Chair’s blog # 4 of 2017 Work Intensification and workload planning, by Julia Charlton

Management want to re-negotiate our agreement on workloads, which we think helps to protect staff from overzealous managers, but it has not yet been in force for 3 years and has never been evaluated. We want data (just like they do) which proves the present agreement does not work, before we will consider a change.


Recently at a meeting with UCU, learning analytics was raised. What is this? It is a way of pushing even more administration work onto academics. Mechanisation, tracking, monitoring and automation of work are on the ascent and unions need to pressure companies and organisations to deal with the impacts on workers. A paper in the Journal of Labour Research written by Phoebe Moore with Pav Akhtar of the UNI Global Union is coming out in April 2017, which looks at union responses to digitalisation and automation at work (The psycho-social impacts of technological change in contemporary workplaces and trade union responses ) which addresses some of these issues.

More recent researchers note that "computers, which are meant to help [workers to] do the work more efficiently are also extremely merciless monitoring tools"

Universities worldwide are significantly impacted by the trends of digitalisation, quantification, and mechanisation. We face increased workloads and work intensification as technologies make it possible to do the work that once was done by people. We face a metrics driven system that decides on the value of our labour and this will soon have a direct impact on students with the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework. These and other initiatives are forms of symbolic violence that, as Galtung described, prevent us from access to basic rights in decent and dignified working conditions.

Quantification, datafication and platformisation of work via new technologies introduce unprecedented possibilities for stress and a range of symptoms emerging from psychosocial violence (which management would also like to track).
Capital encourages universal communication and mechanistic devices appear to facilitate this communication within precarious conditions: but only in quantified terms. Thus, anything that cannot be quantified and profiled is rendered incommunicable – meaning it is marked and marginalized, disqualified as human capital, denied privilege, and precarious (Moore and Robinson 2015). Workers are compelled to squeeze every drop of labour-power from our bodies, including work that is seen, or work that has always been measured in Taylorist regimes; and increasingly, work that is unseen, such as attitudes, sentiments, affective and emotional labour (The Northumbria Culture project?).

Your fabulous branch officers have prepared a report, just recently released, on member's thoughts on workload and its impact in this institution. It is not pretty reading. Excessive workloads underpin poor performance, ill health and misery. We are resolved to fight for better working conditions for all our members and this helps those who are not UCU members too. Next time a colleague says they are overworked – ask them if they belong to UCU and if not why not? Collective action can change the landscape for us all.

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