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May 31st, 2011:

UCU Congress 2011 Report

FE Sector Congress Saturday 28th May
Barry Lovejoy National Officer for FE opened the conference with a “state of the nation” speech. In it he commented on the fact that the attacks we were facing were all a part of concerted campaign by the Conservative Government to undermine the welfare state.
He commented on the fact that there appeared to be less on the pad this year and put this down to the fact that we had been busy dealing with the the issue we’d been facing rather than spending time writing motions.

There are 12 college branches currently undergoing action to defend jobs and conditions and this is the thin end of the wedge. However we have had some success in fighting our corner and this is important in bringing members forward with us.

The current challenges are impacting on contact time, teaching hours, supervisions and are creating stress problems for our members.
Barry mentioned the IfL and said that as negotiations were ongoing he couldn’t go into specifics but he could reassure congress that there would be an opportunity for all members to have a say on IfL and that there would be a significant reduction in the financial liability of IfL membership for UCU members.

There had been no response to the UCU claim for a 4% pay rise from the AoC but they had made mention of their intention to discuss changes to productivity and sick pay arrangements.

It is paramount that the 30th June is a success with joint action coordinated locally with PCS, NUT and ATL.


Sector Congress proper started after a debate on TPS. There are a number of things we as a branch really need to do and the first is to get out and about and tell the members what the impact of the changes are going to be on them. It WILL cost them more and they will have to work longer to get less back.

UCU have an online tool for calculating this and we need to perhaps look at a stall at the college where members can input their details and see for themselves what the impact will be. We also need to get publicising the 30th June ASAP and develop links with other unions locally!
The motions debated this morning all seemed to have an underlying thread in that they all demonstrated a concerted attack on people who are vulnerable to marginalisation such as disabled staff, migrant workers and young people.

FE1 discussed the impact of redundancy on disabled members and highlighted the fact that in these circumstances a lot of disabled people bear the brunt due to misconceptions and a reluctance to make adjustment. All too often a redundancy is made the easy option for the employer. Carried Unanimously

FE2 concerned the attacks on EMA and support for young people to gain a foothold in a meaningful career progression. The most disadvantaged people are the ones that are being targeted here as EMA hits the poorest people hardest. Carried

FE3 Called for the UCU to join the campaign to keep ESOL funded. Again this is another attack on people who need support to become as useful as possible in society and this just gives ammunition to the far right, who will focus on the consequences of the removal funding as further evidence of “lack of integration”. Government dogma about multiculturalism is enacted in this policy, ultimately it smacks of racism. Carried Unanimously

FE4 Called on UCU to fully support the principles of second chance education and oppose funding cuts to provision. Most of those given a second chance are young people who have made poor decisions in life or were failed by the system and they should not be denied the opportunity to recover. Carried Unanimously

FE5 Calls on UCU to relaunch the Manifesto for Education and to lobby for accountability for incorporated colleges. Carried unanimously.
Afternoon Session

FE6 – the issue of principles pay was raised through this one. There is a clear feeling of disgust at how unequal the pay and rewards for college principles are in comparison to working people such as lecturers and support staff. Some have had pay hikes of almost 100% whilst we have been faced with an effective pay freeze and increased productivity and other demands. Carried unanimously.

FE7 – discussed the prospects of low funding for apprenticeships and the move toward in house narrow focus training by employers rather than FE colleges. Vital that we support proper vocational training with decent wages for young people delivered by professional teachers! Carried unanimously.

FE8 – This one was a little controversial as it couched concern over risk assessments for NEETS and SLDD students. It was felt by the floor that RAs should cover all students and be fit for purpose regardless of individual students. To single out groups like this was wrong and masked a problem. It was agreed to remit the prop.

FE9, 10 and 11 all covered lesson obs and the ultimate result was that we need to ensure a consistent approach that doesn’t include agreement over LO’s. Westminster and Kingsway College has been in dispute for over three years which has involved a boycott of LO’s, this has been solid and provides an example of what concerted action can do. This should be an issue that we can organise round especially with the forthcoming meetings around LO’s. All were carried albeit with some fluffing around remitting of parts of FE11 that I haven’t been able to work out yet!

FE12 – IfL started off as a “lets pull the plug on IfL” affair and then the amendments make it into work for reduced membership fees blah, blah, blah. Ultimately I think that a deal is being done and it will be put to the members to decide, bit of a kop out really. Interesting point about this is that the rules only say you have to REGISTER as a teacher with IfL not be a member so that is perhaps something we can look at as a branch.

FE13 – calls for the IfL to be called to account on how it is investigating issues of equality of access for women, BEM, LGBT and disabled teachers. It is supposed to do these things why is not doing them, Carried

FE14, 15 and 16 related to sessionals work and fractionalisation. |There are clear inequalities in the way HPL and Agency workers are treated and the UCU should be doing its utmost to ensure that the best terms and conditions are achieved for workers in the sector. Women in particular are disadvantaged by this situation. All carried

FE17 – Missed this debate – carried

FE18 – All branches should be celebrating disability month and utilising the UCU poster celebrating disability.

FE19 Carried

Full Congress Sunday 29th May

The business of congress was done at such as pace that it was difficult to take notes. Standing orders were suspended so that time for speakers was reduced and motions were formally seconded with little or no debate.

Motion 1 called for the UCU to support the opposition movement and a general strike. This was given full support.
Subsequent motions spoke on the funding cuts being faced and the need to challenge them.

A series of emergency motions were heard relating to the problems individual branches are having with incalcitrant employers and wholehearted support was received for Newcastle, Barnsley, CONEL, Coleg Morgannwg and NW Kent followed by motions in support of the de recognition issue at Robert Gordon Uni and the Londonmet funding cuts in undergrad provision. The union is being challenged on basic principles and must stand up as united organisation to ensure that no one is left isolated in the battle. All were unanimously supported.

A series of motions were then galloped through with minimal fuss apart from couple of issues over wording and these were dealt with by the chair ruling that these motions could be dealt with in parts so that the underlying principles wouldn’t be lost due to wording.

This morning’s experience was a novelty after almost 25 years of attending conferences I’ve never seen such a rush to get through business possibly at the expense of debate.

End of morning session

The afternoon session was more of the same rapid fire motions….

The pensions issue is clearly of paramount importance and the addition of 5 amendments to Motion 21 showed this. All of which were carried and, ultimately, set out the fundamental principles of united action to support all members pensions regardless of age, gender, disability etc. and the intention to maintain benefits such as final salary schemes.

Motion 22 caused a bit of debate (for a change) as it appeared to call for no action on the TPS unless it was coordinated with other TPS members organisations NUT etc. This was rejected by the floor as we can’t have a situation whereby UCU members are go for action but are held back because another union isn’t and vice versa.

23 and 24 reaffirmed UCUs position on casualisation and Zero Hour Contracts. These were both not undermining FT positions but they were also selling those teachers on these contracts short due to them receiving less and worse training and having less support in the role. Where UCU members manage these individuals then they should make every effort to renew contracts, redeploy into vacancies and avoid ZHCs.

Motion 26 is of particular interest as it covers the plan of action from the Stress and Bullying work group. This has a bi annual full membership stress survey and publicity campaign at its core so should be helpful across the piece in tackling stress at work.

Sally Hunt gave a speech to congress which outlined some items of interest such as the need to reduce the size of the NEC (no brainer) a new idea about putting legal advisors out into the regions, which smacks to me of giving up the ghost on local negotiation and accepting we have to go to law. Sally did make a suggestion about how this would be funded but I didn’t quite understand what she meant. Either way, all that will happen is the legal advisor will look at the case in hand, give a sharp intake of breath and then say “well, you haven’t got a better than 50% chance of winning so we won’t represent you”

I had to leave congress at about 17:00 due to feeling unwell and didn’t catch the remaining debate. I did attend the delegate’s dinner that night but left early due to being unwell. I didn’t even eat my desert which, those of you that know me will show that I really was ill!

Monday’s sessions once again were a whirlwind of activity with most of the motions going through without incident or debate! Rules Changes session was hard work as I’m not that familiar with the UCU rule book (who is?) and the consequential of some of the changes had to be explained to me.

The only real areas of concern during the day were Motion 59 a rule change on elections for casualised members which I didn’t fully understand so abstained and 70 which concerned the EUMC definition of anti-Semitism. Ultimately the debate got heated but it was passed. Clearly the state of Israel cannot be given carte blanche to do what it will without criticism.

John McDonnell MP gave a rousing speech as he is wont to do and there is a genuine feeling that there is something in the air particularly around the 30th June and the way a number of TUs have come out in favour of general strike, however, we’ve had these false dawns before and we need to maintain a sense of realism.

The whole of congress was pretty much in accord on where we are going and what we are doing. My experience working with Communication Workers Union members suggests that the issues facing us as educators are pretty much the same with privatisation/marketisation, bullying and harassment, poor pay and pensions, casualisation and inferior contracts all being things we have in common as workers. This is perhaps now time to all come together and stand up for ourselves and refuse to take the blame and pay the bill for the current economic woes!