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Strike ballots can be invalidated by out-of-date information held on members (even on details such as whether a school or department is listed under an old, defunct, name).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.

Report from the LGBT+ Workers’ Conference

Ryan Prout at TUC LGBT 2019

Ryan Prout (Cardiff UCU President and NEC members for HE LGBT+), speaking in Congress House, led the UCU delegation to the 2019 LGBT+ Workers’ Conference (4-5 July).

Headline speakers at the Conference were Frances O’Grady (TUC General Secretary), and Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Angela Rayner MP.

UCU’s motion–carried unanimously–, was on non-binary inclusion.

VC Pay Outcry: The view from Cardiff

Despite calls to improve transparency around senior pay at universities, four-fifths of institutions (81%) still allowed their vice-chancellor to attend meetings where their pay was set last year, and only a third (32%) provided full minutes of the meeting, according to UCU research on VC’s.

Cardiff Uni boss Colin Riordan, while not a member of the local remuneration committee, still attends the body which sets his own considerable pay packet.

Prof Riordan currently got £298,000 in pay and bonuses in 2018, up a whopping £51,000 on the year before. This figure is clearly obscene at a time when we’re facing the loss of 380 jobs over 5 years as part of “Transforming Cardiff”; when staff have lost 20% of the value of their pay since 2009; when precariously-employed colleagues scramble for job security; and when so many of us lost so much in strike deductions last year.

That the VC gets to sit in on the meetings that grant him such princely pay rises is just a further insult to his staff.

The Guardian covered the national story , and the UCU has covered it as well

For info on the Cardiff VC’s pay see p.43 of the latest annual report.

One Month On, What Does the Election of Jo Grady Mean for UCU?

One month ago, Jo Grady was elected as our next General Secretary. What does this mean for rank and file voices in the union and for our prospects of beating back the employers’ assault?

In this piece, written for the UCU Branch Solidarity Network, Lesley McGorrigan (Leeds UCU), Andy Williams (Cardiff UCU), and Marian Carty (Goldsmiths UCU) give their personal takes: What does Jo Grady mean for the UCU

If you’d like to write a piece for the Branch Solidarity Network, or have suggestions for future blog posts, you can email: branchsolidaritynetwork@gmail.com 

Appeal for volunteer case workers: Your colleagues need YOU!

All union branches are powered by oodles of “unseen” voluntary work carried out by branch officers and active members. In this very real sense the Union is powered by its members, and is only as effective as its membership is active, informed, and engaged.

Case work is one of the most important, but least appreciated, examples of this invisible Union work. It involves representing and supporting individuals or groups of members experiencing difficulties in their jobs.

 

The Cardiff UCU Case Work team is always very busy, but it is currently going through a big spike in demand – made even worse by the current (and unnecessary) “Transforming Cardiff” cuts.

If you have previously done Case Work at Cardiff or one of your other workplaces, and don’t currently, please consider volunteering again now;

If you’ve never done case work but would consider volunteering to help out with this extremely good, and often very rewarding, job please get in touch (ucu@cardiff.ac.uk)

You can find out more on the national UCU site about what case work involves, and how it’s done. If you volunteer, you will not be sent into the field unsupported, and the union has excellent training which prepares you very well.

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.

Challenging Car Parking Fee Increases:

UCU will challenge a large (30%) increase in staff car parking fees on behalf of its members who face ever increasing pressures on their finances following 10 years of real terms pay cuts. In recent years UCU has worked with the University on a number of successful initiatives which make it cheaper, easier and more convenient for staff members to commute sustainably. Unfortunately, in the case of this increase, UCU has not been consulted or involved. The University has now agreed to meet with us about this. We will demand the establishment of a review group in partnership with the campus trade Unions and the University to consider the introduction of a more fair and environmentally-friendly car parking scheme that will look at fees, how fee money is used by the University, how car parking spaces are allocated to staff, and how this fits within a broad commitment to green and active travel policies.

Call on Cardiff Uni to Declare a Climate Emergency:

Following the University’s recent Climate Emergency debate, a letter to the Vice Chancellor has been drafted by a group of Cardiff academics requesting that the University declares a Climate Emergency. They are calling for all members of staff of Cardiff University, including doctoral students, to sign this letter, to demonstrate the support for such a measure. Please do also share this widely among colleagues within the University.

The UK and Welsh Parliaments declared a climate emergency this year, as have two of the GW4 universities, Bristol University and the University of Exeter. We strongly urge Cardiff University to demonstrate its leadership in the academic community by being the first Welsh university to publicly declare a climate emergency, to help move forwards the sense of national urgency on this matter.

Read more and add your name to the letter here.