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November, 2019:

Live online Q&A Session with Jo Grady Friday 22 November 1-2

Dear colleague,

In a week’s time, 60 higher education institutions begin eight days of strike action. I am hosting a live online Q&A session to answer your questions ahead of the strikes, on Friday 22 November from 1pm-2pm. Links to watch and submit questions will be available on the day on UCU’s website and Facebook page.

Where are our employers?

We have reached out to employers to make clear that we are open to constructive talks, but so far they seem happy to cause a rerun of last year’s destructive action in pre-92 institutions. The sad fact is that the further removed our senior managers get from ordinary staff, the worse they are at listening to us. They do not seem to appreciate that the union is just as serious about these nationwide disputes as we were about the last one.

However, there are signs that one or two employers are realising they need to change their approach. Anthony Forster, vice-chancellor of Essex University, signalled in the last few days that his institution might be willing to pay more for USS pensions to prevent staff from having to leave the scheme. This is a start, but it won’t be nearly enough on its own. In order to get a meaningful breakthrough in either dispute, we need vice-chancellors to use their influence to force a U-turn by the bodies that represent them: UCEA for the pay & equality dispute, and Universities UK for USS.

New info on taking industrial action

The best way to make that happen is to be ready to follow through on our threat of strike action and make it as effective as possible. UCU has published extensive guidance for staff on your rights when taking strike action and action short of a strike, information for students, and a specific list of FAQs for migrant staff and students. Please click through to our new strike action web page to read it.

As in the past, we win by withdrawing our labour, getting on those picket lines, and showing everyone that we are on the right side of each dispute.

We are also issuing a series of videos produced in collaboration with the NUS, aimed at explaining the action and why it matters to students. To view the first one please click here. I know that many UCU branches are already planning teach-outs with student societies about the action and a host of related issues.

These strikes are an important opportunity to articulate the value of the work we do to our students and to the wider world – let’s make sure we take it.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Strikes on the cards after colleges refuse to prioritise staff

11 November 2019

Colleges are facing potential disruption in the new year after the University and College Union (UCU) accused employers of a “breach of faith” over pay and said it would consult members over strike action.

The union met with the Association of Colleges today (Monday) and said a 1% pay offer was “derisory”, after the employer body had previously acknowledged that staff deserved more and campaigned alongside the UCU in calling for additional funding.

The government announced an extra £400million of funding for colleges in August and UCU said it was time for colleges to prioritise staff. The union said the 1% offer would only widen the pay gap – currently £7,000 a year – between school and college teachers after school teachers were awarded a 3.5% rise.

The union said staff couldn’t afford to wait any longer for a decent pay rise, with many already struggling to pay rent and forced to use food banks. UCU said other colleges had worked with the union to deliver better deals for staff prior to the extra funding, including Capital City College Group who agreed a 5% pay deal for staff and Lambeth College who agreed a deal worth over 3% in pay with improvements to holidays, sick pay and teaching hours. A deal at Hugh Baird College earlier in the year saw staff receive a pay rise of up to 6% plus five days’ extra annual leave.

UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said: ‘Colleges have repeatedly used a lack of government funding as an excuse to hold down staff pay, whilst acknowledging they deserve more. To offer 1% after joint campaigning and the recent funding announcement is a breach of faith that will rightly anger staff and leaves us with no option but to consult over strike action.  It sends a clear signal to staff that they are not being prioritised which threatens key relationships at precisely the time when the sector needs to work together.

‘Staff have borne the brunt of cuts in recent years and closing the £7,000 pay gap between school and college teachers must be a priority. The time to act on pay is now. Staff struggling to pay rent and using food banks can’t afford to wait any longer. Plenty of colleges have demonstrated how to deliver better deals for staff even before the extra funding was announced, so this derisory 1% offer is simply inexcusable.’

UCU announces eight days of strikes starting this month at 60 universities

5 November 2019

Sixty UK universities* will be hit with eight days of strike action from Monday 25 November to Wednesday 4 December, UCU announced today.

Last week UCU members backed strike action in two separate legal disputes, one on pensions and one on pay and working conditions. Overall, 79% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions. In the ballot on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads, 74% of members polled backed strike action.

The union said universities had to respond positively and quickly if they wanted to avoid disruption this year. The disputes centre on changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and universities’ failure to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.

The overall turnout in the USS ballot was 53% and on pay and conditions it was 49%. The union disaggregated the ballots so branches who secured a 50% turnout can take action in this first wave. The union’s higher education committee has now set out the timetable for the action.

As well as eight strike days from 25 November to Wednesday 4 December, union members will begin ‘action short of a strike’. This involves things like working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘The first wave of strikes will hit universities later this month unless the employers start talking to us seriously about how they are going to deal with rising pension costs and declining pay and conditions.

‘Any general election candidate would be over the moon with a result along the lines of what we achieved last week. Universities can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on these issues and we will be consulting branches whose desire to strike was frustrated by anti-union laws about reballoting.’

Last year, university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action. UCU said it was frustrated that members had to be balloted again, but that universities’ refusal to deal with their concerns had left them with no choice.

Last month, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner called on both sides to get round the table for urgent talks. She said she fully supported UCU members fighting for fair pay and decent pensions and called on both sides to work together to find solutions to the disputes.

UCU members back strikes over both pensions and pay and conditions

UCU members back strikes over both pensions and pay and conditions

UCU members working in UK universities have backed strike action in ballots over both pensions and pay and working conditions. UCU said the overwhelming mandate for strikes was a serious indictment on the state of higher education and that if universities failed to respond to the sector’s problems then strike action, affecting around a million students, would be inevitable.

Overall, 79% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) on a turnout of 53%. In the ballot on pay, casualisation, equality and workloads, 74% of members polled backed strike action on a turnout of 49%. The union’s higher education committee is meeting today to consider the results and next steps.

Ahead of the results, the Guardian ran a feature looking at the many reasons staff were being balloted. Today, the paper described staff as  disillusioned and angry, while the Telegraph reminded readers that the strike ballots are live for six months. Speaking to the Independent, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘It is incredibly frustrating that we had to ballot members again, but universities only have themselves to blame after failing to address falling real-terms pay and for refusing to deal with casualisation, workloads and the rising cost of USS pensions.’