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September, 2014:

Working from home for academic staff

Dear Member,

As last week, in relation to the 15 day turnaround of marking and feedback ‘policy’, a substantial number of members have contacted myself or local reps regarding the institutional ‘Working From Home Policy’. A number of incorrect and contradictory statements have been made by various managers over the last week or so, on this issue. Once again I apologise for the length of this email, but it is all important information.

In contrast to the 15 day turnaround of marking ‘policy’ which does not exist as such (see previous post for details), there is indeed a ‘Working From Home Policy’ (which can be found on the HR pages of LJMUWeb); however, IT DOES NOT APPLY TO ACADEMIC STAFF. Changes to working practices in relation to academic staff currently being pushed by management and HR around the institution have not been decided upon in consultation with UCU. The ‘Working From Home Policy’ was agreed before UCU came into existence and was not consulted upon, negotiated with, or agreed to by NATFHE (the union which then represented academic staff at LJMU, and which was one of the unions which later amalgamated to form the UCU).

The Policy is in fact an agreement between LJMU and UNISON, relating to administrative and technical staff only.

The Post ’92 contracts of employment we ‘enjoy’ recognise the professional and largely self-supervised nature of academic activities: The Post 92 Staff Handbook (Agreed National Text, http://www.ucu.org.uk/1973), which our institution agreed to as much as any other Post 92 institution states;

1.3.1   On the matter of the working week, it is not appropriate in a professional contract to be specific as to the exact hours of availability for duties; moreover, it is accepted that in the case of the obligation to undertake research and other scholarly activity that obligation will not necessarily require attendance at the institution. However, in relation to teaching duties a reasonable norm may be helpful at institutional level. Such a norm should be comparable with those of other employees in the institution and with those of related professional groups; it is not to be regarded as either a minimum or maximum.’

And from the Post 92 Contract;

8.3 Your research and scholarly activity will be principally self-managed.’

It is, obviously, perfectly reasonable for management to expect and require presence on University premises for scheduled teaching activities, meetings (whether administrative or with students), advertised ‘Office Hours’ where these are the norm and other activities which are a contractual requirement and for which physical presence is necessary. This is not, however, the case where physical presence is not required to carry out our assigned duties – in fact, particularly in the case of staff expected to work in multi-occupancy offices, where colleagues may be holding meetings with students because of short supply or non-existence of alternative accommodation, physical presence may significantly undermine our ability to perform our assigned duties, be they research, scholarly activities, marking or administrative tasks. We are professionals, recognised as such by our contracts of employment and the handbook guidelines on their implementation, to which our institution is a signatory; e.g. ‘You are expected to work flexibly and efficiently, and to maintain the highest professional standards in discharging your responsibilities, and in promoting and implementing the corporate policies of Liverpool John Moores University.’

It would not be unreasonable for management/HR to expect to codify working arrangements by reaching an agreement with UCU relating to availability for contact when off the premises etc., but they have not attempted to do this. Instead they are either allowing local managers to make things up as they go along, or have operated unilaterally and without consultation, in clear breach of the Recognition Agreement between LJMU and the three unions with recognised rights to representation, negotiation and consultation at LJMU.

Once again, as with the issues relating to ‘15 day turnaround’, the issue of the implementation of the ‘Working From Home Policy’ will be taken up with management.

In Solidarity,

Jim Hollinshead,

Branch Secretary,

LJMU UCU

15 day turnaround – your questions answered

Apologies for the lengthy post, but this is important information. A number of members have approached their UCU Reps regarding statements being made by some managers about the 15 day turnaround of marking and feedback ‘policy’.
This is the situation as UCU sees it: anything said to you contrary to this has not been consulted upon or discussed with UCU and does not form part of LJMU’s stated ‘policy’: in any event, in the words of senior management: “There is no formalised 15 day turnaround policy, only a leaflet and agreed practice, as this was something agreed between SMT and LiverpoolSU which never went through committee”. What does exist is a series of guidelines (all the statements below are documented in ‘policy’ statements, guidance notes or the minutes of various meetings) – not ‘Policy’ – which:

  • Does not prescribe how marking should be done (i.e. online or hard copy), that’s up to you.
  • Does not prescribe how feedback should be given to students (there are however some reasonable guidelines in terms of good practice on this available on LJMUWeb).
  • Does not require that feedback be written – “Individualised feedback provided within a taught session or audio feedback is … acceptable”.
  • Does not require that a mark be included in this feedback.
  • Does not make ‘failure’ to meet the 15 day ‘deadline’ a matter for any form of disciplinary action – it is a target, and so long as students receive notice of any change and an explanation for why this is being made, this is ‘acceptable’, this is particularly the case in instances of staff illness during marking periods.
  • What it does do, is say how the 15 day period should be calculated:
  • It starts from the submission date (for electronic submission – so think carefully about submission times you set); there is ambiguity on hardcopy marking, but clearly, you cannot mark hard copy you don’t have, and time (which in practice may be is little as a day) should be added for printing, if submission is not in hard copy. There is no reason under the ‘policy’ as stated that you cannot require students to submit electronically and hard copy, which may speed things up.
  • Once set, the ‘deadline’ is not ‘set in stone’ but can be amended with adequate notification to students and an explanation of the cause of delay – it is our contention that this new ‘deadline’ becomes that to which any reporting of ‘failure’ to reach the 15 day target should relate.
  • The turnaround period should not include time spent on moderation – this is ambiguous, and could mean reporting of totally un-moderated feedback and/or marks (which we would consider very bad practice), therefor this implies that time spent in bench marking at the beginning and moderation at the end of the marking period should not count as part of the ‘15 days’.
  • The period is ‘15 working days’; it does not include therefore:
    • Weekends
    • Days when the institution is closed (i.e. bank holidays, Christmas/Spring break periods)
    • Days when you have annual leave formally booked
    • Days of sickness absence.

UCU has asked for a Common Interest Committee (the institutional vehicle for consultation and negotiation on issues relating to a single union) on this issue, but this has not been forthcoming. We will be pursuing the matter further and will report back in due course.

In the meantime, please report to your Rep, or the branch via me, any instances of statements from managers not in line with the above, in particular any instances of threats direct or veiled, regarding ‘consequences’ of non-compliance with any instructions which are not in line with the above.

In Solidarity,
Jim Hollinshead,
Branch Secretary,
LJMU UCU