STRIKE UPDATE FROM JO GRADY 19/02/20

Feb 12th, 2020 | By | Category: Latest

The dates that Stirling Branch UCU will be on strike are:

Monday 24, Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 February
Monday 2, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 4 and Thursday 5 March
Monday 9, Tuesday 10, Wednesday 11, Thursday 12 and Friday 13 March
Monday 16 and Tuesday 17 March

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Letter from Jo Grady, 19/02/20

Dear colleague

Tomorrow members in 74 UCU branches will start the largest strike action in the history of the higher education sector.

This follows our first eight days of disruption, which shook employers. Our students, the public, and even some employers are on our side, and press coverage has continued to be favourable to us. Students in particular have remained unwaveringly supportive, both through the NUS and through local student unions.

We are taking more action because your union believes that we need one more push in these disputes. Members took eight days of action last term and we have already seen some movement from employers – but not as much as we deserve. 

Employers are sitting on their hands. They believe they can avoid making any bigger concessions, in the hope that we will falter and lose our resolve. They are wrong. What we need to do in the next few days is show them that we are not going away. It is really unfortunate that our employers are testing us in this way, as opposed to working with us to make higher education better. But we have been here before in previous disputes and our strength and unity got us victories.

Don’t forget that this time we are not just escalating the number of days taken, we also have more branches and members involved. 60 branches took part in the last wave of action. Now, thanks to a successful round of reballots, there will be 74 branches taking action. This is the best opportunity we have had in years to improve conditions for staff throughout the sector. 
 
Extra support from the UCU strike fund
 
To show how serious we are about supporting you through these disputes, UCU’s national executive committee has agreed to increase the cap on the amount which members can claim from the fighting fund to cover lost pay. The cap is now £1,100 for members earning under £30,000 gross, and £800 for members earning over £30,000 gross. Click here for more information and to submit claims.

If your branch is not on strike, please support your colleagues’ efforts to win better terms and conditions for all of us by donating as much as you can to the fighting fund.

Signs that employers are reconsidering their position

In the past week Universities UK, which represents USS employers, ran a consultation on how much employers would be willing to pay to cover contribution increases that have been forced on members. A significant number of employers, encompassing just over a quarter of active USS members, wanted to make an offer. This represented more movement than we had seen previously, and it’s all because employers were facing the threat of more strikes. If we can continue this wave of action the way we ended the last, that number will increase and it will not be long before it reaches 50%.

Throughout the negotiations, it’s become clear to me that the stubbornness of Universities UK is largely down to a few influential employers – including some of the wealthiest institutions in the sector. This is not about affordability – it is about a group of employers that are ideologically fixated on minimising their commitments to their staff. We shifted their position in the last USS dispute and saved defined benefit pensions. Now we must rally again to ensure we get the long term changes we need, and an interim contribution rate that doesn’t price members out of the scheme.

The same goes for our ‘four fights’ dispute. Since we obtained a mandate for strike action employers have not offered a penny more than the 1.8% offer they made last year, which fails to keep up with the cost of living. This sector has suppressed wages over the last decade while its income and reserves have increased immensely. What we are asking for is reasonable, and it is shameful that employers would rather force more disruption than make any concessions in this area.
 
Picket line visits and further questions
 
When the action starts I will be visiting branches throughout the UK, starting in London on Thursday. Every time I visit a picket line I talk to members who are passionate about the work they do and about defending their sector, and it makes me proud to be general secretary of UCU. Please make every effort you can to join the pickets, support each other, talk to colleagues and students about the action, and represent the union as powerfully as you did last term. If you cannot join the physical picket – as many can’t, for various reasons – please demonstrate your solidarity and support on the virtual picket, with the #UCUStrike hashtag. 
 
In the meantime, please contact me if you have any questions, or watch the recording of the live Q&A about the strikes which I hosted last week.
 
Jo Grady
UCU general secretary
 

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Previous letter from Jo Grady

Dear colleague

With ten days to go until the next wave of strike action in our higher education disputes, I am emailing to answer some of the questions and address some of the issues you have raised.

When is my institution going on strike?

Branches have been given an option to vary their strike dates to avoid reading weeks or other periods in which action would be less effective.  (See above for the new dates).

What prospects are there for further negotiations before the strikes start?

The union is working very hard to resolve the situation before the action starts. In fact, the threat of action has already led to the possibility of progress in our USS dispute. This morning we learnt that Universities UK has launched a fresh consultation of employers on whether to cover USS pension contribution increases that have been imposed on members. The ball is in the employers’ court: they are being given an opportunity to resolve the USS dispute now, before any more action has to happen. I will let you know the outcome of the consultation as soon as possible.

At the same time I have made clear to employers that if they want to avoid any further action, they need to make us an improved offer in our ‘Four Fights’ dispute as well. As I pointed out two weeks ago we have made some progress on job security and equality, but almost none on workload and none whatsoever on pay. If we are to rule out all further action that needs to change.

Preparing for 14 days of action

Some members have asked me about the scale of the action voted for by the higher education committee (HEC). We know from experience that large-scale industrial action is the only thing that causes significant change in our sector. If the action is successful we could see immense short-term and long-term benefits for everyone who works in higher education.

Don’t forget that there is only one party to blame when staff are forced to go on strike like this: the employers. Employers have already faced one wave of action but they still have not offered us any financial concessions whatsoever – not a penny. All they have offered is verbal commitments to work together on the issues we are in dispute over.

Better offers are likely to come if we apply more pressure. We have to be ready to follow through on our threat of strike action and take all 14 days, but we may not need to. If the start of the action is effective employers will be more likely to come forward and make improved offers. If we receive a credible offer you will get a chance to have a say about whether we call off the dispute.

This wave of action will be spread out and staggered over four weeks. That leaves employers more time to negotiate with us before the 14 days are over. My advice to you is to be ready to take 14 days if necessary, but take the action one day at a time.

Employers didn’t make an offer after the first wave – what has changed?

The employers were surprised by the commitment which you showed in the first eight days of action. This time they will have a better idea of the amount of disruption which your withdrawal of labour can cause. They will also know that there are now even more staff ready to participate. Thanks to the success of the reballots that closed on 28 January, there are now 74 institutions in a position to take action, compared with 60 in the last wave of strikes.

We have to remember that many people had similar doubts about the possibility that the USS strike in 2018 would cause employers to shift their position – but it did. Employers will always tell you that industrial action is futile, but that is because they know how effective it can be.

Facebook Live Q&A
 
I will be hosting a Facebook Live Q&A on Thursday 13 February from 1pm to 2pm. I am hoping to answer a wide range of questions from as many of you as possible about the disputes, developments in negotiations, and the planned action.

The live stream will be available on the UCU Facebook page and it will continue to be available for viewing after the session has ended. You do not need a Facebook login to view it. Questions can be submitted via Facebook or to this email address, either in advance or during the session. Your questions will be read out during the Q&A but any sensitive personal data will be anonymised unless you specify otherwise.
 
Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

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Further information:

How long have negotiations been going on?

The union began discussing these issues with the employers back in July 2019. However, UCEA only agreed to begin negotiating in earnest in November 2019 following the decision to vote for strike action by UCU members in 57 branches. The offer finally made by the employers in January 2020 was the product of six weeks intensive discussion of both UCEA’s proposals and counter proposals made by UCU – and represents the latest of several iterations, each improved through negotiation by the union.

What does the union want the employers to agree to?

The union’s aim is to achieve clear and effective agreements with the employers which establish limits to casualisation, properly manage staff workload, reduce pay inequality and improve their below-inflation pay offer We believe this would be good for staff and their employers. Importantly we expect the employers to commit to implementation agreements in order to guarantee action on any offer made.

Who is negotiating with the employers on UCU members’ behalf?

UCU’s negotiators are elected by the higher education sector conference to represent members’ interests. The negotiators include three pre-92 academics (Robyn Orfitelli, Sean Wallis, Joanna de Groot), two post-92 academics (Mark Abel and Marian Mayer) and two academic related/professional services colleagues (Vicky Blake and Jo McNeill). Paul Bridge who is the UCU’s head of higher education supports the negotiators in making their case and discussing the issues with employers who themselves are represented by the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA). The UCU negotiators are experienced in dealing with their own employers as well as working together nationally.

What is the union’s strategy?

The union’s aim is to achieve effective agreements which limit casualisation, properly manage workload and reduce pay inequality. We have made significant progress. Against the predictions of many, we persuaded the employers to discuss these issues seriously following UCU’s ballot results. During the negotiations themselves we have made significant progress in, for the first time, persuading the employers to recognise the importance of these issues to staff. Our strategy is underpinned by the belief that without the threat of strike action the employers would not have entered talks and that without the threat of further action, no more progress will made.

What progress has been made so far?

All the negotiators believe that substantial progress has been made. UCEA are now prepared to talk about creating positive expectations upon employers about casualisation, pay inequality and – to a lesser extent – workload. However, three key problems remain. First, there is no formal mechanism to turn the fine words in the employers’ offer into reality for staff on the ground, nor oversight of national progress towards our goals. In essence the current offer would allow existing practice to continue. Second, some of the proposed expectations themselves remain too weak, particularly about the need for all staff to have a fair and effective workload model. Third, the employers refuse to increase their overall pay offer of 1.8% even though it completely fails to address the long-term decline in staff salaries since 2010.

What are the negotiators’ views of the latest offer from the employers?

The negotiators’ unanimous view is that the latest offer does not represent the best deal that can be achieved for UCU members.

Has UCU been prepared to compromise in the negotiations?

Yes. UCU’s preference is that there should be national agreements which cover casualisation, workload and inequality. However, because we recognise the employers’ wish to retain institution level flexibility we have said that we are prepared to simply agree a national framework for the issues with each university able to implement this in its own way working with their local trade unions. Despite many hours of negotiation since November the employers have not yet been prepared to agree to this.

Why has the union called fourteen days strike action?

Sadly, the employers only agreed to properly discuss casualisation, workload and inequality arising from our decision to strike in November 2019. While their offer does represent progress, it is not enough, and they have now said their latest proposal is final – just as they did last May! In these circumstances the union can either accept a substandard offer and miss this historic opportunity to achieve change or we can use strike action to persuade the employers to once again re-open talks.

What will the union do if the latest strikes don’t produce more concessions?

Strikes are not easy for anyone, but members should be in no doubt that without the last round of action in November 2019, the current offer would not have materialised. If the employers do not re-enter talks arising from the latest strikes, UCU is committed to re-balloting its members so that further action can take place later in the academic year. This is because we are fully committed to getting long lasting progress on these issues for the tens of thousands of members who struggle with work overload, job insecurity and unequal pay.

What did the higher education committee decide to do with the offer?

The HEC agreed to the negotiators’ proposal to reject the offer and to propose to UCEA that talks continue with a view to reaching a settlement. Given the employers disappointing statement to the effect that this inadequate offer was their ‘final’ word, HEC agreed to fourteen days of strike action in February/March.

How important is the forthcoming strike action?

The action which starts on 20 February in many institutions is crucial if we want to see further negotiations on these issues. Members have voted in very large numbers for action with 13 branches joining the original 57 who took eight days strike action in November. Nobody likes taking strike action but if we want progress, we will have to work together to do it.

Is UCU prepared to negotiate?

Yes, UCU wants to negotiate. We have spent many hours since November moving the employers to their latest position. We are fully prepared for further talks to resolve the dispute and provide the clear national frameworks for casualisation, workload and pay equality that members want.

Why are negotiations confidential?

Most national negotiations are confidential on both sides to enable open and honest dialogue to take place. UCU’s negotiators have honoured the confidentiality of the process in order to create the maximum opportunity for a settlement but are now in a much clearer position to explain to members what is happening and how we got here.

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