In the news 7 June 2019

7 June 2019

UCU warns 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 today written to 71 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.

UCU head of higher education Paul Bridge said: 'USS members are running out of patience and want universities to start acting in their interests. Delegates at our recent conference passed a series of motions that clearly articulated their frustrations and set out plans for a September strike ballot if universities refuse to rule out benefit cuts or contribution increases.'


Calls for parliamentary committee to look at how USS is run

Hundreds of people signed a letter to the Financial Times this week saying that a parliamentary committee should investigate USS. The call follows claims from a USS Trustee that she was denied important information and said the deficit was "substantially over-estimated".

The signatories say they believe there are issues of concern over the governance of USS. They also say a parliamentary inquiry is needed to obtain the necessary information to assess the USS's claims, review the conduct of the USS executive, trustees and the Pensions Regulator, and ultimately to rebuild members' and employers' trust and confidence in the scheme.


UCU calls for reinstatement of sacked Sandwell College activist

UCU has accused Sandwell College of losing all sense of proportion over the dismissal of lecturer and local branch president Dave Muritu and warned it will face industrial action if the decision is not reversed. The college sacked Dave last week for gross misconduct after he wrote "racist" on a poster promoting the controversial Prevent programme. UCU has launched a petition calling on Sandwell College to reinstate Dave and there will be a protest at the college today.

UCU said such a heavy-handed and disproportionate response from the college had to be down to Dave's trade union activities after he played a key role in negotiating a landmark pay deal for staff last year.

Speaking to the Independent, UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: 'The incident was clearly a moment of frustration for which Dave has apologised, but the college has refused to budge from its hardline position. We will not simply stand by and allow this to happen, and the college should be prepared to face industrial action if the decision is not swiftly reversed.'


London colleges hit by strikes in pay row

UCU members at West Thames and New City colleges were on strike again this week as part of an ongoing row over pay. The latest walkout by West Thames College staff was their tenth day of strike action this year. They walked out for four days last month, following action in January and March.

Staff at New City College's Tower Hamlets branch also staged a three-day walkout last month over pay. The dispute centres on the failure of the colleges to make a decent pay offer to staff who have seen the value of their pay decline by 25% in the past decade. The pay gap between teachers in colleges and schools currently stands at £7,000 and around two-thirds of college heads have said pay is a major obstacle in attracting staff.

UCU regional official Una O'Brien said: 'It is simply not acceptable for the college to say that nothing can be done because finances are tight. Other colleges have shown what can be achieved when they engage seriously with us to address members' concerns over pay and conditions.'


Strike ballots open at Bradford College over pay and job losses

Industrial action ballots opened on Tuesday at Bradford College in rows over job losses and pay. The college wants to axe 132 jobs in a bid to save money following previous financial bailouts, but UCU said that the loss of valuable expertise would hit students the hardest. Local politicians have come out against the plans to cut jobs, with Bradford South MP Judith Cummins branding the potential job losses "shameful" and MP for Bradford East Imran Hussain saying the college's students "deserve staff who are both well paid and valued".

UCU members are also being balloted for industrial action in a separate dispute over pay, as part of a row that saw staff at the college walk out in March. Speaking to the Telegraph and Argus, UCU regional official Julie Kelley said: 'Industrial action is always a last resort but our members feel they have been left with no option but to ballot for strike action in order to defend jobs and pay. We want Bradford College to halt its damaging plans, rule out compulsory redundancies and work with us to develop alternative approaches.'


Protest over plans to cut 65 jobs at University of Portsmouth

UCU members at the University of Portsmouth staged a protest on Monday over plans to cut 65 jobs. Staff gathered outside a meeting of the university's executive board (UEB) to protest against plans to make 65 staff redundant as part of a restructure of the Faculty of Science.

UCU has also called on members who attend graduation ceremonies on a voluntary basis not to do so and warned that further action could be on the cards if the university does not reconsider its plans.

Speaking to the BBC, UCU regional official Moray McAuley said: 'The decision to cut experienced staff will ultimately hit students the hardest. The university's refusal to allow voluntary redundancies or rule out compulsory redundancies is also totally unacceptable. Staff are understandably angry, so we urge the university to address their concerns and swiftly commit to a voluntary scheme or further action could be on the cards.'


Protests over threats to impose new contracts at Nottingham College  

Staff at Nottingham College staged a protest yesterday as part of an ongoing row over the college's plans to impose new contracts on staff. UCU has accused the college of holding staff to ransom after it announced plans to dismiss anyone refusing to sign up to new contracts. The proposals would leave over 80 staff more than £1,000 worse off, and comes despite staff not receiving a pay rise since 2010.

UCU members are currently being balloted for strike action with the result expected later today. UCU branch secretary Rob Peutrell has worked at the college for 26 years and he told the Nottingham Evening Post that he had never seen moral so low. UCU regional official Sue Davis told Tes that the college's success was down to the hard work and dedication of its staff, but their goodwill was being severely tested by the new contracts.


More support for postdocs vital for success

Writing in the Guardian this week, a postdoc says junior university researchers and postdocs suffer poor progression opportunities, low job security and a dependence on their line managers for continued employment. He says this leads to bad science, bullying and discrimination, while driving a brain drain away from academic research.

He says postdocs need more secure employment to incentivise universities to invest in talent management strategies and genuine career pathways. He also urges universities to be proactive on postdoc wellbeing by tackling the causes such as poor employment conditions, toxic cultures and bad behaviour. 

He says universities must wake up to the corrosive effect of bad managers in disrupting the research environment and the quality of research outputs. He says that research funders and employers have roles to play as well.




Last updated: 7 June 2019