Category Archives: USS Strike Bulletins

Historic mandates in Strike Ballots:

The results of the “four fights” and USS ballots amount to an overwhelming vote for industrial action, a clear mandate for our negotiators, and a clear message from staff to employers.

Cardiff UCU would like to thank the small but tireless team of local reps for their work campaigning to get the vote out, as well as our broader membership who voted so convincingly in favour of action to improve our Universities.

We’d also like to apologise to our members for hounding you about voting so regularly for the last month, and to thank you for your patience. It’s essential that as many of us vote as possible, and a steady stream of door-knocks, personal phone calls, and emails are the only tools we have at our disposal to do so.

Nationally, in the pay ballot, a record 55 post-92 and pre-92 branches are in a position to take industrial action, with a higher overall turnout (49%) and a larger yes vote (74%) than ever before. In the USS ballot, 43 branches are in a position to take action, with an even higher yes vote of 79% and an overall turnout of 53%.

At Cardiff, because of your collective resolve we met the punitive, anti-union, 50% threshold in both ballots, with a resounding vote in favour of strike action and ASOS in both too.

Although none of us want to go on strike again, this vote shows that most of us feel the sector needs to change. UCU nationally has called on employers to return to negotiations immediately. In the meantime, the union will plan for the next phase of each dispute. UCU’s higher education committee will meet shortly to discuss the results and consider our next steps, including the nature, timing, and scale of industrial action.

Guardian coverage here.

UCU press release here.

An older, local Welsh news piece which interviews Cardiff UCU activists about the issues underpinning the strike votes is here.

Results of the Cardiff UCU branch vote in both ballots:

CARDIFF UCU PAY, CASUALISATION, EQUALITY & WORKLOADS BALLOT: Turnout 52%

ARE YOU PREPARED TO TAKE INDUSTRIAL ACTION CONSISTING OF STRIKE ACTION?

77% Yes – 23% No

ARE YOU PREPARED TO TAKE INDUSTRIAL ACTION CONSISTING OF ACTION SHORT OF STRIKE ACTION UP TO AND INCLUDING A MARKING AND ASSESSMENT BOYCOTT?

84% Yes – 16% No

CARDIFF UCU USS BALLOT: Turnout 52%

ARE YOU PREPARED TO TAKE INDUSTRIAL ACTION CONSISTING OF STRIKE ACTION?

82% Yes – 18% No

ARE YOU PREPARED TO TAKE INDUSTRIAL ACTION CONSISTING OF ACTION SHORT OF STRIKE ACTION UP TO AND INCLUDING A MARKING AND ASSESSMENT BOYCOTT?

88% Yes – 12% No

The full results for all local branches who voted can be found here

In advance of the ballot: Update your UCU membership page!

Strike ballots can be invalidated by out-of-date information held on members (even on details such as whether a school or department is listed under an old, defunct, name). It’s essential that all our members keep their info updated on UCU’s database. To make sure you can vote this Autumn, and that your vote will be valid, please take a few minutes, and do the following now:

  1. Log into MyUCU here (or set up a UCU account here);
  2. Check and (if needed) update your mailing address (look for the “My Details” section & the “Personal” tab);
  3. Click the “Employment” tab and update your current institution & any other details (if you need to);
  4. Check your membership status to se if your membership type is correct (if you’re a non-voting student member check if you’re eligible for free membership here)

The Current UCU Negotiating Position on USS: How to avoid another USS strike

First up, something we all need to understand before reading on is that there’s no need for any contribution increase in our pensions. It has now been proven convincingly that the scheme is not in deficit. USS has lost its members’ trust and rejected some of the Joint Expert Panel’s (JEP’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.

 

It is shocking that our employers have not joined us in pushing vigorously for USS to take the JEP seriously; it is highly unjust and suspect that USS has rejected so many of the JEP’s recommendations. Had our employers supported UCU’s calls for transparency & rigour in the valuation process these current proposals would be unnecessary. However, the employers’ behaviour since the JEP issued its first report makes it look a lot like they *still* intend to decimate our pensions with the eventual aim of doing away with the Direct Benefit part of the scheme entirely.

 

UCU’s position is that, absent any proper response to the first JEP report, the only fair outcome for this valuation cycle is that USS members should pay 8% and the employers everything else. This is even written into the current USS scheme rules, so it’s not like we’re asking for the moon on a stick here.

 

The employers are currently arguing that members should share a hefty chunk (35% of the costs over 26% that arise from the valuation). This is both unjust and irrational: the employers should cover the full costs of any increases. Why? Because:

  • The employers can benefit from overpayment in one valuation cycle by underpaying in future ones, whereas members cannot;
  • They’ve underpaid into the Scheme in the past (the so-called pensions “holiday”);
  • They can influence the contribution rate in various ways, whereas members can’t; and
  • Members have repeatedly suffered the impact of investment decisions they had no input into, in the form of benefit cuts and earlier contribution increases.

 

Also, they can *afford* to cover the increase, and we shouldn’t be swayed by arguments about costs. This is about priorities, and yet again our employers are choosing to de-prioritise staff.

  • The independent covenant assessments commissioned by USS, along with other factors, indicate that they can afford it;
  • Employers are better placed to absorb the increases than individual members;
  • Members’ wages have been systematically suppressed for more than a decade; and
  • Sector staff costs have fallen in the last decade from 58% of total expenditure to 54% now, and implementing our proposals would raise this figure no higher than 56%.

 

Given the history of cuts to our USS pensions over the last two decades (which staff accepted with little or no serious resistance), and given the vigorous suppression of our wages over the same period, members are in no position to shoulder contributions increases. Tragically, many have already left the scheme citing problems with affordability.

 

Yet the employers, as they always have, continue to work on the arrogant assumption that their own activities, and bottom lines, must never suffer, whatever the cost to us. The employers never:

  • countenance cuts to capital expenditure (“shiny new buildings”);
  • think about changes to their business models; and/or
  • draw on their (often huge) reserves, even in the case of emergency (and what greater emergency than this?).

Instead, they consistently tell us that *we* have to sacrifice our current (or retirement) income to deal with problems that are largely of *their* own making. Enough is enough: it’s time to level the playing field; it’s time, for once, for the employers to give us real support when it matters.

 

You can read the full UCU negotiating proposals here.

Two strike Ballots this Autumn: one on USS pensions; One on casualisation, pay, inequality & workloads

As you now know, UCU’s annual congress voted to prepare for another round of strike action to defend our pensions while also launching a new national campaign to secure a fair deal from both pre- and post-92 employers on pay, workload, equality, and job security. UCU’s Higher Education Committee then decided on 28 June to run both strike ballots at the same time, rather than consecutively.

 

These ballots will run from 9 September to 30 October. Members in branches where UCU has registered a dispute over USS will receive two ballot papers – one for pay, workload, equality and job security and one for USS. Members in other and post-92 branches will receive one ballot paper.

 

New UCU General Secretary-elect Jo Grady explains it like this:

“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.”

 

The rest of this post explains the strategies, demands, and rationale for both votes as they currently stand.

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 positions
  • working to close the gender and ethnicity pay gaps
  • limiting unsafe, excessive workloads
  • increasing pay by 3% plus RPI.

These are *all* things on which we represent our members, but we have been faced by remarkable intransigence from the employers at national negotiating level for years. If we don’t give our negotiators the leverage they need to improve our lot there is no indication this situation will change.

 

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 £30,000, 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.

UCU Warns Unis of September Strike Ballot Over USS Pensions:

Universities risk prompting a wave of industrial action across UK campuses later this year if they do not rule out benefit cuts or contribution increases for members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

UCU has written to 69 institutions warning that if they fail to confirm by Wednesday 19 June that they will limit members’ contributions to 8%, or meet the cost of any additional contributions, then the union will prepare for an industrial action ballot in September.

We all said at the end of our successful strike action in 2018 that if they came for our pensions again, and if they ignored the expert recommendations of the Joint Expert Committee (JEP), we would be prepared to strike again. It’s looking increasingly like this will be necessary.

We will keep you updated on important developments over the summer.

Sign a Petition to Support an Academic Boycott of Trinity College Cambridge Over Moves to Withdraw from USS:

The Council of Trinity College, Cambridge, has voted to withdraw the college from the USS pension scheme. USS is a mutual scheme with more than 400,000 members across the UK, and Trinity’s action undermines pension provision not only for its own employees but for staff across the entire pre-1992 Higher Education sector. They’ve admitted that the scheme is in good health, but are going ahead with this mover anyway. This needs to be resisted in the strongest terms, if necessary, by an academic boycott. So-called “grey-listing” procedures have already been initiated by UCU at its recent 2019 Congress.

Read more and sign the petition, initiated by UCU Branch Officers at Cardiff and Sheffield Universities, here.

Strike Bulletin #14

Picket - Hadyn Ellis - 16th March

Picket – Hadyn Ellis – 16th March

Well done, everyone! We’ve completed fourteen days of striking over four weeks, and we have reached the end in a much stronger position than when we started. Clearly, we’re not out of the woods yet, but UUK has learned that we are not to be coaxed back to work by a modest improvement on the position they gave us back in January.

Membership has grown over the four weeks. Attendance on the picket lines has grown. Despite rejecting an offer, our relationship with the students remains strong, as seen in the open meeting organised by the students’ union and by the presence of fabulous students at our rallies and picket lines.

Locally, we have pressed our vice-chancellor to support an independent valuation of the USS. Moreover, this week had the university agree to divide the deductions for strike action over three months, and we have an (albeit ambiguous) relaxing of the university’s strict stance on action short of a strike. Hold that in your heads and hearts as you return to work next week, when you face questions about rescheduling teaching that was missed during the strike.

Rally Alexandra Gardens 16th March

Rally Alexandra Gardens 16th March

Rally Alexandra Gardens 16th March

Rally Alexandra Gardens 16th March

Support and cameraderie
We’ve been pleased by the strong attendance at the individual picket lines. And our habitual gathering at 11 was, as we hoped, sufficiently strong that we moved around Main Building to the Alexandra Gardens1. There, we had rousing speeches, excellent fancy dress, and musical support as well. Our thanks to Dominic McAskill from Unison for his message of solidarity as well as impassioned speeches from our own members Paul Brennan of MEDIC and Andy Williams of JOMEC.

Then it was time for our collective creativity to shine. MC VC and the Regulators entertained us with renditions of Jolene and Tubthumpin’, along with a popular reprise of Steven Stanley’s original rap, Get Your Paws Off Our Pensions. A group of singers from Biosciences at the Hadyn Ellis Building led us in adapted lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody, accompanied ably if inadequately by the ukulele2. And local skiffle band Railroad Bill sent us out with great tunes about gambling and debt – just perfect for a strike centred on pensions…

MC VC and the Regulators

MC VC and the Regulators

What happens next
We’ve all earned a rest this weekend. Next Monday, it’s back to work as usual. But we’re not clear of the dispute. Strike days are set by the national union, and we remain in negotiation with UUK over the terms of the pension. We don’t want to lose touch with members and other colleagues after all this effective enthusiasm.

First we have arranged a lunchtime open meeting on Monday 26th March in the Wallace Lecture Theatre. We may well organise another one that week at the Heath Park campus if that makes sense. This and any other open meetings will be aimed at communicating our position on the USS Pension to all staff. This then opens up a channel for communication with staff who are in USS but did not support the strike. More information about this event will be communicated on Monday.

Meanwhile, our resident pension experts have prepared to talk about the issues at the core of this dispute. Woon Wong will speak on Wednesday, 21 March at 3pm in Room 0.16 Post-Graduate Teaching Centre. The presentation will explain the basic principles used in the valuation of a defined benefit pension scheme, and then discuss the valuation methods adopted by USS as well as the guidelines of the Pensions Regulator. Empirical evidence from data analysis concludes that the annual valuations from 2012-2017 by USS are predicated on a flawed basis and it is necessary to fundamentally re-think how the correct message should be communicated to UUK, UCU, the Pensions Regulator as well as the public. Phantom Deficit of USS Pension – Summary version.

Staying involved with the conversation on the dispute and related matters
Once back at work it will be harder to sustain the conversations we’ve been having on the picket lines and at the rallies. These conversations have been immensely beneficial, not least because we’ve had the opportunity to communicate with colleagues normally separated from us by the organisational divisions within Cardiff University.

Cardiff UCU has available various online methods to enable us to extend the opportunity for these conversations to continue (between our meetings) but in a way that will dovetail with normal working practices or home life (you get to choose which or both).

Best,
Cardiff UCU Strike Communications Team

1More photos will be on the website version of this bulletin by Saturday morning

2The editor for Bulletin #14 is being too self-effacing! [Managing Editor]


More Images from the Rally on 16th March

 

Strike Bulletin #13

Ides of March

Beware the Ides of March! It’s a fateful day for our employers. Faced with such unity from UCU members here in Cardiff and across the country, as well as a substantial list of student occupations on campuses from Aberdeen to Exeter, we’re hearing VCs climb back on the removal of Defined Benefits and the undermining of strike activity, as with Cambridge. Others, such as Glasgow, say their position is ‘essentially the same as that of UCU’. Others still, such as Queen’s Belfast, state a commitment to independent valuation of the USS. Here in Cardiff, we received the welcome news through Twitter that Cardiff University will spread deductions over three months. Furthermore, they ‘do not envisage circumstances where colleagues [that’s us] will have pay withheld for action short of a strike.’ This is the effect our collective action has taken – the commitment to 14 days of strikes and the courage to say no to a bad deal offered this week.

Ways of reaching out

Members of Cardiff UCU continue to find new ways of reaching staff, students, and the public. Colleagues at the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, conveniently located in Main Building, have set up a stall to explain their teaching, their research, and the reasons why they’re out on the picket line. It’s a high-traffic, high-visibility spot, and everyone’s welcome to come and find out a bit more about what they do. The idea comes from Marc Millet and Dave Thompson, and we thank Stephen Barker for telling us all about it at today’s rally. (Thanks also to Daniel Hobley for sharing his photo with us.)

People of Earth

Meanwhile, Paul Brennan and Renata Medeiros-Mirra represented UCU at an open session with about 50-60 students, including undergraduates and postgraduates, organised by the Students’ Union. This was a student-only affair, with Karen Holford and Amanda Coffey representing university management. Students were naturally worried about the impact of the strike action on their learning, but they showed strong support for the action and for the right and need to decent pensions. Their questions were directed mainly at the university management to understand what will be done to support them, whether they will receive compensation, and why the university isn’t communicating more with them. Many thanks to Paul and Renata for taking part.

Our continuing series of teach-outs met this afternoon. Environmental issues were on the table, including a provocative session from UCU environmental officer Paul Rock, Trevor Dale from Biosciences, and People Planet on sustainability and the kinds of companies and initiatives our contested USS currently invests in.

Taking the struggle further

An open letter is circulating to put our concerns about the USS in writing to the Welsh Government. Cardiff UCU member Vicki Wass has been invited to meet with Lynne Neagle Chair of the Education Committee to expand the discussion started in the open letter. There’s still time to sign the letter, however, by clicking here.

We had the potential for a double appearance of MPs at our rally. Sadly, Jo Stevens was called away to Westminster. We were nonetheless cheered to hear from Stephen Doughty, a firm union supporter. He reiterated what we heard at the Assembly on Tuesday: support for our struggle and affirmation of our vote to reject the proposed deal. Further, he agreed with our broader struggle to ensure universities are fair, open, and administered in line with public values. Steven told us he will be meeting with our vice-chancellor, Colin Riordan, next Tuesday, and he promised to report back on the outcome of that discussion.

Stephen Doughty with picketers

We’ll be back to work by then, but we have one day of strike action left.

Tomorrow

We want to put on the biggest rally yet to demonstrate the solidarity and growth that Cardiff UCU has shown over the last four weeks. If you haven’t joined us yet, here is your chance. If you have come down – once, twice, or every day – don’t miss it.

  • Join your school picket line from 8am.
  • A special note that CARBS will not be picketing at their building tomorrow, out of respect for the funeral that day. But any CARBS members who want to take some action prior to the funeral are encouraged to convene at Main Building so IT staff can picket outside their buildings instead of at Main Building.
  • That’s where everyone can gather at 11 for a mass rally of music, speeches, and fancy dress.

We’ve been so impressed by everyone’s commitment, and we’ve got a lot to be proud of. We’ll see you there tomorrow.

Best,
Cardiff UCU Strike Communications Team

Andy Williams in the Western Mail

Coverage in the Western Mail

Andy Williams in the Western Mail

Opinion piece by Dr Andy Williams

Strike Bulletin #12

Pickets outside Law

Pickets outside Law & Politics

Referring to Wednesday as “hump day” is a fairly modern tradition in American English. The term represents the idea that a week can be visualized as a mound or hill that a person climbs, with Wednesday typically being the middle or peak of the week. more… [external link]

Wednesday in the US and Canada1 is traditionally known in 9-5 office parlance as ‘hump day’. This is our only full week of striking in this set of actions, and now we’re over the hump. We felt what was, for many, confusion and despair on Monday night, followed by the collective resolve of Tuesday morning and the sunny, buoyant high of our political lobby.

All these views were expressed at our 11 o’clock rally at Main Building, and we’re sure they were mirrored on all the picket lines as people made sense of what had happened. Our representative to the national Higher Education Committee was Nick Russell, and he brought the strike committee upto date on how that meeting went. Negotiators noted that it was the strength of early picketing that brought them to the table in the first place. UUK’s starting position was the January meeting where the Defined Contributions scheme was forced through. Rejection of the proposed agreement would mean a return to square one.

One speaker at Wednesday's Rally

One speaker at Wednesday’s Rally

However, reject is what they did. Branch delegates described informal votes across the country very like ours here in Cardiff. Every branch but one rejected by overwhelming margin – often unanimous. One rejected but by a small margin. Discussion moved to the whys and hows of the negotiating effort, followed by a consideration of next steps. Nick mentioned focusing on the methodology: that the underlying assumptions are flawed and our expertise can speak to that. It was also encouraging to hear that support for the strike is growing and has grown universally, in every branch across the UK. The HEC heard all of this and voted to reject. Things will be tougher from here, but we have the resolve to see it through. The focus now is on maintaining the status quo of our pension scheme until we get an academically robust methodology to assess the value of the USS.

The forceful nationwide motion to reject was heard not only by our union but by our employers. Late afternoon, Universities UK issued a release saying they are planning more, urgent talks. Their statement notes, ‘We listened to the concerns of university staff, and proposed to increase employer contributions to the scheme to maintain meaningful defined benefits.’ As always, we’ll see what that looks like in practice, but it’s welcome language to hear. Some vice-chancellors have clearly heard the message: Cambridge’s VC suggests amendments to the rejected plan that address some of our own complaints. It’s not *the answer*, but it shows a humbler spirit.

Creative expression
Following the rally, members led small workshops in sketching and photography. As our ace photographer Jonathan Marsh notes, perspective is really important. That’s both a practical tip for snapping compelling shots and a metaphor for how we view this struggle. So take heart!

Others joined the University Matters teach-outs at Cathays Methodist Church. Values were up for discussion: Chris Graves spoke about balancing competing values, so that if you focus on competition and control, losing sight of collaboration and creation, you get out of balance and ultimately fail. One example is Apple, which got so successful it needed the money people to manage it. The result was firing this crazy guy called Steve Jobs and ceasing to collaborate and innovate. The company reversed that decision later on in order to succeed, bringing Steve Jobs back into the company. James Whitley gave this some historical perspective, noting that ‘city’ states in ancient Crete and Greece survived 700-1000 years when they had relatively flat structures. Archaeological evidence suggests that as and when they moved to hierarchical structures, they only survived on average about 150 years. In between, Steve Smith led a whole-group discussion on ethics and values. The key take-away here was that values can be seen differently depending on your perspective. In this way, philosophy can be a lot like photography.  A late session on archeology at Caerau finished just an hour ago.

Picket Support

Picket Support

Taking care of yourselves financially
As we approach the end of this phase of strike action, a reminder about strike pay. You can apply nationally to UCU’s fighting fund. We have a local hardship fund similarly set up, and you should register your interest by Friday 23 March. Details are here.

Cardiff UCU exec members have been canvassing with our comrades in other unions. PCS Wales and Unite both committed to making contributions, and we’ve been hearing generally about how important a victory is for us: if we lose this fight, it will be difficult for other pension schemes to fight back against these incursions.

You’re welcome to share details of our fund with others. Get this message out, as it’s a concrete way that others can support us.

Visits tomorrow
We will have two visits from Cardiff MPs tomorrow.

  • Jo Stevens from Cardiff Central will be our main speaker at the 11 o’clock rally at Main Building.
  • Stephen Doughty from Cardiff South and Penarth will visit us at 12.
  • In between, SocSci lecturer Steven Stanley will lead us on a walking meditation.

So be sure to come to your pickets and then join us at 11. The penultimate day of strike action promises to be a rousing one.

Best,
Cardiff UCU Strike Communications Team

1 We have a Canadian editor this evening
2 We have an honorary Welsh, English editor proof reading tonight and emailing out