Eastern & Home Counties UCU Rotating Header Image

January 16th, 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