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Four Fights ballot: your questions answered

24 July 2020

To the thousands of members who have already voted in the consultative ballot on the employers' offer in our Four Fights dispute - thank you.

If you have not voted, you should be receiving regular reminders with the link to vote. If you can't find the link in your inbox, please use this form to request a replacement.

Your elected reps on the higher education committee (HEC) are recommending that you vote to REJECT the offer. The advice drafted by the Four Fights negotiators on behalf of the HEC will appear when you click your link to vote, but it can also be found here.

Please do use your vote. To make any further progress in this dispute we don't just need an overall vote to reject - we need a good turnout to demonstrate to employers that we are serious about pushing for something better. 

Announcement of results: Wednesday 4.30pm

I will hold an online event to announce the ballot result on Wednesday 29 July at 4.30pm, after the ballot window closes at 12 noon. We will email all members at the same time but if you want to get the results as soon as they are available and hear about what they will mean for the union over the next few months, please tune in via YouTube, Facebook or Twitter.

If we reject the offer, what happens next? 

Members have written to me asking about the implications of a vote to reject the offer, and whether it means we will have another postal ballot and another round of industrial action in the near future. 

That will be up to our sovereign democratic decision-making body - the higher education sector conference (HESC), which meets in the autumn and is made up of delegates from all branches including yours. However, my assessment is that we will not make significant progress in this dispute if we are not able to threaten another wave of industrial action. 

Employers did not make us a meaningful offer last time until we had a mandate and had called a substantial amount of strike action. But it is clear that the offer they did make is not satisfactory. When branches were consulted, a plurality of them believed that the HEC should recommend to reject the employers' offer (96 out of 203 weighted votes, versus 55 votes to accept).

Having listened to members, I believe that the main sticking point is the fact that the employers have only set sector-wide 'expectations' to reduce casualisation, inequality, and unmanageable workloads, rather than making firm, binding commitments and a clear timescale for delivery on those commitments. 

If we want an offer with firm, binding commitments and a clear timescale for delivery, we will need to be willing to take more industrial action. 

The action will need to be on a larger scale - not necessarily in terms of days, but in terms of the number of branches and members taking part in it. We need all branches covered by our collective bargaining framework to be involved in any action we take, so that every employer will be under pressure to offer us what we want. 

We also need to creatively rethink our tactics and use an even wider range of methods to put pressure on employers. Collectively we cover a range of jobs across our institutions. We are a highly skilled and educated workforce. We need to think innovatively about how we can create strategic disruption at the right time, and develop a wider-ranging toolkit of industrial action that encompasses various methods to get us precisely what we need and deserve. 

Everyone should be proud of our achievements this year. UCU members have stood up in unprecedented numbers and said they want a deal that transforms the sector's broken employment model. To achieve this, we need a great deal of leverage. 

The first step to achieving that change will be a decisive vote to reject the employers' offer. That is why your HEC is recommending that you vote to reject. 

If we vote to reject the offer and then ballot for more industrial action, when will that happen? 

I have also been asked what the timetable will be if we continue the dispute. This will be decided by a future higher education sector conference (HESC), to which branches send delegates, and I would not want to pre-empt that decision. There could be a ballot this autumn; alternatively, delegates might prefer to ballot later in the academic year. 

I will be making my views clear to sector conference, but it is ultimately members (via their delegates) who decide the union's next steps in terms of ballots and industrial action. 

What happens if we accept the offer? 

The negotiators have given clear advice on this and if members vote to accept the offer, we will do our best to make sure that every employer is held to the expectations which they have signed up to, and enters into meaningful negotiations and consultation with branches over the issues at the heart of the Four Fights. We will commit the union's resources to making this happen, and our negotiators will monitor the progress institutions are making. However, accepting the offer will mean that there will be no improved offer on the pay element of our dispute for 2019-20. 

If employers don't deliver properly on the offer, there is nothing to stop us from entering into another UK-wide dispute. Every year we take part in a round of collective bargaining, and each year provides us with an opportunity to enter into a dispute if we are not getting enough out of negotiations. 

What will happen to the Four Fights in the longer term? 

As members you have responded positively to this year's Four Fights campaign because you can see how the issues of workload, inequality, casualisation and low pay are interlinked. As I have said in previous emails, those issues will remain priorities for the union for the foreseeable future no matter how you vote in this ballot. The question you are being asked to consider is a tactical one about whether we should escalate the current dispute or not. 

Branches and the HEC have made their views clear: rather than relying on a loose framework of sector-wide 'expectations', we need to escalate and push for a better, firmer offer. Please therefore vote to REJECT the offer on the table.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Last updated: 6 May 2022