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End of year news and announcement of the AGM

This is the last communication of the year but an important one. On a national level, and with good support from our branch, we have managed to force the employers back to the negotiating table again over the proposed USS changes. This has only happened through sustained action by the union, which utterly depends on the membership (us) to back it up. 17,000 members signed the USS petition demanding a fair pension and we hope you were one of them. The signatures were delivered to a meeting of university employers in London and were also delivered to Helen Higson, representing the Vice Chancellor, by the Aston Branch.

Signing petitions is the easy bit: forcing a fair settlement will be tough and our suspension of action short of a strike is only until Janury 16th, depending on how the negotations progress. So please be ready to resume the struggle if necessary because it is essential we are seen as a strong union, both nationally and locally.

On a local level, the branch is working hard on your behalf in many areas. One of the most difficult, but vital, is protecting and improving individual working conditions through case work. This may involve helping members negotiate with managers, which hopefully resolves the problems, or taking out a grievance in the last resort. We also represent members in disciplinary cases. In this year alone, more than 10% of our members have been supported by Aston union representatives at one time or another and even if the outcomes are not always entirely what we would have liked, each case makes management think more carefully about how it should treat employees in the future.

Annual General Meeting: Tuesday 27th January at 1.00pm in MB161
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Please keep your diary free and make every effort to attend because we need your support and we need more representatives. We are continuing to press management over unfair workloads, work related stress and, in some instances, bullying and harassment. If you are suffering from any of these then please get in contact with a committee member: contact details are on our website, given at the bottom of this email.

The coming year will be another challenging one and we would like to have even better engagement with the membership. We will be negotiating on a range of issues, including the following and we would welcome any thoughts you have on them:

* TRAC (Transparent Approach to Costing), which is the methodology developed with the higher education sector to help cost activities. Academics are being asked to do this three times a year, which we believe is unnecessarily onerous; twice is plenty but what do you think?

* Probation and fixed-term contracts, which are often used as a pressure tactic against staff looking to be made permanent.

* PDRs: how fair are they? Have they helped or upset you? The more we know about how they are used, the more we can fight to improve members' experiences.

* Promotion, which is often perceived by members as unfair. This year, the timescale from announcement of the next round and submission of the application is particularly tight and members may have a view on this. Let us know whether you want a more reasonable period to prepare at this extremely busy time of year.

* Peer review of academics, its purpose, and how results are used: what stories do you have about them? Have you been penalised in your PDR because of peer reviews, or had your promotion undermined? Tell us so that we can make them fit for purpose not a weapon against us.

* Redundancies and reorganisations: Branch representatives have tried very hard to protect staff when these have been threatened and we need your help. Next year is unlikely to be any easier and the stronger we are, the more we can prevent damaging effects on staffing levels and working conditions.

Apologies if we have left out other important issues but please get in touch if this is the case. We are here to fight for you and the more you talk to us, the better equipped we will be to do the job.

So, have a good Christmas and see you next year....if not before: any problems, you know where we are.

Best wishes,

Aston UCU Branch Committee

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