In the news: 11 October

11 October 2019

Universities' own research reveals extent of plummeting pay

Pay for university staff has plummeted in real-terms in the last decade, according to an extraordinary report released by universities. The findings, from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), show that the pay of staff has dropped by around 17% in real-terms since 2009.

In its presentation of the data, UCEA chose to highlight findings from 2013 and cherry picked the information used to calculate the figures to try and suggest pay had not dropped as severely. However, table 8 showed that pay has actually dropped by around 17% since 2009.

Jo Grady said: 'At last the employers have revealed the full extent of the reduction in the value of university staff pay. We believe the true decline over the past decade is over 20%, but whichever way you look at it staff pay has plummeted. Universities need to immediately take steps to reverse the decade of decline.


Shadow education secretary calls for urgent talks in pay and pension disputes

On Tuesday shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said that she "fully supports" UCU members fighting for fair pay and decent pensions, while calling for urgent talks to try and resolve the disputes.

She warned that "falling pay, rising workloads and increasingly insecure employment" are undermining careers in higher education, and said recent changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme "risk pricing staff in many institutions out of their pension provision".

Jo Grady said: 'UCU welcomes the call by Angela Rayner for unconditional talks aimed at resolving these disputes. For our part, we are fully prepared to meet the employers in good faith for further negotiations on the two disputes now facing the sector.'


UCU tells employers to stop spinning and start talking

After its report into staff pay on Friday, UCEA tackled another of the key issues of the current pay and equalities ballot on Tuesday. In another sign that the ballot is rattling employers, UCEA said that its report on the higher education workforce showed a trend towards more open-ended and full-time academic employment.

UCU said any suggestion that the use of casual contracts in higher education is declining was "totally disingenuous" and ignored the reality that a third of academic staff are on fixed-term contracts. The union said the time had come for the employers to stop spinning and start talking seriously about how to resolve the disputes.

Jo Grady, said: 'The time has come for the employers to stop spinning and start talking. Instead of downplaying the problems at hand, the employers should pay heed to Angela Rayner and commit to serious negotiations. Time spent obscuring the facts would be much better spent finding long-term, sustainable solutions to the structural problems facing the sector.'


Legal action against USS pension scheme

UCU is looking into the possibility of taking legal action against the Universities Superannuation Scheme, after a leading pensions QC found there were grounds to proceed on the basis of breach of trust.

Writing to members, Jo Grady said that the employers had expressed their confidence in the USS trustee and had to take responsibility for the actions of a Trustee board over which they have enjoyed considerable influence.

However, she warned the legal action would be an expensive and time-consuming option, and urged members to make sure they voted for action in the current strike ballot saying that would be the quickest way to solve the problem.


Fourteen more strike days at Nottingham College as staff deliver no confidence vote in managers

UCU members at Nottingham are out on strike for a 15th day today as phase one of their action draws to a close. However, they announced this week that they will take another 14 days over a four-week period covering most of November, if the increasingly bitter dispute cannot be resolved.

The college wants to impose contracts which would leave some staff more than £1,000 a year worse off, as well as reducing holiday entitlement and removing protections against work overload. Staff at the college have not received a pay rise since 2010.

As well as detailing more strikes for after half-term, the local branch this week passed a unanimous vote of no confidence in CEO John van de Laarschot and the chair of governors Carole Thorogood. The motion said their "continued mismanagement of the college" has "caused extreme harm and distress to staff and students".

In boosts for strikers, students came out in support of their staff and over 4,000 people have signed a petition calling for staff to be given the contracts they deserve.


Government and universities must do more to tackle racial harassment

The government must be prepared to sanction universities failing to tackle racial harassment and hate crime on campus, UCU said on Wednesday. The union was responding to a report from Universities UK which suggests that while universities have made some improvements in their approach to gender-based violence, progress on tackling racial harassment and other types of hate crime has been slower.

Jo Grady said: 'Universities should be safe spaces for all staff and students, free from harassment and discrimination, but this report shows there is still much work to be done to make this a reality. Universities minister Chris Skidmore was right to call for a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of harassment, but he must be ready to back this up with sanctions where the sector fails to act.

'Universities' failure to tackle the race pay gap is one of the reasons we are currently balloting members for strike action. It is imperative that universities make a proper commitment to work with trade unions to deal with this and the other issues facing black and minority ethnic staff.'


UCU condemns Turkey's invasion and occupation of Syria

UCU today issued a statement condemning Turkey's invasion and occupation of Syria. The union said the withdrawal of troops by Donald Trump from the region violated negotiated agreements and had led to extreme violence, political instability, ethnic cleansing and a potential refugee crisis.

Offering solidarity with the Kurdish people, UCU called on the UK government and the EU to take meaningful action to oppose the Turkish invasion. The union said they must be prepared to impose significant sanctions on President Erdoğan's regime and put pressure on NATO to suspend Turkey as a member.

Last updated: 11 October 2019