22nd Sep, 2018

Coventry University Group staff speak out about pay and conditions amid unions row

Felix Nobes 29th Mar, 2018 Updated: 30th Mar, 2018

STAFF at the controversial Coventry University Group have spoken out about the ‘pressure’ and ‘stress’ of their roles amid a pay and conditions row, which we reported on earlier this week.

Figures obtained by the Coventry branch of the University and College Union (UCU) show inferior pay and pension schemes and often longer working hours for staff at the Coventry University Group (CUG) – a subsidiary company of Coventry University.

According to the figures, the top pay scale for staff at the university is around £40,000 – but colleagues at the CUG can earn a maximum £37,000.

Staff also claimed many worked between 20 and 32 hours every week compared to the expected 18 hours for university staff.

The union says staff who undertake the same teaching duties at CUG as those at the university are called ‘tutors’.

It says the only discernible difference between them is staff at the CUG don’t have active research among their duties.

CUG staff say their workloads are unsustainable and are having an impact on the quality of teaching they can provide.

One member of staff at the CUG said: “Teaching and academic staff are permanently tired and stressed and never able to give the students the excellent experience they are capable of to the best of their ability.”

Another said: “There’s insufficient time to prepare, assess and improve quality, let alone link teaching to current research and professional updating.”

With regards to students at the institution, one said: “The pressure on the students to perform is continuous, and they have little to no time to reflect on the information they are getting. With formal assessment there is little to no time for corrections in approach to be made.”

Another said: “Many of our students are excellent, and I love teaching and feeling the reward of helping students achieve.

“But we are being held back by a frame of mind that does not seek to evolve, but rather expand.”

Another staff member argued the problems are systemic: “The majority of students we have need a lot of support to attain the higher education goals expected, but the system does not really allow this to be done.”

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, stated in a letter to The Guardian newspaper in December: “If you teach at CUG… it means you get paid much less than your colleagues at the university, your teaching year is much longer, your workload heavier, and you have no access to a decent occupational pension.”

Leaked information shows “there is no right to automatic (pay rises) incremental progression” – so staff can work at the CUG without a pay increase for many years.

A lecturer at Coventry University could reach the top pay-scale in seven years and get to a point where they earn £6,000 more a year than a counterpart at CUG who had worked there for the same time but remains on the lowest pay-scale.

Another controversy surrounds the quality of pension schemes.

The Teachers’ Pension Scheme means an employer pays in an extra 16.8 per cent of their salary each year to an employee’s pension pot.

However, the Aviva Stakeholder pension available to staff at CUG means only six per cent of the salary is paid into staff pension pots.

Staff at the CUG can also be paid on an hourly basis on zero-hours contracts which carry no set hours.

CUG ‘hourly paid tutors’ are paid £29 an hour. According to UCU figures, in an 18 hour week for a university lecturer and an hourly paid tutor at CUG there is a £216 difference in pay.

A Coventry University spokesperson said: “We ensure that equivalent roles across both sites are paid equivalent salaries.

“However, it is important to note that many roles within CU Coventry are distinctly different to those at the university.

“An example of this would be the academic roles; in CU Coventry academic staff are not required to undertake research activity, so it is not appropriate to compare them with academic staff in the university.”

As we reported this week, Coventry MP Jim Cunningham took to Twitter to slam the university for denying its staff from being represented by the University and College Union (UCU) in negotiations for improved contractual terms.

The UCU says the CUG was exploiting a legal loophole and has set up a ‘sham’ trade union – the Staff Consultative Group (SCG).

The CUG has signed a recognition agreement for it to represent staff – denying them official UCU representation.

Many other universities have criticised the conduct of Coventry University chiefs and vice-chancellor John Latham.

Mr Latham has been approached for comment.

Nearly 10,000 people have signed the petition named ‘Stop the anti-union dirty tricks in the Coventry University Group’ – up from 3,000 a week ago.

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