Frequently Asked Questions about the current ballot on taking action over pay & equality:
- Why are we being balloted?
- What if Universities don’t have enough money to pay us more?
- What’s being disputed about equality?
- What is action short of strike (ASOS)?
- How does this relate to the pensions strike this year?
- Why should I strike if the union leadership is going to sell us out?
- Won’t striking hurt students?
- Why does it have to be a postal vote?
- What if our employers don’t listen?
- I’m a researcher and don’t teach, what’s the point of me going on strike?
- I can’t afford to go on strike – will the Union help me?
- Which UCU members are eligible to vote?
- I’ve already voted – what can I do to help?
Why are we being balloted?
The current vote is on whether or not to take strike action and action short of strike (ASOS) on pay and equality.
Negotiations made no progress on the issues of wages, tackling the gender pay gap and reducing casualization. UCU nationally, and the Cardiff UCU Executive Committee recommend that you vote in favour of strike action and ASOS.
What is the current pay offer?
The current pay increase offer for 2018-19 from the University and College Employers Association (UCEA) is 2% (UCU asked for 7.5%). This is a real-terms pay cut, because it isn’t in line with inflation – so the everyday cost of living is getting more expensive and our wages aren’t keeping up. This year alone inflation has been over 3%, but this isn’t the first year that our pay has fallen short.
The cumulative loss in the value of our pay since 2009 is 21%. You can check how much you’d be earning if your pay had kept up with inflation with the UCU ‘rate for the job’ online tool.
What if Universities don’t have enough money to pay us more?
Over the last five years UK Universities’ income has increased by an average 33.1%, surpluses have increased by 176.8% and reserves are up by 259.0%. Staff costs have fallen by 1.9%. The money is there.
It’s clearly there for VCs and senior managers, who enjoy very high pay. According to a THES Survey in 2016/17, VC pay increased an average of 3.2% (while most staff got 1.7%); 29 universities increased their VC’s pay by more than 10%. 22 universities each have more than 100 members of staff earning over £100,000 per annum. Read more about the national negotiations.
What’s being disputed about equality?
UCU and other HE unions are demanding that in addition to a better pay offer, universities make commitments to address workload & stress, casualization and pay inequality.
- In 2016/17 the average gender pay gap was 11.8% – £5,936 a year. If you work a 35-hour week that’s equivalent to not being paid for more than 4 hours of work a week.
- Workloads are a well-documented problem – a recent survey reported that we’re working an average of two days unpaid every week.
- Guaranteed work is also getting harder to come by: 66% of research staff are on fixed-terms contracts and a third of these are for a year or less. There are also thousands of staff on hourly-paid and even zero-hour contracts.
The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) has refused to engage on these issues.
What is action short of strike (ASOS)?
Action short of strike (ASOS) is non-strike action including working to contract, not doing voluntary work, not covering for absent colleagues and not rescheduling classes or lectures cancelled due to the strikes. ASOS can highlight how much extra work we do for the University and can help maximise the impact of strike action.
How does this relate to the pensions strike this year?
The fight over pay, equality and casualization is a separate front in a wider struggle to improve our Universities.
Earlier this year UCU members took part in 14 days of strike action that successfully defended Defined Benefit pensions. Negotiations are still ongoing to try and resolve this, but we’ve shown that when we stand together we can win.
More universities (147 in all), and more campus unions (Unison are being balloted too) are in the mix this time, so this strike could be bigger & more effective than the last.
Why should I strike if the union leadership is going to sell us out?
If we followed this logic we’d never take any action! The pensions dispute showed us that rank and file action can push the leadership to be more responsive to members, and it’s brought us to the verge of a significant victory. It also led to a growing membership working to democratise UCU and exercise more control. There are no guarantees of success but we won’t win anything if we cave in now.
Won’t striking hurt students?
It’s true that striking will affect students who will be missing out on teaching. Going on strike wouldn’t make any sense if it didn’t disrupt the workings of the university. We all care about our students and do not make the decision to disrupt their education lightly. But the better working conditions we’re fighting for now will also benefit students. Our financial security and wellbeing in work will impact the quality of teaching we can deliver. Some students, of course, also go on to be academics. We’re directly fighting for their future, as well as for a system that does not depend on precarious, exploitative labour.
Getting a university degree is about more than passing exams to get a job. It’s also about learning citizenship and discovering the world. Striking does not mean we don’t teach students any more. Instead many students and academics have found that the last round of strikes has opened up a space to explore the ways that another University is possible. For some students industrial action is a unique learning experience.
Why does it have to be a postal vote?
All industrial action ballots are required to be postal by law. This is one of several anti-trade unions laws that try to make it hard for employees to strike. Another one is that for strike action to be legal, 50% of members must have participated in the vote. So it’s really important that you use your vote.
If you haven’t received your ballot paper, or you’ve lost it, please request a replacement ballot paper.
It is vital that you keep your membership details up to date. If we notify the University of strike action and this information is wrong, they can take action against the UCU to stop it. Once you have joined UCU, neither head office nor the branch office has any way of finding out if you change departments – or even leave Cardiff University – unless you tell us. You can update your details online.
If you have any other questions about the ballot, please contact the branch office on firstname.lastname@example.org or 02920 874443.
What if our employers don’t listen?
The pensions dispute showed that taking strike action can be successful. We took strong, unified action that forced our employers to pay attention and back down and we’ve still got our pension.
This is our chance to let our employers know that we’re willing to fight for fair pay and better working conditions.
I’m a researcher and don’t teach, what’s the point of me going on strike?
66% of research staff are on fixed-term contracts and a third of these are for a year or less. There are also thousands of staff on hourly-paid and even zero-hour contracts. By striking, you will be fighting to defend fair pay for researchers, now and in the future. When we went on strike earlier this year we didn’t stop working, we carried on doing what we’re good at; just not in the service of University. Striking is an opportunity to campaign and work together with colleagues and students to fight for a fairer future for universities.
I can’t afford to go on strike – will the Union help me?
The UCU nationally has strike fund to help those most in need of assistance, and we do at local level too. At Cardiff, we’re better prepared than ever to support striking members with a healthy solidarity fund which we’re building all the time. During the last strike UCU took extra care to support precariously employed members such as PhD students and Postdocs and we aim to do so again. Accessing the strike fund is easy and straightforward. We realise that hourly paid workers may have difficulty evidencing loss of pay and will take that into account.
While we hope that as many union members as possible do take part in industrial action it is also worth noting that voting “yes” now does not oblige you to strike later. If you are on the fence about this ballot please consider voting “yes” now anyway. Signalling that a high percentage of union members is willing to strike strengthens our negotiators’ position and will hopefully help us to resolve the dispute without strikes becoming necessary.
Which UCU members are eligible to vote?
All UCU members who are employed by the University and who joined online up to 14th September 2018 are able to vote.
Postgrad members who indicated to UCU they were employed by the University are eligible to vote. Whether or not the University recognises you as a worker is not important. If you are a postgraduate member who does any kind of work for the University and didn’t receive a ballot then please check your membership status online. You might have to change your status from “postgraduate member” to “standard free” membership.
If you didn’t receive a ballot you can order a new ballot paper online.
I’ve already voted – what can I do to help?
If you’ve already voted, there’s more you can:
- Talk to colleagues/fellow UCU members and remind them to vote – in person, on Twitter, and on Facebook;
- Print out the leaflet and poster attached to this email, and plaster the University with them;
- Go to local branch/departmental UCU meetings and get involved; and
- Talk to your department’s UCU rep and do some door-knocking – let’s get out the vote!