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Taking action in higher education

Autumn action fists

A revised Four Fights offer from employers, and other important developments in our disputes

I am writing to update you now on some major recent developments in the disputes, and to announce an important process of consultation that has been triggered by your elected negotiators and higher education committee (HEC).

I know that many of you will be focussed on the coronavirus pandemic right now. Covid-19 has already started to have very serious repercussions, for the higher education sector and for all of our lives. However, throughout the pandemic, negotiations over the two national disputes which the union has taken extended industrial action over this year - our Four Fights dispute and our USS pensions dispute - have continued. 

I am writing to update you now on some major recent developments in the disputes, and to announce an important process of consultation that has been triggered by your elected negotiators and higher education committee (HEC). 

Four Fights dispute 

In the Four Fights dispute, the union has received an offer from employers. This offer is a revised version of the offer which employers originally tabled in January this year.

Our Four Fights negotiators believe that now is the time to consult branches about the offer, with a view to helping the HEC decide whether to recommend the offer for acceptance or rejection in a ballot of all members. 

For a three-page briefing on the offer and what it means, please click here. Officers in your branch have been emailed with further details and other supporting documents which they have been encouraged to share with members. 

USS dispute 

The position in the USS dispute is different, in that there is no formal 'offer' from employers on the table. However, there are important developments to update you on including a joint position statement agreed by the employers' negotiators and our own. Our USS negotiators have collectively taken the view that it is time for members to decide where to go next in the dispute. 

For a three-page briefing on the state of play and potential next steps in the USS dispute, please click here. Officers in your branch have been emailed with further details and other supporting documents which they have been encouraged to share with members. 

What are the next steps? 

As it stands, the HEC has resolved to aim to reballot branches for industrial action in both HE disputes. The reballots would start at the end of June or as soon as practically possible thereafter, and end in September. However, the HEC has also arranged for branch delegate meetings for each dispute to be called before any final decisions on reballots are taken. (For general guidance on branch delegate meetings, click here).

These branch delegate meetings will take place on 26 May and they will advise and inform the HEC's decisions when it next meets on 27 May. Depending on the outcome of the meetings and branches' views of the position we have reached in each dispute, the HEC may end up deciding to cancel, postpone or otherwise alter the reballots - or continue with them as planned.

Branches are invited to consult their members and send delegates to the branch delegate meetings on 26 May to put across their branch's view. 

As a UCU member, now is the time to inform yourself about where we have got to in each dispute, consider how you feel about the position the union is in, and what we should do in the next few months. Your branch will be encouraged to give you as much say as possible to feed in to the branch delegate meeting(s). There will also be informal briefings prior to the delegate meetings, where selected members from each branch will be able to ask questions and get further information from UCU representatives.

There are many different factors you will want to consider, especially given the immense damage that is already being caused by the coronavirus crisis - and UCU members and staff will of course continue to campaign across the UK over the coming months to protect our members' jobs, working conditions, and health and safety.

However, what I want to be clear about is that whatever the union decides to do, I want the issues which we went into dispute over to remain at the heart of our strategy over the coming years and for as long as I am general secretary. Job security, equality, workload, pay and a good retirement income are fundamental to what you need and deserve as workers and we will continue to campaign for them with the same commitment and determination as we have done so far this year. 

I see the decisions in front of us now as tactical, short- and medium-term decisions: about whether it is better to escalate toward industrial action immediately, or at a later date; to seek to renew our leverage over our employers as quickly as possible or to pause, consolidate the gains we have made, and take stock. Whatever we decide to do, it will be led by you. 

Please do what you can to inform yourselves and influence your branch's positions - and look out for further announcements and information about this democratic process. In the meantime, please get in touch with any questions you have via this form, and I will endeavour to cover them in future emails and briefings. 

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Last updated: 15 May 2020