Oxford UCU Casework Practice
As all UCU branches, Oxford UCU provides caseworkers to help members with individual work-related problems they may encounter. This includes things like: risk of redundancy, bullying and harassment, disciplinary issues, equality and discrimination, and other problems. Caseworkers can accompany members to meetings, provide advice on issues, and help members to access further university or UCU services as appropriate.
Information for members seeking assistance
Any member who requires assistance from the branch should contact Bernadette Wheeler, Administration Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org, 01865 288472. Simple requests for information may be answered straight away. For anything else, you will be asked to fill in a casework form and make an appointment to talk to caseworkers. We operate a casework surgery system, with fixed hours on two afternoons a week. Members can book a one-hour appointment. There will typically be one or two experienced caseworkers present at these meetings, and one or two new caseworkers, who will shadow the meeting to gain experience.
If your problem is straightforward, we hope we will be able to resolve it in the hour. If you require further assistance, we will try to identify one or more people to take on your case. There may be a waiting list if all caseworkers are busy. While on the waiting list, you are welcome to book another surgery appointment, although we will give priority to new cases. If you need help urgently please let us know and we will do all we can to find someone to help.
If you do not wish to see a particular individual because of a conflict of interest, or if you do not want anyone from your department involved, let us know. If you would prefer to talk with a single caseworker, we will try to accommodate that, but please note that experienced caseworkers may not be available so quickly. We need shadowing opportunities to train new volunteers, and the more people who are present, the more likely we will be able to help with your problem.
We encourage members to contact us about problems as soon as possible as there are usually more options to tackle problems at an early stage. Even if you do not require assistance, it is useful to notify us of any issues, so we can keep track of what is happening in the university. This may help us assist other members.
We are normally only able to help UCU members with problems that have arisen after they joined UCU. We may exceptionally be able to help non-members if they have a strong need or if their case has wider implications for our members. This will depend on whether a caseworker is available as we must give priority to helping our members. Please also note that legal advice is only available for members for problems arising after they have joined.
It is important to remember that caseworkers are not lawyers or counsellors, but are ordinary UCU members who volunteer to help out their colleagues.
Oxford UCU takes a collective approach to casework, meaning that caseworkers meet regularly and may seek advice on a case from caseworkers with more experience. We aim to assign two caseworkers to each case where possible.
In the event that there is a conflict between UCU members, for example if one member makes a complaint about another, separate caseworkers will be allocated to help each member and measures put in place to ensure they work independently.
Details of cases are, by default, kept confidential. There may be benefits to sharing information with other caseworkers or union activists, but caseworkers will only share personal details with the permission of the member involved. If members have particular concerns about confidentiality they are encouraged to discuss this with their caseworker.
Caseworkers will offer advice, talk to members about options, and can help members access further assistance. However it is the member who must take decisions about what course of action to take. If a member feels uncomfortable with the way a caseworker is handling a case, they should talk to them, or if they do not wish to do so, to contact Bernadette and ask if another caseworker is available.
Information for Caseworkers
Caseworkers are Oxford UCU members who volunteer to help out other members. Helping out our members with work-related difficulties is at the heart of what we do as a trade union branch.
New caseworkers are very welcome. Any member interested should contact Bernadette and the Casework Coordinator and join the email@example.com mailing list. You are encouraged to shadow surgery meetings to learn how the system works. We keep a list of the dates potential caseworkers are available. If you add your name and availability to this, then whenever a suitable opportunity arises, you will be contacted. Once you feel confident enough to take on a case, on your own or with another caseworker, let us know.
Oxford UCU aims to take a collective approach to casework where caseworkers work together as much as possible. Ideally we like to allocate two caseworkers to each case to allow new caseworkers to learn from more experienced activists, and so there if one worker needs to step back from a case, the other can continue. This is not always possible if there are not enough caseworkers available. We encourage caseworkers to involve other branch activists
We organise regular casework team meetings to discuss ongoing cases and other issues related to casework.
Branch reps and committee members are encouraged to get involved with casework. We aim to have a large number of caseworkers doing a few cases each, rather than a few caseworkers taking on too much. No caseworker should be put under pressure to take on a case if they do not wish to.
If caseworkers or reps are directly approached by a member seeking help, they should ask the member to complete a casework form and return it to Bernadette. It is important that all cases are logged to ensure members are covered by liability insurance.
Casework is a trade union duty and caseworkers are entitled to reasonable paid time off work to carry out these duties. As there is no detailed agreement with the university, it is up to individual caseworkers to negotiate this with their line manager. The Casework Coordinator and the branch committee can help if you encounter problems. The branch committee would like to negotiate a more formal facilities time agreement with the university. To provide data to help this, we ask caseworkers to keep records of the amount of time they spend on casework.
Caseworkers are not professional counsellors and there is no formal training requirement. However caseworkers are encouraged to attend training offered by UCU. We periodically invite UCU regional officials to offer training in Oxford. We offer informal local training at caseworker meetings.
The Caseworker Coordinator is the branch committee member with the responsibility to allocate and monitor branch cases. This should be done by working with the team and decisions should be taken collectively where possible. The coordinator will also keep the committee informed about trends in casework.