Last day of UCU Congress features international solidarity

Congress demanded the truth about the disappearance and murder of Giulio Regeni

In addition to lots of discussion on taking the union forward domestically, the international flavour previously exhibited at Congress continued on the last day.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK addressed Congress, praising the union for the work we continue to untertake internationally, something further reinforced by a video from Huber Ballesteros from Colombia’s Labour Federation of Agricultural Workers who talked of the importance of international solidarity in Colombia’s peace process and in ensuring his freedom.

A photoshoot taken at Congress (see above),  again underlined our demands for a full enquiry into the death of Cambridge PhD student Giulio Regeni an Italian Cambridge University graduate who was abducted and tortured to death in Egypt. Giulio was a PhD student at Cambridge and had been researching Egypt’s independent trade unions, and the demand for an enquiry follows the belief that the Egyptian police were heavily implicated in his murder.

The morning had seen decisions taken on how to take forward the General Secretary’s suggestion of the day previously that a commission be set up to look at our industrial strategy in the aftermath of the anti-trade union act. An emergency motion was placed before congress and narrowly passed, which limited membership on the commission to those attending the current congress, and agreed to the calling of an additional special Congress to discuss the recommendations.

Traditional timeline of industrial action – but is this sufficient? Some of the issues for the commission to discuss

Congress delegates from the devolved nations had felt forced to raise the ‘devolved blindness’ of some of the resolutions over the period of Congress, including on the last day a recommendation to vote Labour, although this is of course impossible in Northern Ireland since Labour do not stand candidates, and a delegate from Scotland suggested it was totally inappropriate in the Scottish situation. Whether or not we should recommend support to any individual party at all is of course an even bigger question since we are unaffiliated. This followed on from other resolutions passed investigating the creation of ‘one UK Education union’ although the unions mentioned did not operate either in Scotland or Northern Ireland. In a similar vein, motions calling for ‘national’ demonstrations, made devolved nations delegates wonder where the movers had been since 1999. Clearly the disregard of our nature as a union operating over different education and legal systems in different nations within the UK is something that needs resolved in future years.

Towards the end of Congress, an important debate was closed down by movers of a controversial motion which proposed our support for ‘the decriminalisation of sex work to allow collective working’

This is of course against the position of the TUC women’s conference, and that of Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid, and all UK Anti-Trafficking organisations. Rather than all speakers being able to speak on this, the movers suggested in mid debate that ‘the vote be put’ (the only time this happened in Congress), resulting in a vote being taken (in support of this controversial motion) without the benefit of all those sitting ready and willing to speak being able to do so. Not the best moment for democracy, and a terrible signal to women trapped in prostitution and who are not looking to ‘collective working’ but to routes out of this dreadful exploitation.

Other key resolutions were passed which will help shape our work positively over the coming year and can be found here on the UCU website. These included:  on racist interference in elected roles;  developing our anti-casualisation campaign (including a road show); the future of TUC education; work related stress; bilingualism of documentation for use in Wales; Electronic meetings and tele and video conferencing; developing the equality agenda; the disability pay gap and abortion rights.

The union will have its hands full, (in a good way) over the next year, in helping implement these decisions, and we hope the UCUAgenda blog will help as part of a forum to discuss how best to do this.

To take part in this debate, or to add your voice – please send comments, or articles to: unionadmin@ucuagenda.com

The NEC will have its hands full implementing the decisions of Congress – a good position to be in

A whistle stop tour round Sunday’s H.E. Business

A personal view by Amanda Williams

Amanda Williams is a member of the NEC and works at the University of East Anglia. She was kind enough to offer these personal notes about her HE Sector conference today.

After a slightly contentious start (there are clearly some differences of opinion about what our industrial strategy should be) a good natured and comradely HE conference was enlivened by delegates inserting pop lyrics into their addresses. This was only beaten by delegate Jimmy Donaghey who in the pensions discussion really did utter the almost mythical AUT slogan that it was ‘time to rectify the anomaly’. Speaking in the debate on pensions, I stuck to the script I had prepared myself however without bursting into song.

The majority of motions were passed with no significant opposition and throughout the day the opposing voices were in general seeking to strengthen motions which were agreed in principle.

The discussion around some of the motions made it clear that drafting a motion for conference is no mean feat and all the nuance and implications of different wording needs exploring.  For example motion HE17 was about ways to stand up and defend people against ‘inferior teaching only contracts’ and the ambiguity of whether the motion was against teaching only contracts as inherently inferior or against inferior contracts which happened to be teaching only was the subject of some discussion.

One item that caused discussion and led to a partial remittance (HE26) was that of the portability of REF outputs for which there are pros and cons.  This started a bit of a trend, the next motion HE27 was partially remitted as were a couple of later motions (HE41 and HE43).  Some of the issues leading to partial remittance are unlikely to have been solved by amendments but some of them might have been.  This begs the question whether motions later on in the agenda are less likely to be scrutinised for amendments and therefore more prone to needing partial remittance on the day.

It was a testament to the work of CBC and the Chair Joanna De Groot that all the business of HESC was covered before 6pm.  Now I’m off to the congress dinner ‘because I’m hungry like the wolf’.

Notes for readers: Today’s HE conference got through a considerable amount of business including motions on National and local action; Winning industrial action; Disputes at Manchester Met University; The Glass Staircase – (under)representation of disabled people at management level; Gender Pay in Higher Education; Capability policies; the campaign against privatisation; Teaching observation and assessment schemes; Funding and Widening Access to Higher Education; the Teaching Excellence Framework; Manchester Metropolitan University Compulsory Redundancies; the Use of Consultants in HE; a UK strategy for student-staff alliance; and Supporting Staff affected by Brexit.

All these should help guide the new HEC in carrying out our work over the next year.

Similarly the FE Sector Conference got through motions on areas such as: Pay and the Pay Gap; Anti-Casualisation activity; Equality data collection; Gazelle, Collab and AoC; Precarious employment; Equal opportunity and Equal Pay; Safe space for FE students and staff; Gendered Hate Crime; Agency workers; Area Reviews and Disabled Workers; Governance and Accountability; Transparency; Colleges as a Community Resource; Industrial strategy; UCU members as teachers in Prisons; Themed based learning; and No to compulsion in Further Education.

Like the HEC, the FEC is certainly going to be busy.

Vote for a strong team of National Negotiators

Sector conferences elect a team of National Negotiators who argue our position with UCEA in the case of Higher Education, and with AOC in the case of Further Education.

It’s crucial that we have dependable, and hard working representatives of the union in these posts who can take our campaigns beyond the rhetoric, and who can represent our members and work strategically with our sectoral executive committees and full time officials to help achieve the best outcomes for UCU members.

We suggest colleagues vote for the following candidates – with a proven track record in campaigning for the union.

In HE, we ask you to vote for: Julia Charlton; Paul Errington and Joanna de Groot.

In FE we ask you to vote for: Rob Goodfellow, Dave Langcaster and Richard Bathgate

Below you’ll find some details of the candidates, and what they stand for:

HE Candidates:

Julia Charlton – currently a national pay negotiator

Julia Charlton, currently NEC member, and member of Northumbria University  branch. Julia’s message to delegates is:

“I have been a national pay negotiator of 2 years. I have been Branch Chair for 3 years (current) & vice chair for 2 years, acting branch secretary for 9 months, branch assistant secretary for 7 years, and so I have been involved in many successful negotiations with management. I have spent years negotiating with a group of executive committee members and university management where we achieved our preferred outcomes not theirs in the majority of cases, and have seen management at its worst and best. I have a placid and introspective temperament which I believe equips me well for the rôle of national negotiator for UCU. As a member of the NEC/HEC I am well informed about the issues of concern to the broader membership as well as my local branch and I am able to work collaboratively with others to achieve best outcomes”

 

Paul Errington, currently NEC member and member of Teeside University branch

Paul’s message to delegates is:

I have previously been involved at all levels of the pay bargaining process, local and national in heavy industry with the ASB union which amalgamated with the GMB. As a lead shop steward and negotiator I was instrumental in negotiating local and national bonus payments and other pay related enhancements. Through my union I undertook training in negotiation preparation gathering valuable information through consultation with members which assisted in many of our bargaining table approaches. I have been party to national negotiations up to and including ACAS conciliation/dispute resolution discussions. I also have had prior experience of negotiating local incremental pay increases and on call payments within the NHS public sector with realistic aims and goals. I have experience of developing strategies of action and tactics with other members of the negotiating team ensuring that everyone fully understands their pre-assigned roles and important aspect of any team approach to negotiations.

 

Joanna de Groot, President elect of UCU and member of York University Branch

Joanna’s message to delegates:

I was a UK-level negotiator for UCU in 2011-13, and again since 2014, participating in pay bargaining and in pay related working parties involving fellow unions and management. Previously I was a UK- level negotiator for AUT.  I have been a branch negotiator since the 1990s, dealing with the Framework Agreement, statutes and policies, equality issues and harassment, performance review, and grading and promotion issues, as well as casework. This gives me a range of experience, knowledge, and insight to bring to our pay negotiations, as do my varied contacts with members as a national officer of UCU. I am committed to using negotiating opportunities to their full potential to do the very best for members. I believe in maintaining active links between negotiators, elected bodies, and the membership as a whole in order to maximise our strength and effectiveness when we combine negotiation with campaigning .  

 

FE Candidates:

Rob Goodfellow, President of UCU and member of Hull College Branch.

Rob’s message to delegates is:

As previous Chair of FEC I was a national pay negotiator for two years and am well aware how the AoC conduct themselves. I will strive for the best deal possible on behalf of all FE members and ask for your support in this. As your outgoing national President I have fought hard on behalf of members and have considerable experience in negotiations at many local branches as well as nationally and internationally. If elected I will negotiate in consultation with members.

Dave Langcaster

Secretary of Hull College Branch

Dave’s message to delegates is

I have been a National Negotiator for the last year, having been elected at Congress 2016. I am branch secretary at Hull College where I have negotiated successful resolutions to 2 major disputes since 2015 – in the first dispute, I led the negotiating team that got management to abandon a punitive, graded, zero-notice observation policy, and also persuaded them to honour a pay rise agreed in 2014. In the second, the negotiating team pushed management into agreeing to no compulsory redundancy for UCU members in the last round of redundancies. I also negotiate for individual members, with casework that includes negotiating settlements for resignation due to ill-health and redundancy. Currently negotiating to prevent detrimental changes to a redundancy policy

Richard Bathgate Chair of Gateshead College Branch

Richard’s message to delegates:

As a national further education negotiator and past member of the Durham Mechanics Association affiliated to the NUM, I know full well the importance of serious negotiation backed up by a campaign and industrial action as and when necessary. When taking up employment in the sector in 2004 I immediately joined the union and found myself embroiled in a bitter dispute with management implementing drastic contractual changes. As UCU branch chair I have been involved in negotiations at local level protecting members from constant attacks on terms and conditions. As regional FE chair/E.C. Vice Chair I see it increasingly important as we move further into attacks on trade unions and the very existence of comprehensive F.E.

I offer my experience and commitment as FE negotiator.

                     

Vote for a strong team of Pension negotiators

Pensions are a crucial issue for all of us, and the USS pension continues to be under attack – which is why we need competent, and combative negotiators to work on our behalf, negotiating the best improved deal from the pension authorities.

We strongly urge delegates to vote for the following candidates, who can be relied on to negotiate effectively for our interests.

We ask delegates to vote for Renee Prendergast and Amanda Williams, for the USS negotiating team.

Renee Prendergast is chair of UCU in Northern Ireland. She is a member of Queens University Branch of UCU.

Renee’s message to delegates is:

I am a Reader in Economics at Queen’s, Belfast with over twenty years’ experience as a Local Association Officer in AUT/UCU. I am an experienced negotiator on the whole range of local issues including UCU Recognition and  Procedures, Framework, Charter & Statutes and Local Regulations as well as being elected twice as a UCU National Negotiator on Pay.

The role of USS negotiator is a specialist one involving a steep learning curve over complex issues for which my professional training as an economist is helpful. Currently, I am a UCU alternate on the USS JNC and have undergone training for this role. Being a negotiator on USS at this crucial time means putting knowledge before slogans and examining detail forensically. Our priority going forward must be maximising the retention of defined benefits within USS and making it as good, if not better, than TPS.

Amanda Williams is a member of the NEC and a member of the University of East Anglia branch.

Amanda’s message to delegates is:

We need a USS negotiating team whose members complement each other.  We need shared values but distinctive skills and expertise.  My values are a commitment to:

  • the basic principles of Defined Benefit schemes to counter the ideologically based attacks they suffer, and
  • ethical investment in line with the social values of a trade union.

I am currently a member of the NEC, of SWG and on the USS Advisory Committee. I am a Chartered Accountant and Chartered Tax Adviser.  I trained in audit (including work on pension scheme audits).  Now I’m a Lecturer in Accounting.  I bring an auditor’s professional scepticism linked to commercial awareness. As a local negotiator the most public success was the university’s reversal on 100% pay docking after we obtained a mandate for local strike action.  But the most important team successes are behind the scenes, getting policies on key issues like FTCs and redundancy avoidance.

Saturday session starts Congress off

Congress observed a minutes silence in relation to the Manchester bombing

Congress started in a dignified manner with a minutes silence in memory of those who lost their lives in the Manchester bombing and then following a welcome address and speech from President Rob Goodfellow, moved into a discussion of international campaigns and solidarity work.
Vice President Vicky Knight then kicked off with a motion reminding delegates of successes we had achieved in solidarity with colleagues facing persecution abroad, with this motion being followed by others on Trump’s visit, against repression in Turkey, on the elections in France and other issues. Steve Boyce who represents prison educators in FE made a very moving speech on the dreadful persecution facing gay men in Chechnya. Other motions covered threats to the Central European University in Hungary, and on Israel refusing entry to pro-boycott U.K. Academics.

The main debate of the morning was perhaps the debate regarding the results of Brexit, together with consideration as to whether we should support Freedom of Movement in the post-Brexit era. Discussions here were in the main very measured, and were all collegiate, with Freedom of Movement being endorsed, but a proposal to support the holding of another referendum to consider Brexit terms being rejected.

The short video below perhaps gives a flavour of some of the issues raised.


Other motions were passed on Scotland’s ‘Just Transition’ approach to sustainable environmental and economic change, on climate change and airport expansion, on air quality and finally on motions on job sharing and also the National Pensioners’ Convention.
Prior to a private session where issues relating to finance were dealt with, Congress heard an address from General Secretary Sally Hunt who talked of the challenges facing the union, and the need to build both FE and HE sectors in order to face the challenges of the next five years. Sally’s speech was covered in TES here.
Motions throughout the rest of the day addressed the business of the UCU’s Education Committee, passing policy on amongst other issues, Apprenticeship reforms, Academic Freedom and Prevent together with anti-racist and anti-colonialist education.
Towards the latter part of the afternoon a video address from Mesut Firat the General Secretary of the Education and Science Workers Union of Turkey alerted delegates to what could be done to help colleagues there.

Overall a good natured and useful day, with some real differences, but also the ability to argue those and resolve them constructively

Congress 2017 motions – our suggestions

To help colleagues decide on what can sometimes seem to be an overwhelming amount of business, we offer below what we think are sensible recommendations on Congress business, based on the 2nd report of the CBC.

We think these recommendations would lead to useful policy that would strengthen the union over this coming year. But of course – we haven’t yet heard the debate – so like everyone else we’ll be listening to the arguments and voting accordingly!

Anyway – to find out our recommendations click this link here to take you to the page

Friday night debate – Strategies to build the union

Friday night of Congress started off with a fringe meeting looking at how to ensure that the union dealt with a wide range of issues in its campaigning and practice over the next year. Speakers from the devolved nations were Ann Gow from Scotland (UCU Scotland’s incoming President), Renee Prendergast, NEC representative from Northern Ireland who were joined by Vicky Knight, UCU’s incoming President Elect, and national negotiators Jo McNeill and Sean Vernell, with Mark Abel, a representative from the local (Brighton) branch also joining the debate.

A whole range of issues were raised during the meeting, which started with Jo McNeil who argued that in the face of the Trade Union Act, we could still have wins – she thought the NSS boycott had been extremely successful, and solidarity was key, an injury to one was an injury to all. She suggested we did not have a strategy for industrial action.

Ann Gow, President elect, UCU Scotland, drew on Scottish experience

Ann Gow took a different angle, talking of the lessons of Scotland, pointing out that it was a nation and not a region, and consequently worked in a different manner, education, being totally devolved to the Scottish parliament. UCU Scotland negotiated directly with government and in working with all parties in opposing the vested interests of University principals, had been successful on issues such as Governance of universities and also in achieving and retaining Scotland’s no tuition fees policy.  UCU Scotland came together however, with the universities on areas of common ground such as dealing with Brexit and had signed a common cause statement with them and NUS on this. The union also worked with the Universities to lobby the Scottish government on the budget for the university sector. In general UCU Scotland acted as a ‘branch led union’ which talked publicly ‘for the university community’ – not leaving it to university managements to claim this crown. This meant members identified with the union, and thus when industrial action was necessary then it got support. We had had serious industrial action – but this was where it was merited. Current priorities were gender pay and anti-casualisation.

Taking an angle that chimed with the points Jo McNeil had made, Sean Vernell suggested that Corbyn could win and the 9th June might see a Labour government elected. He then suggested the audience should remember the TV drama ‘A very British Coup’ and that we should be ready to defend a radical Labour government. He thought that the union wasn’t yet ready for that type of action and we needed to use the congress to build for this. He felt the concept of local or national was a false polemic, it was always both. Using a phrase that quite a few others  were to repeat during the meeting, he stated ‘You cannot casework yourself out of a crisis.’ He believed getting a 50 percent turnout in ballots was achievable and that ‘we have never had a real campaign’

Renee Prendergast suggested we drew on best practice wherever it arose

Renee Prendergast, looked at the specifics of Northern Ireland, and talked of how a successful union would learn from its different component parts. Regions, nations, and action locally could give positive examples. She believed that local and national issues were both important, although in practice some national actions had not been as successful as local ones. Today’s successful local actions could lay the basis for successful national actions – but that would be in the future.

Vicky Knight talked of the continuing unacceptable gender pay gap

Vicky Knight, current UCU VP and chair of the TUC Women’s Committee outlined the horrific situation women still face in terms of gender pay inequality pointing out that the gap is such that it was equivalent of women working all year, but only being paid up to October, and that the World Economic Forum suggested at current rates it would take 174 years to close the pay gap.

Mark Abel, from Brighton branch, referred to recent industrial action in the university, and how this had been achieved successfully.

In the discussion from the floor, Douglas Chalmers President of UCU Scotland suggested that there was a weakness in reducing what had been suggested by several speakers as ‘national action’ to strike action alone. Successful national action could be something totally different. He suggested that the gains Scotland had made had indeed been through national action, but not necessarily involving strikes. Rather the union had taken the ‘high ground’ and had been active on all sorts of democratic issues, which had won wide public support and support from union members thus achieving the basis for being able to run successful campaigns involving industrial action on the occasions when it was necessary.

Another contribution from President elect Joanna de Groot argued that we had to work smart as well as be strong, and we needed to think through how we worked. There was a huge range of actions we could use to win, so thinking smart about what better delivered jobs, pay deals, gender pay audits etc was crucial. We should work through this bit by bit, but as part of a UK wide strategy.

Other, interesting contributions from a range of strategic and political positions were also made, with the meeting going on for 30 minutes longer than had been planned.

Overall, the debate and discussion was an indication of some of the differences that do surface at Congress between UCU members who perhaps equated a successful union to one that above all saw industrial action – normally strike action – as the touchstone of success, and another, perhaps broader view that believed that the union had to be less ‘economistic’ and more strategic. A more strategic union, working to achieve success would use a whole range of methods, which above all could unite members, making the union a dynamic one which could actually be effective in the post TU Act era.

Thought piece – an Alternative Industrial Strategy

UCU Agenda welcomes ‘thought pieces’ on different aspects of union strategy. If you have any points on this or other postings please let us know by dropping a line to  unionadmin@ucuagenda.com

David Ridley  is a Lecturer in Media Theory at Coventry University and is also currently finishing his Ph.D in Sociology at the University of Birmingham. He is Branch Secretary of Coventry University UCU and has been involved in campaigns around casualisation, the use of subsidiary companies and most recently the civic responsibilities of post-92 universities. Here he puts a point of view about our current strategy following our most recent consultation on the pay offer from the employers. Recently his branch published a groundbreaking pamphlet on the situation in Coventry University and an alternative union view to management approaches. You can download it here.

An Alternative Industrial Strategy

On 19 May 2017 the results of the consultation on the 2017 pay offer were sent to branches across the UK. 65.6% of members want to accept the final offer of 1.7% and 55.5% would not be prepared to take part in industrial action after a sustained ‘Get The Vote Out’ campaign. 76.4% members do think, however, that UCU should hold a ballot on pay in Autumn 2017.

This indicates that members do not think that this is the right time to take action, and that 1.7%, still representing a real terms pay cut if inflation is taken into account, can be accepted in the short term so that energy can be focussed on addressing immediate problems members and branches are facing.

The Higher Education and Research Bill 2017 has now been passed. Not only does mean they introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework, but also many more ‘alternative providers’ (i.e for-profit colleges and universities) which will now find it much easier to enter the new HE ‘market’ that the Tories have finally managed to create after 6 years.

We will now see constant restructuring of existing colleges and universities to meet the demands of this new market. In order to create a ‘level playing field’, new providers do not need to emulate existing institutions, often a complex mixture of research and teaching. For-profit HE will be radically stripped back, fast-track, teaching-only, union-free, focussed purely on the bottom line.

In response, senior management teams of existing institutions will want to drastically cut costs and rationalise production. This will mean mass redundancies, increasing casualisation, outsourcing, experiments with corporate form, and in some cases where management are particularly aggressive, de-recognition of trade unions, especially UCU.

This process has already begun, at Manchester Met, Leeds University, University of Manchester, University of Brighton, University of Warwick, Southampton Solent University and Sunderland University, the list goes on and continues to grow. Many post-92 universities have tried to get ahead of the game, like UCLan’s dodgy overseas partnerships and Coventry University’s Sports Direct-like employment practices.

The good news is that so far, local branches have been very successful in mobilising members and forcing management to back off, for now. More importantly, at a local level, branches have been meeting the new prohibitive criteria for legal industrial action established by the Trade Union Bill, also recently passed.

What this tells us, along with the results of the consultation, is that members are feeling the effects of marketisation, along with the uncertainty for Brexit, more than they are feeling the pinch of stagnating pay. This may change as the pound continues to be devalued in relation to the Euro and inflation outstrips wages. But on an affective level, marketisation is felt through increasing insecurity, inequality, workloads and bullying, all leading to stress and sickness.

But let’s be clear, members are prepared to fight. The war is happening on the front lines, and we must support branches in fighting marketisation in the trenches, so to speak. We must also build for future national action in the long term, but taking action now while the hearts and minds of members are focussed on local struggles will result once again in disappointing turnouts and a disappointing offer, while making the union look weak

Successful local actions build confidence in our members. Every successful local action builds the union as a whole. Successful recognition campaigns show that the union can move forward within marketisation, not just taking the defensive. Public campaigns against gender pay and casualisation, very painful for management (reputational damage) also driven by local successes, build awareness of marketisation and show our most vulnerable members we will fight for them.

‘UCU Left’ will try to convince you that we need to take action now, but the Independent Broad Left network are offering an alternative strategy. We are not accepting defeat by accepting the pay offer. We are walking away from a battle in order to win the war. We are being strategic rather than ideological and stubborn.

The plan that was suggested at the end of last year’s disappointing pay campaign was correct. Regionally coordinated local actions centred on inequality (gender and casualisation, but also BME, LGBT and disability), and increasingly redundancy, outsourcing and attacks on terms and conditions. We believe the unpredictability of and local strength behind this strategy contributed to the increased offer, so let’s talk what we can get and keep fighting.

If we want to take national action in a post HE Bill, Brexit and TU Bill world, the priority must be building participation and confidence in both branches and our membership. We can talk again about national action in the not so distant future when we can deliver.

David Ridley

Wales UCU Congress – professional and combative


Douglas Chalmers writes: As President of UCU Scotland, I was fortunate to be invited to attend the Welsh UCU congress for the third year in a row. From across the border (or indeed several) it’s only possible to form some impressions of how the union is doing, but I really felt a buzz this year and was impressed by the level of debate and the issues addressed. I’ve put my impressions below. Any mistakes in the report are of course mine (but do let me know)

The Welsh UCU Congress once more showed the union to be at the heart of education matters in the Welsh post-16 sector when it met in Cardiff on 4th March.

Opening the well attended conference – which impressively for me, offered bilingual translation from Welsh into English – Chris Jones, Vice-President Wales UCU, outlined many of the problems facing the sector – casualisation, zero-hour, contracts, and especially in HE, the gender pay gap.  Chris also looked at the gains they had made in the last year.  In Welsh FE, every lecturer was now on the national contract, and prospects looked positive for a joint funding council. Despite some problems, (which were dealt with later on), the Diamond report would offer the most generous grant or loan situation for students in the four nations. On Brexit, Chris pledged that no matter what position individual union members had taken in the referendum, all members were united against the insidious upsurge of racism, stating “for the UCU there was no ‘us and them’ only the one race – the human race”.

Vice-President Chris Jones, and Chair John James were joined by AMs Kirsty Evans and Alun Davies

Two members of the Wales Assembly addressed the congress and took part in questions and answers. Kirsty Williams the cabinet secretary for education, and member of the Lib Dems, took up the tone of Chris’s speech, stating that

“Staff and students from the EU and beyond are welcome in our universities, our colleges, and in Wales in general”. Her speech covered a whole range of issues including the Welsh Government’s response to the Hazelkorn report on post-compulsory education and training in Wales

Kirsty Williams AM was first invited speaker to address Congress

She highlighted the government’s support for parity in esteem between academic and learning routes, and also talked of current moves to establish a single strategic authority to improve cohesion and promote collaboration as the foundation of a ‘whole systems’ approach which should give parity of esteem for part time and full time students in the system. Referring to developments in England she stated that it was important to ‘look at the unintended consequences that have too often emerged from reforms across the border.’ In a similar vein on TEF, she stated the Welsh government recognised and shared the UCU concerns about this, and while needing to live in the actual situation facing us, the government ‘did not share the same marketisation agenda as across the border’’ so would not be encouraging universities to take part in this. On the living wage issue, she talked of her concern that Cardiff was the only university that had achieved accredited ‘Living Wage’ employer status.

Alun Davis AM complemented many of the issues raised by Kirsty

Alun Davies AM, the minister for life long learning and the Welsh language struck a similar tone critical of the policies emanating from Westminster. Brexit had been an ‘unmitigated disaster’ and impinged on the conversations about ‘who we are’, and meant we needed to stand united against racist attacks, now becoming more common.

Referring to FE he talked of the sector as often being on the ‘sharp end of change’ and also stated that there were often gaps between what was said in speeches on issues such as parity of esteem and the reality we actually experienced.  This needed to be openly discussed.

He commended and argued for the need to register all of the educational workforce, towards the aim of achieving equal status for all educational professionals in Wales.

Some key questions were then put from the floor including  one relating to the funding gap, a second on austerity. A question was then asked on democracy in universities, and a final one on the impact on Welsh speaking students of the Diamond proposals.

A question was put requesting transparency on senior salaries in post-16 education, and on workload issues.

In the subsequent discussion of the ministers’ contributions, points were made that while the Hazelkorn report was welcome, and dialogue was being requested, very little effort seemed to be being made to ensure that the unions’ voices were at the table. The Diamond report was also welcomed with its emphasis on lifelong learning, including adults. However the dangers of it increasing marketisation were also mentioned.

On the living wage, while this was welcomed the issue of zero hours and fixed terms contracts also needed tackled. Secure contracts were felt to be key.

While the EWC (Education Workplace Council) was welcomed it was felt important to move on to have proper representation on that body to deal with questions such as the charging of full fees for part timers, and the problematic nature of the disciplinary aspects of the code. The union was having to hire barristers to fight the vindictive use of it which was costing the unions thousands of pounds. Regarding CPD this was double edged unless the issues of adequate time to undertake it was tackled together with a say in the nature of CPD. No one wanted to use their precious time to learn how to fill in forms correctly.

Finally on professionalisation, it was felt that proper workloads were key to developing a fully professional workforce.

The HE Sector conference heard from invited guest Reneé Prendergast chair of UCU Northern Ireland who compared and contrasted some of the issues facing the sector in what was a period of political instability. Not surprising to those listening, the similarities in terms of heavy workloads, casualisation and the funding gap seemed familiar in both Wales and Northern Ireland.

Representing UCU Scotland, I also addressed the HE Sector conference and confirmed that these issues were also common to us, although we were working in a situation where university governance was being democratised and where the current Holyrood SNP government had published a joint paper with the STUC, praising the work of workplace trade union reps – a clear contrast with either Wales or NI.

The sector conference went on to debate motions on electing Vice Chancellors of Welsh HE institutions, on improving the current under representations of BME staff in academic roles, on the funding gap and its relationship to the sustainability of the sector, and on funding for reforms in Initial Teacher Education and Training.

According to delegates I spoke to, the FE conference had a lively discussion on motions on growing workloads, lesson observations, the lack of union representation on the EWC, the pay claim, CPD and subsidiary companies in Wales.

Unfortunately, transport being what it was, I had to leave before the full congress resumed after the sectoral conferences, but I want to thank my colleagues for a stimulating and positive experience, which left me with confidence for the union’s future in Wales.

English, Welsh and bilingual – inclusivity at the heart of the Welsh UCU