Union in the UK Higher Education in response to the pension cuts related to the changes in the Universities Superannuation Scheme. I consider the lack of proper and good-will based negotiation around this issue with employers associated in the Universities UK unacceptable.

Decent pensions are essential for the quality of working live and retirement. In the context of ongoing, Europe-wide reforms of higher education institutions, the predictable situation of workers after retirement is crucial for their well-being.

Therefore, I would like to share my support and solidarity with striking University employees in the UK and Leeds Business School in particular.

I also support the call for immediate return to negotiations between unions and UUK.

I will share my support and information about the strike in my networks.

In solidarity !

With best wises

Adam Mrozowicki, Associate Professor, Institute of Sociology, University of Wrocław

 

Dear academic friends in Britain,

I was astounded to hear a few days ago about what is happening in British higher education. The employers association had proposed making pension payouts less generous by an average of ten thousand pounds a year and making them dependent on the stock market. You had voted overwhelmingly to respond with a 14-day national strike, the largest academic strike in UK history. Various universities had responded not only by docking pay for strike days, but also by threatening to reduce pay on non-strike days and taking legal action against strikers if students claim their fees back. Wow.

You need to win this strike, and the employers need to back down. You have already suffered more than enough. The squeeze on pay worsens your standard of living slowly but perceptibly. While attacks on pensions are not new in UK higher education, the current offensive by the employers really is astounding. It fills me personally with pride to see how you’re fighting back.

It is understandable that universities shift financial risk. But this attempt to shift financial risks onto academics has poisoned the workplace atmosphere in which research and teaching take place. Provoking this strike has already undermined the excellence of those institutions that the Vice Chancellors are supposed to be leading.

How do I know attacks on pay and pension are damaging to British universities? Occasionally, PhD students in the US ask me about the job market in Britain, because I worked there for ten years. Ten years ago I would have said that it’s a mixed bag. Pay is lower than the US, but for junior academics job security is higher, making it possible to pursue interesting and risky research agendas. Over the years, the situation has become less rosy. And now this conflict. International academics thinking of moving to Britain should know that it is a place where pay, pensions, and job security are under attack, and colleagues are angry and fearful.  This is not an atmosphere in which the work of academics is apparently valued.

Britain’s universities are still among the best in the world, and Vice-Chancellors should be working to keep it that way. Instead, they have provoked a massive nation-wide strike. The employers need to bargain with the union, find a solution, and end the strike.

In solidarity,

Prof Ian Greer, Cornell University, USA

 

Hi Mark

You have my full support. The actions being taken in the UK by university employers are yet another example of the appalling  corporate management style and values taking over universities. What happens to you will also ultimately affect us.
In solidarity,
Professor Marian Baird, The University of Sydney Business School
Dear Colleagues at CERIC,
I want to express my solidarity with the strike of the University and
College Union in the United Kingdom. I am deeply concerned about the
changes to the pension scheme proposed by Universities UK. We are
observing steps in the direction of increasing precarity of academic
work in many countries – steps which could worsen not only the working
and living conditions of academics, but also the quality of teaching and
research as well as the quality of international research cooperation. I
can only hope that the Universities UK and the universities and
colleges withdraw the proposed changes to the academic pension
system and recognize the importance of good working conditions for the
quality of teaching and research.
Martin Krzywdzinski, Head of the Research Group “Globalization, Work and
Production” at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center

 

To our collegues in Great Britain,

for ver.di department of science and higher education I send you our full support in your struggle against the changes and prospective cuts regarding your pension plans.

We know fully well the gap that lies between the countless political speeches about the importance of higher education and the utter disregard universities show for the employees, who are their backbone. Right now, the student employees here in Berlin are as well forced to take industrial action against their universities, which have not given them a pay raise in 17 years. The way they are treating us echoes your own experiences. But we will not let up and it strenghtens us to know, that you wont either.

Science is international. So is solidarity and our common struggle for fair working conditions. Keep up the fight!

Best,

Matthias Neis, Ver.di Resort Higher Education and Research

 

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Report launch: how do we engage more employers in employability and skills programmes?

Jo IngoldDr Jo Ingold, Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Public Policy, CERIC, Leeds University Business School.

3 December 2017, at an event in Westminster for policymakers, practitioners and academics, we’ll be launching our final report from a four-year ESRC-funded research project about employer engagement in employability and skills programmes.

Employers are critical to the success of employment activation and employability programmes, yet there’s been surprisingly little research about employers’ perspectives on them. In the first phase of our research, we surveyed over 1,500 employers in the UK and Denmark. In the second phase, we undertook more than 100 in-depth interviews with employers and providers delivering employability and skills programmes in both countries, to provide a ‘two-sided’ perspective on employer engagement.

Employers’ perspectives on employability programmes

Employers were generally positive about employing unemployed candidates, but less so about employability programmes, particularly in the UK. A critical difference between the countries was that, while every Danish employer we interviewed had taken part in at least one programme (and often more), among UK employers participation was more sporadic. UK employers were most familiar with apprenticeships above other provision. A key reason for not engaging in programmes was that employers thought they were inappropriate to their needs. They were put off by the large number of programmes and providers, lacked knowledge about them and about how to access programmes, and were unsure about their value. The most popular reasons for engaging were to access an alternative recruitment channel, to develop talent and to ‘give people a chance’.

Critically, employers felt that the benefit conditionality system and employability programmes themselves could ‘tarnish’ candidates. Employers were particularly dissatisfied about receiving large numbers of job applications as a result of conditionality and entitlement conditions. The lack of a tailored service from providers could also result in employers being sent candidates who were of ‘poor quality’, unsuitable, or ill-prepared.

Employers were generally positive about employing disabled people, although only a small number of UK employers had done so, and not necessarily through employability programmes. In Denmark the Flexjobs scheme for disabled people (offering subsidized jobs under special conditions, in-work support and reduced working hours) was popular with employers. Importantly, in both countries very few employers had made changes to their recruitment and selection processes to encourage candidates from disadvantaged groups, despite recognising the shortcomings of the standard application and interview method.

Our survey data found two distinct groups of employers in terms of engagement in employability and skills programmes. Firstly, those who were ‘instrumentally engaged’ on an ad hoc basis in specific initiatives but not that ‘committed’ to them. Secondly, those who were ‘relationally engaged’ and were more committed and involved in a broader range of programmes on a repeated and sustained basis. This distinction was supported by the interview data. The survey and interview data showed that relational engagement was higher in Denmark than the UK. Crucially, UK employers did not feel that employability programmes were designed with their needs in mind and, compared with Danish employers, had very low trust in public policies.

Providers’ perspectives

The data from providers in both countries showed striking similarities with the employer data, in terms of barriers to engagement and reasons for engaging, as well as in their perspectives about what relational (or in-depth) employer engagement meant. However, the fact that UK employers had less ‘institutional’ trust in government policy and programmes critically left more ‘gaps’ to be filled by providers. They tended to achieve this through the development of ‘inter-personal’ relationships with employers, based on trust. So these relationships were largely between individuals from provider organisations and from businesses, rather than based on relations between organisations. But, although these relationships were critical to employer engagement, they were also fragile and trust could be easily lost. This wasn’t helped by changes to programmes, regulations and contracts in localities.

UK providers also expressed concern about employers’ fluctuating demands for labour, which were difficult to meet. Additionally, there was a gap between employer demands and the individuals that providers’ held on their caseloads, who were possible candidates for vacancies. Providers felt that this gap could not be filled by programmes in their current form. One way of providing a good ‘offer’ to employers was by being able to provide a ‘spectrum’ of services (ranging from pre-employment training to in-work support and training). But providers could only really do this successfully if they’d won a range of employment and skills contracts (from different government departments), or merged with or acquired organisations that had. Alternatively, providing a range of services to employers required working with other organisations, sometimes competitors (what is often referred to as ‘co-opetition’).

This research reveals the extremely fragmented landscape of employment and skills provision in the UK, as well as the remoteness of employers from them (notably the situation was slightly different in Scotland, where these policies are devolved responsibilities). The current formulation of employment and skills policy assumes that employers will engage and will provide opportunities for unemployed individuals. But this research (and the previous research we conducted about the UK Work Programme) suggest that employers are not beating the door down to take part in these programmes, despite them being a potential avenue for increasing workforce diversity. If the government wants to seriously address labour market disadvantage and in particular to halve the disability employment gap, an urgent re-think is needed about the current direction of policy.

Policy recommendations

  • In their current form, programmes are not working effectively for employers. Employers still lack knowledge about programmes, don’t recognise their potential benefits and consider them inappropriate to their needs.
  • A smaller number of programmes, with more continuity and stability but less complexity and fragmentation would make it easier for employers to engage.
  • Changes need to be urgently made to avoid employers receiving large numbers of job applications from benefit claimants in order to fulfil conditionality requirements, as this is damaging to employers’ views of initiatives. A critical aspect of this is better targeting of applications to employers.
  • Devolution is an important opportunity to improve employer engagement in the design and implementation of initiatives and to devise programmes that are responsive to local needs.
  • Merging different government departmental funding streams for employability and skills provision would be helpful, especially as the government looks to replacement European Social Fund provision.
  • More employers need to be equipped with information about ways to make their recruitment and selection processes more inclusive and effective.
  • To maximise resources and to provide a better service to employers, we need more mechanisms for sharing evidence-based good practice across different providers, programmes, cohorts and areas, which currently the competitive contracting frameworks mitigate against.

This research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and followed on from ‘Seedcorn’ research funded by CERIC and Leeds University Business School. More information about the research can be found here.

 

CERIC to host workshop on Universal Basic Income and the Future of Work

JPEG Yellow-BlueKate Hardy, Vera Trappmann and Charles Umney

In the face of widening disparities of wealth, changes in work and employment in which low pay dominates and the ability of work to lift people out of poverty declines, debates about the future of social protection have come to the fore. In contexts from the Global South to the ‘developed’ North wage labour appears decreasingly able to distribute social wealth or protect individuals and households from poverty.

In this context, scholars, activists and policy makers have begun to examine alternatives to existing systems of welfare, including negative income tax, cash transfers and universal basic income and guaranteed minimum income. Basic income has become the most visible and perhaps most contested of these proposals. The notion of a universal basic income – a non-conditional base income for all citizens – has attracted increasing popular purchase within social movements, institutions and governments. Numerous academic pilot experiments from Canada to Namibia and India have been undertaken, while governments are rolling out experiments in Finland, Barcelona and Utrecht. Proponents of basic income have been drawn from across the political spectrum, finding support from Milton Friedman and Bill Gates to Frances Fox Piven and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

On 26th January, CERIC will host a workshop bringing together theorists, practitioners and social movements to this day long workshop will explore these questions, focusing on basic income, wage labour, work and employment, by asking:

• How does basic income relate to changes in the labour market, including the growth of the digital and gig economy?
• How does it impact on work and employment?
• How might it effect women’s rights and gender equality?
• What can we learn from basic income experiments in progress?

This will be is a CERIC event to discuss key contemporary issues in work and employment.

The event is sponsored by the Centre for Employment Relations Innovation and Change (CERIC) and Leeds University Business School (LUBS).