UCU General Secretary’s messages to members

Apr 16th, 2019 | By | Category: News

Dear colleague

Today, I officially start as General Secretary of our union. The record breaking increase in turn out in the GS election shows renewed enthusiasm in the union’s activities. And from today, we must push on further. We have shown what we can do when we stand together. In May, staff at Lambeth College successfully organised to secure a 3% pay increase and other improvements in terms and conditions. Last year, we saw the power of members in higher education when they took concerted strike action against employers over the proposed changes to the USS pension scheme. And recently, at the University of Winchester, colleagues worked tirelessly to successfully pressure management to withdraw the threat of redundancies, which management claimed were necessary because of changes to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.

Since the election result was announced, I have been working two days a week with the union to prepare for taking up office. I’d like to thank our excellent staff, but also members for the support I’ve had so far in this transitional period. I look forward to continuing to work together and collaboratively during my term of office. As part of the campaign for the ballot in HE regarding the ongoing USS dispute and pay settlement, I will be visiting branches up and down the country, listening to your concerns, and making a clear case for voting yes to industrial action. We have achieved much, but we must keep pressing our employers to ensure that USS scheme members get justice, that our pay is protected, and that equality issues are addressed properly. As part of the tour I will also be visiting members in other sectors of post-16 education and want to draw your attention to the excellent and overwhelming ballot for strike action at Nottingham College where members are looking to avoid egregious changes to their pay, terms and conditions. All workers in education are facing diminishing pay, increasing precarity, and worsening conditions – as a union we stand behind colleagues at Nottingham College and at all our branches. Together we can defend the profession which we love so much.

In the news, you can read an interview with me published this week in the Guardian. A little more out of the public eye, I wanted to draw your attention to the recent 8th Annual Education International Conference held in Thailand. Along with our president and our staff member who leads on international affairs, I attended and spoke about the work of the union and its members, particularly in relation to organising and resisting the downgrading of our terms and conditions. Hearing the international perspectives on protecting our profession, and the links forged to help practically advance that cause, was fascinating and inspiring. Colleagues elsewhere in the world face many of the challenges we do, but some face considerable danger from persecution at the hands of authoritarian regimes. As general secretary, I will continue the work that has already been done to maintain excellent relations with our international sister unions, and extend solidarity and help from our members here to our comrades across the world.

That’s it for now. The dates of the autumn pay and pensions tour will be published soon and I look forward to seeing you there.


Dr Jo Grady (University of Sheffield) has been elected as the next General Secretary of UCU.

Her term of office began on 1st August 2019.

The scrutineers’ report for this election is available on UCU’s main website at http://www.ucu.org.uk/GS-election

A new message from Dr. Jo Grady,

Dear colleague

I informed members who are in USS last week that UCU’s annual Congress had voted to prepare for another round of strike action to defend our pensions. At the same time, Congress also voted to launch a new national campaign to secure a fair deal from both pre- and post-92 employers on pay, workload, equality, and job security.

Simultaneous strike ballots, starting 9 September

The question of how to manage these two campaigns was undecided until Friday, when UCU’s Higher Education Committee resolved to run both strike ballots at the same time, rather than consecutively.

The ballots will run from 9 September to 30 October. If you are in a branch where the union has registered a dispute over USS, you will receive two ballot papers – one for pay, workload, equality and job security and one for USS. Members in post-92 branches will receive one ballot paper.

Those of us who went on strike over USS last year were motivated by a host of factors. Many members who are not even in USS joined us on the picket lines because they wanted to express their solidarity with us and send a signal to our employers that staff deserve better, not just in their pension benefits but in other areas, too. UCU has listened to those members and decided that nobody should be left behind. By balloting simultaneously, we can press employers to reach agreements that protect all of us.

Our demands for USS

For USS, our demands are simple. USS has lost its members’ trust and rejected some of the Joint Expert Panel’s most important proposals. If implemented now, those proposals would lead to a contribution rate no higher than 26%, as it was before the 2017 valuation. 

We want employers to use their considerable influence over the Scheme to hold USS’s managers to account. If they refuse to do so, we want them to meet the full cost of contribution increases above the rate of 26%, rather than forcing some of them on to members.

A comprehensive deal for university staff on pay, equality, workload, and job security

At the same time, we want employers to move towards a sustainable, equitable business model that puts staff first. Our demands are laid out in the campus unions’ annual claim for 2019-20. These include: Reducing the number of zero-hours and hourly paid positionsWorking to close the gender and ethnicity pay gapsLimiting unsafe, excessive workloadsIncreasing pay by 3% plus RPI Practical questions

Once again, employers are leaving us with no resort other than a strike, even if it stops us all from doing the valuable work we entered this sector to do. But we should remember how quickly they came to the negotiating table once last year’s USS strike started. The more members take part in the ballot, the sooner employers will make us a serious offer.

UCU has the capacity to manage two campaigns. The fact that we are balloting simultaneously does not mean that we need to take twice as much action as we did for USS. After the ballots close, we have a six-month window within which to schedule any strikes, so we can be flexible in terms of the timing and amount of action we take.

The Union will support branches in getting the vote out and preparing for action. I am pleased to announce that UCU’s National Executive Committee recently approved a trial expansion of the strike fund, so that members earning less than £30000, and/or on fractional and hourly paid contracts, will be able to apply for more days of reimbursement than they could in the past. When you decide to go on strike, your action will be properly supported.

I will be touring branches in September and October to meet members and discuss both campaigns. I will circulate dates and locations and provide further information about the ballots in due course. Until then, please continue to contact me with any questions you have.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary elect
Dr Grady has written her first email to members as follows:

Dear colleague
This is the first of a number of emails which I will be sending you before I officially take up my post as the new General Secretary of UCU on 1 August.
The subject of this particular email could not wait. Many of you have seen the disturbing allegations against our USS pension scheme which were recently reported in the Financial Times. They are credible and they require an immediate response.
We are heading towards another round of industrial action, because employers are refusing to cover the cost of the extra contributions which USS has demanded. As members, you deserve to know about the controversy surrounding those extra contributions, and our employers’ role in it.
Regulators are investigating USS – but employers are turning a blind eye
One of UCU’s appointees to the USS Trustee Board, Professor Jane Hutton, has accused USS of preventing her from accessing crucial information about the USS valuation. She believes that the USS deficit may have been ‘substantially overestimated’. At the same time, evidence has been uncovered that USS misrepresented the views of The Pensions Regulator regarding investment risk in the course of its current, 2018 valuation. USS is under investigation by the regulator and the Financial Reporting Council.
This matters to all of us. USS’s deficit, and its claims about the Regulator, were USS’s main justifications for rejecting some of the most important recommendations of the Joint Expert Panel.
UCU members forced our employers to establish the Panel after taking industrial action last year. The Panel’s first report vindicated our belief that USS had an affordable, sustainable future. It confirmed that we were right to go on strike.
Our employers’ response has been deeply disappointing. Reacting to the Financial Times’s reporting, Universities UK (UUK) declared that they were ‘confident that the USS Trustee Board is conducting business in line with its fiduciary responsibilities’.
Instead of holding USS to account, employers are willing to make us pay more and more for the same pension
The Panel’s initial recommendations to USS were modest and compliant with regulations. If USS had applied them all to its 2018 valuation, our dispute could have been resolved. The outcome would be what UCU members call ‘No Detriment’: no contribution increases or benefit cuts for members. Total contributions would be no higher than 26%, as they were before this dispute started. But instead, USS is proposing rates well above 30%, climbing as high as 34.7% after 2020.
As a replacement for the rate of 35.6% that is already being imposed on employers and members after USS’s highly controversial 2017 valuation, this is far from satisfactory – especially when we have already sacrificed millions of pounds in pay deductions for going on strike, and it was the employers’ proposal to end Defined Benefit that caused the dispute and led to these increases.
Despite the fact that employers can agree to pay all contribution increases over 26%, they have decided to force us to pay a large proportion of them. If we let this happen, our contributions are set to go up to at least 9.6% of salary from this October, and at least 11% after 2020, compared with 8% if the Joint Expert Panel’s recommendations were implemented now.
Worse still, employers have given us no assurances that they will pay to protect our benefits if USS continues to demand higher contributions in the next valuation cycle. They may even return to their original proposal to end the guaranteed, Defined Benefit element of USS.
If employers won’t negotiate or commit to reforming USS, we must be ready to go on strike
Enough is enough. UCU’s Congress has voted to ballot, starting in September, for industrial action, unless employers hold USS to account – or cover the cost of failing to do so.
The Joint Expert Panel issues a second report in September. This time it is set to address longer-term issues involving USS’s governance and valuation methodology. Employers’ responses to the first report have shown that they will not put pressure on USS to implement either report unless we provide a credible threat of strike action.
We achieved something unprecedented with our action last year, by forcing our employers to revoke their attempted closure of the scheme and establish the Joint Expert Panel.
We can finish what we started, and convince our employers that their interests are the same as ours. USS has a sustainable future if it is governed properly.
If you have any questions you would like to see answered in future emails, please get in touch. I will be writing with more information after UCU’s Higher Education Committee meets at the end of this week. In the meantime, write to your employer, whether as an individual or a UCU branch. Ask if they really do have full confidence in USS – and what they intend to do about it if not.

Jo Grady


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