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UCU strike vote: More information about contracts, pay gaps and workload

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The University and College Union (UCU) has announced its members will vote on whether to take strike action in connection with pensions, pay and conditions. Their membership includes staff across academic and professional services at our University.

We do not yet know if members will vote in favour, or if any strike action will take place. However we wanted to make you aware of the situation and explain the issues further, as we know if strike action is called this could impact our students.

One of the issues over which UCU may call strike action is pay and conditions. In this article we’ll share further information on contract types, gender and ethnicity pay gaps and workload at our University.

We recognise that all these issues are important to staff and students – we take them very seriously. Our aim has been and remains to ensure we offer attractive conditions for work at our university and below outline some of the ways in which this is happening.

Employment contracts

Our practice and intention is to employ staff on permanent contracts wherever possible.

Fixed-term contracts

There is only a limited set of circumstances in which fixed-term contracts are used, all of which are monitored by a Contracts Working Group which has representatives from Human Resources and our campus trade unions. 

We ensure that our colleagues who are on fixed-term contracts work until the end of their fixed term even if their role is one that would otherwise be affected by compulsory redundancy.

All are of great value to us.

For example, teaching assistants are a vital part of our University. Unlike many universities which do not provide employment contracts, we use fixed-term contracts for teaching assistants based on a grade and pay linked to the national pay spine and agreed with UCU’s local branch.

Zero hours contracts

The only time we use zero hours contracts is to provide additional cover for conferences and events in University of Manchester Catering Ltd. Staff who are on zero hours contracts are regarded as employees because of the expected longer-term nature of the arrangement and have all the statutory benefits associated with being an employee.

Casual contracts

Only in very specific circumstances do we use ‘casual’ contracts, for example, for student ambassadors where the requirement for work is expected to be for fewer than 13 consecutive weeks.  There is no obligation for staff on such contracts to make themselves available for work and most of our staff on such contracts are students, which gives them an income while working on a flexible basis. Our casual staff have all the statutory benefits associated with being a worker rather than an employee.

Staff workload

We appreciate that workloads are probably the most significant employment issue we face and we know it is a real concern across our University and more broadly in the sector. People have worked extremely hard, particularly through the pandemic, in ways that none of us could have predicted. We are very appreciative of the work that colleagues have put in and for some in very challenging personal circumstances.

We have taken on additional staff to meet increased student numbers, we are putting in place a range of new systems that should markedly improve the efficiency of many processes, and we are continuously working with staff across the University, to see if any activities can be stopped, reduced or streamlined.

Gender and ethnicity pay gaps

Both Gender Pay Gap (GPG) and Ethnicity Pay Gap (EPG) information provide us with valuable insight into equality, diversity and inclusion workforce challenges.

Our mean gender pay gap is 17.2% and mean ethnicity pay gap is 17.9% as set out in our latest annual pay gap reports. The GPG is a measure of the disparity in average (mean and median) earnings of men and women who work at our University.

Our data tell us that these gaps are not due to of men and women or ethnic minority colleagues being paid differently for work of equal value. However there are fewer women and ethnic minority staff in senior roles.

We are continuing to eliminate these disparities and we recognise that the best way to do this is through focussed action, interventions and constructive dialogue. We will continue to report openly and transparently and make the changes that are needed.

On our ethnicity pay gap findings, we are transparent and aim to further understand our position so that we can put into place actions which will make a real difference. We are one of the first in the sector to publish this information.

One example of the action we are taking is the requirement for all colleagues who are part of promotion and staff recruitment panels to complete two online equality, diversity and inclusion training sessions.

Other work includes our Equal Pay Audit, Athena SWAN, Race Equality Charter Mark, our newly-created Directorate of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion and our Race Matters report and we have active staff networks supporting us in taking forward our new Equality and Diversity Strategy.

We recognise that there is much more to do.

Further information

You can find minutes of our meetings with the trade unions on StaffNet, so you can be fully informed of what is happening.

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