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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.’


JEP report released 13 Dec 2019

UCU response to USS Joint Expert Panel’s second report

13 December 2019

UCU has welcomed the second report from the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) looking at the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). The JEP was set up by UCU and Universities UK following the industrial dispute over proposed changes to the USS pension scheme.

Commenting on the report, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘UCU welcomes the second report from the JEP and we would like to thank the panel members for all their work and also thank those who submitted evidence.

‘This second report looks at key issues around the governance of the scheme and makes some strong recommendations that, if implemented, should give scheme members greater confidence about how the scheme is run. We are particularly pleased that the report highlights the importance of mutuality.

‘This report sets out a path which may provide an opportunity for lower contributions than USS has scheduled. We need all parties to now engage with the report in order to secure members’ pension benefits in an affordable way and to ensure the scheme’s long-term sustainability.

‘We also welcome the JEP’s call for facilitated meetings between stakeholders, the Trustee and, where appropriate, The Pension Regulator, as a way to find agreement between all parties. While implementation of the JEP recommendations won’t solve all the issues at stake in the dispute, this report provides a strong starting point for further discussions.’

The press statement from the Joint Expert Panel is available here and the full report is available here.

ASOS now, initial strike period over (5 Dec 2019)

After 8 days of strikes, UCU members at many HE institiutions are now beginning action short of a strike (ASOS).

And what an 8 days….see our  regional Twitter feed @UCUEHCRegion         for all the photos. We sang, we danced, we shivered, we explained to staff and students what it was we were asking for (…and we were particularly impressed with Billy Bragg!)

Across the UK, UCU members at 60 universities walked out in action over pensions and pay & conditions.

Ahead of the strikes, UCU general secretary Jo Grady told the Sunday Telegraph that staff wouldn’t be lectured about pay, pensions or working conditions from “out of touch” vice-chancellors who had enjoyed huge salary hikes, lived in free accommodation, maxed out expense accounts, yet still saw fit to claim back £2 for biscuits on expenses.

The strikes led the news as members headed to picket lines in the dark on that first Monday morning. Jo Grady, UCU GS, told BBC Radio 5Live that the action was going to be “huge” and universities needed to come up with a long-term plan to deal with the issues at the heart of the disputes. Speaking to the Today Programme, she said that universities needed to step up and work with UCU to resolve disputes.

By mid-morning on Monday, the Guardian, Times and Times Higher had all reported the solid support on picket lines across the UK. UCU vice-president Vicky Blake was on the BBC live from Leeds and Jo Grady was speaking to Sky News from a very soggy picket line in Sussex.

As news of the solid support for the strikes filtered through, so did the strong-arm tactics being employed by some universities. The Guardian reported on efforts by the University of Liverpool to scare students away from picket lines and efforts by Sheffield Hallam University to turn students into snitches.

Both the BBC and the Telegraph picked up on the Hallam snitchers story and how the university’s efforts had backfired leading to ridicule on social media. Jo Grady said the students’ response had ensured that the university’s strong-arm tactics had backfired massively.

Silly attempts to threaten, intimidate or confuse staff and students continued throughout the week. The University of Birmingham told people that protests on campus amounted to trespass, which the Telegraph said provoked outrage.

The Guardian reported that international students supportive of strike action were worried about failing to comply with attendance requirements with potential consequences for their visas. The University of Liverpool was once again singled out for criticism as on top of warning students off picket lines, the university said international students who chose not to cross picket lines to attend teaching sessions risked jeopardising their visa. The paper said that as a result nine external examiners in the school of law resigned their roles in protest, accusing Liverpool of misrepresenting the law regarding support for official pickets and of “weaponising” the UK immigration system against visa-holding students.

Away from universities’ efforts to deflect attention away from the issues at the heart of the disputes, the BBC reported staff saying they had reached breaking point over workloads, pay cuts, gender pay gaps and changes to pensions for staff in the Universities Superannuation Scheme.

Reporting from the picket lines, iNews said the complaint on most strikers’ lips was the proliferation of insecure, short-term contracts. Times Higher Education had been to Goldsmiths where staff said they were fighting for the future of higher education. While Billy Bragg and Ai Weiwei gave their backing to striking staff in Cambridge.

Hugely welcome support came pouring in from students on campuses throughout the UK. Many were interviewed expressing their support for their staff. Writing in the Guardian one student said fellow students should join their striking staff.

Jo Grady warned employers that they underestimate the scale of anger at their peril. Writing in the Guardian, Sarah Darley, a striking research associate at the University of Manchester, said the strike action, and possible future strike action, was necessary in the fight for fair and secure working conditions for all staff.

A Guardian editorial said the marketisation of universities had seen a new breed of vice-chancellors emerge aping the language and salaries of a business CEO complete with an entourage of financial managers and marketing gurus. However staff had been left behind as their pay fell and an intellectual precariat was stumbling from year to year on temporary contracts wondering where the next teaching gig was coming from. While the Financial Times said that the industrial action carried wider significance than the fate of a disputed retirement plan, and had exposed the precariousness of Britain’s higher education system as it has become more of a marketplace.

Looking beyond the eight-day walkout, Times Higher Education reported that more universities will be balloted for strike action in polls that close at the end of January. It also considered tiered contributions where some members of USS could ‘contribute less and get less benefit’. However, a UCU spokesman said: ‘Any proposals about tiered contributions would need to be based on the recognition that USS can be funded with a much lower overall contribution rate than it is currently, as the first JEP report concluded. Now is not the time for employers to deflect from that fact.’



Strikes are ON: start Monday 25 Nov 2019

University strikes ON after universities refuse to deal with pensions, pay and working conditions

21 November 2019

Eight days of strike action at 60 UK universities will begin on Monday as the University and College Union (UCU) accused universities of being “all spin and no substance” in their response to disputes over pensions, pay and working conditions.

Earlier this week, UCU accused universities of playing games after their representatives refused to even discuss pay. The union said things were no better at talks yesterday (Wednesday) over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), where their representatives failed to make a serious offer.

UCU said it feared that universities had learnt nothing from last year’s dispute, when campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action.

Last month, UCU members backed strike action in two disputes, one on changes to the USS pension scheme and one on universities’ failure to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads. 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 called on other vice-chancellors to follow the example of Professor Anthony Forster at the University of Essex, who recently acknowledged employers can afford to pay more for USS and should be doing more to avoid widespread disruption.

The union warned that if universities failed to make improved offers then further waves of strike action could follow in the new year, with even more staff taking part. UCU has said it is currently consulting with its branches at other universities about being balloted again to join further action.

As well as eight strike days from 25 November to Wednesday 4 December, UCU 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: ‘It is quite staggering that the employers have allowed things to get to this stage and done so little to avoid the upcoming disruption. Instead of engaging seriously with us over the various elements of the disputes, they have been all spin and no substance.

‘Universities appear to have learnt nothing from last year’s USS dispute, and are once again showing a dangerous level of complacency that completely underestimates the scale of anger amongst staff. Instead of wasting time playing games, they would do well to listen to people like Anthony Forster who have acknowledged that universities can afford to pay more to address these issues. It is time for university leaders to show some actual leadership.

‘Students should be asking serious questions of their vice-chancellors and putting pressure on them to get their representatives back to the negotiating table with serious offers that address all the issues at stake. If universities don’t change their tune, then next week’s action could just be the start with further waves of strikes involving more staff in the new year.’


* UK universities affected by strike action from Monday 25 November


Both disputes (43):

1.     Aston University  
2.     Bangor University  
3.     Cardiff University  
4.     University of Durham  
5.     Heriot-Watt University  
6.     Loughborough University  
7.     Newcastle University  
8.     The Open University  
9.     The University of Aberdeen  
10.  The University of Bath  
11.  The University of Dundee  
12.  The University of Leeds  
13.  The University of Manchester  
14.  The University of Sheffield  
15.  University of Nottingham  
16.  The University of Stirling  
17.  University College London  
18.  The University of Birmingham  
19.  The University of Bradford  
20.  The University of Bristol  
21.  The University of Cambridge  
22.  The University of Edinburgh  
23.  The University of Exeter  
24.  The University of Essex  
25.  The University of Glasgow  
26.  The University of Lancaster  
27.  The University of Leicester  
28.  City University  
29.  Goldsmiths College  
30.  Queen Mary University of London  
31.  Royal Holloway  
32.  The University of Reading  
33.  The University of Southampton  
34.  The University of St Andrews  
35.  Courtauld Institute of Art  
36.  The University of Strathclyde  
37.  The University of Wales  
38.  The University of Warwick  
39.  The University of York  
40.  The University of Liverpool  
41.  The University of Sussex  
42.  The University of Ulster  
43.  Queen’s University Belfast  

Pay and conditions dispute only (14):

1.     Bishop Grosseteste University

  2.     Bournemouth University
  3.     Edge Hill University
  4.     Glasgow Caledonian University
  5.     Glasgow School of Art
  6.     Liverpool Hope University
  7.     Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts
  8.     Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
  9.     St Mary’s University College, Belfast
  10.  Roehampton University
  11.  The University of Oxford
  12.  Sheffield Hallam University
  13.  The University of Brighton
  14.  The University of Kent

USS pensions dispute only (3):

1.       Scottish Association of Marine Science

2.       The University of East Anglia

3.       Institute for Development Studies

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.’