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Defending our profession

22 July 2019

UCU's general secretary-elect, Jo Grady, has updated members in higher education on the position of the employers on USS and the annual negotiations.

As we head towards nationwide strike ballots on USS and on pay-related issues in September, I want to update you on our progress.

UCU's officials and elected negotiators are working hard to get a better deal for you. We don't ask you to vote for strike action until we have made every effort to negotiate, consulted our professional advisers, and concluded that industrial action is the only way to achieve our goals.

In both disputes, employers have refused even to meet us halfway. But that is not a reason to despair. We have to remember how quickly employers came back to the negotiating table when last year's USS dispute started. Next time, we will be even better prepared. We have new teams of elected negotiators, and we will be able to secure a good deal when we act collectively. We also have to remember that our students supported us last time, because they understood that staff, not vice-chancellors, make universities what they are. UCU and the NUS are continuing to work closely together to stand up for staff and students and I am sure that we will receive strong support once again.

By standing up for pensions, pay, equality and job security, we are defending not just ourselves but our profession. The sector's income has increased by a third since the beginning of the financial crisis, and that is thanks to our hard work in an incredibly difficult environment. How have employers rewarded us? With intensifying casualisation, wage suppression, and pension cuts. Some of us may not feel the effects of cuts and inequalities directly, but we can all appreciate what they do to our colleagues. Securing national agreements on these things is the most efficient way to make the sector fairer, more inclusive, and more appealing to future generations of university staff.


It's clear from my meetings with employers that we face a similar situation to the previous USS dispute, with employers refusing to listen to our main concerns. Employers failed to get USS to implement the most important recommendations of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP). Now they are forcing some of the costs of USS's unwarranted contribution increases on to us, despite all the sacrifices we have already made: from the massive cuts in 2011 and 2014 to the deducted pay which employers pocketed after last year's strike. In order to get employers to cover these costs, we may have to count on winning the casting vote of the independent chair of the USS Joint Negotiating Committee, Sir Andrew Cubie. UCU's negotiators will make the best case they can, and I will report in more detail when we have an outcome.

Members have asked me whether there might be a legal solution. UCU has been investigating this option from various angles since I was elected. We have met and commissioned advice from several experts on USS and our employers' actions, and I will soon be able to tell you more about the progress we have made. However, none of these solutions will come soon enough to avert the contribution increases which we are facing.

These increases have consequences. Members are already leaving the scheme because of the increases we have started paying as a result of the 2017 valuation. Further increases will likely lead to more departures, jeopardising individual members' retirement savings and destabilising the scheme. Preventing that is one of UCU's top priorities.

Pay, equality, job security, and workload

UCU's elected negotiators and officials recently attended another meeting with employers on the 2019 pay claim. Again, we are in a position where employers simply refuse to make us a meaningful offer unless they are faced with a credible threat of strike action.

Our demands are modest. As far as pay is concerned, even if employers granted us the 3% (plus RPI) increase we are asking for, it would not bring our pay back in line with the level it was at ten years ago, after years of real-terms cuts. Given our willingness to compromise, we are deeply disappointed by their offer of only 1.8% on pay; no action on inequality or casualisation; and nothing whatsoever on workload.

Preparing for the ballots

I hope you will bear this in mind when you receive your ballot papers in September. Look out for further details of the tour of branches which I'll be undertaking during the ballot period, and don't forget to ensure that your branch can keep you informed by updating your membership information - especially your current institution, email address, and postal address. And please continue to get in touch with me via email.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary elect

Last updated: 22 July 2019