UCU week of action against workplace racism 10-15 Feb 2020

UCU week of action against workplace racism

10-15 February 2020:
Education under attack

In 2020 we will be holding a week of action starting the week beginning 10 February 2020.

‘…you’re really articulate for a black person’

‘…but where are you REALLY from?’

‘…although it seems very minor, consistent and persistent misspelling of my name.  If you can learn Dostoyevsky…’

Extracts from the UCU survey into the experiences of black workers in further and higher education, 2015

Building an anti-racist environment

This annual campaign event has grown from strength to strength as it involves a whole union approach in tackling the issues of workplace racism and its impact on careers, mental health and well-being and relationships with peers/students. Racist incidents are on the rise across the country and UCU needs to be at the forefront of challenging and pushing back on workplace racism.

The 2020 theme ‘building an anti-racist environment’ explores the impact of workplace racism and the changes black staff are seeking across the sector.

New films are available featuring members of UCU’s Black Members’ Standing Committee discussing approaches to tackling discrimination. The films can be used in a variety of ways. We have found they are a useful resource to show during a lunchtime meeting allowing plenty of time for follow-up discussions and goal setting.

Branch are encouraged to engage with members, colleagues and the wider institution by hosting events looking at least one of the following areas:

1. Barriers to progression

Week of action 2020: barriers to progression poster [134kb]

2. Race pay gap

Week of action 2020: race pay gap poster [34kb]

3. Decolonising education

Week of action 2020: decolonising education poster [301kb]

4. Hostile environment

Week of action 2020: hostile environment poster [329kb]

Please let us know what you have planned for your week of action.

Suggested activities and other resources

Below are some other resources and suggestions you may want to use to stimulate discussion among members and students.

  1. Watch our ‘witness’ campaign film in which UCU black members speak candidly about their experiences of everyday racism and its impact.
  2. Host a meeting to discuss what and how branches can challenge and change perceptions including working with other equality groups to ensure that workplace racism is challenged on an intersectional basis.
  3. Use our survey findings from our most recent report ‘ Staying Power [1mb]‘ (2019) and our initial ‘witness’ report [132kb] (2016).
  4. Involve black staff to share their experiences of everyday racism in the workplace – devise an action plan of how branches can work toward addressing the issues raised.
  5. Share the witness document [824kb] capturing some of the experiences of UCU black members.
  6. Use our bargaining guide on tackling workplace racism [343kb] to raise the issues identified with employers as an integral part of the collective bargaining agenda.
  7. Submit an article for the ‘Black Voices’ blog: https://www.ucu.org.uk/black-voices. Please send contributions to Chris Nicholas (cnicholas@ucu.org.uk).
  8. Use our posters:
    Challenging workplace racism – poster 1 [56kb]
    Challenging workplace racism – poster 2 [51kb]
    UCU: challenging workplace racism – leaflet [254kb]
    If you would like hard copies of the posters please contact Martin Whelton .

Branches are also encouraged to raise awareness of the issues raised in the following videos and  we have suggested a number of activities [239kb] for the week to encourage discussion and actions to help further engage members in seeking solutions:

Bullying and stereotyping blocking professorial path for black women

A February 2019 report for UCU says a culture of bullying and stereotyping means black academics have to work harder and employ mentally draining strategies to try and get on.

UCU survey

The survey of 631 black union members working in post-16 education found that:

  • over two-thirds (71%) said they had ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ been subject to bullying and harassment from managers
  • nine out of ten (90%) black staff members report having faced barriers to promotion in colleges and universities.

UCU report finds high levels of discrimination

The experiences of black and minority ethnic staff in further and higher education, Feb 16 [132kb]

The qualitative data from the survey into experiences of UCU’s black members can be found here:

Witness – voice of UCU black members, Feb 17 [824kb]
Witness – voice of UCU black members, Feb 17 [277kb]


Initiated by UCU Black Members’ Standing Committee, our new film ‘witness’ chronicles the lived experiences of UCU black members in post-16 education.

‘witness’ film: worksheet [146kb]
‘witness’ film: what next? [146kb]
‘witness’ film: questions [142kb]

To view the subtitled version please click hereOpens new window.

You can also watch a quick preview of some of the issues raised in the film:

Last updated: 15 January 2020

Update on HE industrial action talks (Wed 15 Jan 2020)

As term begins, the elected reps on UCU’s higher education committee are about to have some important decisions to make about the progress of our national disputes and the scheduling of any further strike action.

The HEC meets on 30 January to assess how negotiations have proceeded so far and consider other factors, such as the outcome of the reballots that are currently taking place in 37 branches. The strike mandate which you gave the union and the eight days of very strong action which you took last term have brought employers right back to the table and UCU negotiators are working hard to capitalise on that progress before any further action has to take place.

Pay and equality negotiations update

Some progress was made at our meeting with employers to discuss the ‘Four Fights’ pay dispute last Friday (10 January). We remain disappointed that employers have not changed their offer on pay of a 1.8% increase. However, thanks to our industrial action, employers have finally become open to establishing sector-wide expectations for progress on reducing workloads, increasing job security, and closing the gender and ethnicity pay gaps.

We remain some distance apart from employers on the standards that will be applied, and on the mechanisms that will be needed to monitor this progress and allow staff to hold individual employers to account if expectations are not met. We need something better than the ineffective ‘working groups’ which employers have offered us in the past and we hope to be presented with more concrete commitments at our next meeting, which will take place on Friday next week (24 January).

Depending what emerges from that meeting, UCU’s higher education committee may schedule another wave of strike action when it meets on 30 January. As I explained to branch officers in an email last week, it is important that branches try to discuss the progress so far and make their views known before that HEC meeting. Please feel free to remind yourself of the contents of UCU’s demands in this dispute, share your thoughts with your branch’s elected officers, and ask them to schedule a meeting to discuss the dispute if they haven’t already done so.

USS negotiations update 

Today was the first of five meetings scheduled to discuss the recommendations in the second report of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP). UCU representatives including myself met with representatives from Universities UK and from USS and the meeting was chaired by the chair of the JEP, Joanne Segars. I cannot say much about the content of talks for the time being, but a fuller update on the matters discussed will be published online within the next week. The next meeting will go ahead on Friday and the dates for remaining meetings are available here.

I have repeatedly stressed that these talks offer a good chance of a long-term solution to the USS dispute, but on their own they will not be enough. We need employers to cover unfair contribution increases that have been imposed on us over the last two valuations – not just because they are pricing members out of the scheme, but also because the prospect of higher contributions will force them to work harder to achieve meaningful reforms of the way the scheme is run and valued.

While talks continue, you should also know that delegates at last December’s higher education sector conference on USS voted to schedule 14 further days of strike action over USS, starting on 20 February and spread over four weeks. This schedule cannot be confirmed until the higher education committee meets on 30 January. As your general secretary I am committed to ensuring that negotiations work and that we can avoid further action if possible – but HEC now has a mandate to call action and must be prepared to use it if employers do not present us with a good offer.

Keep up and increase the pressure

We can increase the pressure on employers before any more strikes have to take place. Key to this is continuing with action short of a strike (ASOS) if you are in one of the institutions that qualified for industrial action, or posting your votes for action if your branch is taking part in the reballots. Industrial disputes are ultimately about leverage, which is based on the amount of disruption employers think we can cause. The more leverage we can generate by escalating the dispute through ASOS and effective reballots, the sooner employers will be likely to put a good offer on the table.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Dates set for talks on future of USS pension scheme

Dates set for talks on future of USS pension scheme

Five January dates have been set for meetings to look at reforming the USS pension scheme. UCU members of the scheme took eight days’ strike action before Christmas as part of a row over changes to the scheme and disputes over pay and equalities.

Representatives from the union, Universities UK and USS will attend meetings chaired by the chair of the USS Joint Expert Panel (JEP) Joanne Segars. The recent second report from the JEP, looking at the valuation process of USS and the scheme’s governance, had called for meetings between the different parties.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady will attend on behalf of the union and UUK has said its chief executive Alistair Jarvis will attend. USS Group chief executive Bill Galvin will also attend, along with a representative from the USS Trustee Board.

An update will be posted on the JEP website within seven days of each meeting. There may be more meetings, depending on progress, and the group will engage positively with The Pensions Regulator and involve them in discussions if appropriate.

Speaking to Union News, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘We are keen to get going with these talks and to work with all parties to look seriously at how we can reform USS. If we are to avoid further disruption at universities over USS then we all need to work together and look at issues like the valuation and the scheme’s governance.’