7. WORKLOAD, HEALTH, AND SAFETY
‘Workload’ and ‘Health and Safety’ are often treated as separate issues, in the way our branches deal with them and in the agreements which we make with our managers. But this is not the case. Conditions in Further Education have fostered not only unpaid overtime, but also a kind of ‘workload creep’. The streamlining of course offerings and cutting of dedicated services such as dyslexia support, student advice, and counselling has transferred those burdens onto the teachers themselves. This comes at a moment when austerity has left FE students in greater need than ever, and it takes a traumatic toll on frontline educators suddenly laden with unfamiliar administrative and pastoral roles on top of teaching duties. In Higher Education, the ‘rationalisation’ and centralisation of professional services staff is having similar consequences. Expectations are unforgivably high, and the mental and physical health of all staff is at stake.
7.1 A national workload reporting service
Excessive workloads are causing injuries. Our managers’ idea that resilience and wellbeing training will help, rather than exacerbate the problem, is an insult to staff. Instead, UCU needs to collect and report on the toxic culture of overwork that pervades Further and Higher Education. One-off press releases from UCU’s national HQ are not sufficient recognition of the problems encountered by branches, and their efforts to deal with them. It is time to create an online, nationwide workload reporting service. This service will provide standardised online ‘stress audits’ which branches can distribute to their members without overburdening reps and committee officers. If branches need extra support, they will be able to request that UCU’s national officials, up to and including the General Secretary, make direct, escalating interventions with their managers and representations to the Health and Safety Executive. Overwork is endemic in the education sector. We must take extra care to avoid duplicating it in our union’s structures and activities.
7.2 A research-driven, proactive campaign against irresponsible metrics
The scourge of overwork cannot be addressed without challenging our managers’ implementation of intellectually bankrupt, counter-productive tools for measuring our performance: from university rankings to government initiatives like dysfunctional data management systems in Further and Adult Education, or the statistically unsound, unethical Teaching Excellence Framework. As General Secretary, I will set up a cross-sector task group bringing together member representatives and experts in a number of relevant areas, not only to raise member awareness but also to identify where our leverage lies. This is an area where I hope that our professional services members can come to the fore, pioneering and leading new forms of collective action against metric-fuelled mismanagement.