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HE national disputes 2021

Your ballot papers arrive this week: vote YES to industrial action

17 October 2021

From Monday 18 October, you and other UCU members in higher education will start receiving ballot papers for industrial action. I am asking you to vote YES to strike action and YES to action short of a strike, and to return your completed papers in the envelope provided straight away.

There are two ballots, covering two disputes.

The Four Fights dispute is about addressing systemic problems that have plagued the sector for over a decade: wages that do not keep up with the cost of living; precarious employment practices; workload intensification; and pay gaps for women and Black and disabled staff. Find out about these issues and our proposals for dealing with them by downloading our Four Fights infographics.

The USS pensions dispute is about massive cuts which employers are imposing on USS members' retirement benefits. You can find out what those cuts mean for you by using this modeller.

Not all institutions are part of both disputes. To check which dispute(s) your institution is part of, consult this list.

Your employers have not waited until the end of the pandemic to continue making things worse for staff. This has been an incredibly difficult period for you, but employers have picked this moment to attack staff pensions and impose another real-terms pay cut, while failing to make progress on casualisation, workload, or pay inequality - even though the sector's income continues to increase.

Every UCU member has a part to play in winning these disputes. I do not just mean voting and voting YES. As well as voting, I need you to be actively involved in getting others to vote. Being in a union is more than just putting a cross in a box. It is about standing together with our colleagues and students to defend education and research - both those who provide it and those who rely on it.

Here are some actions you can take to support the union's campaign:

  • vote YES to strike action and YES to action short of a strike
  • talk to at least 10 colleagues and remind them to vote (and get those 10 colleagues to pledge to do the same)
  • contact your branch and offer to become a departmental rep or help in some other way to get the vote out across your university
  • make your participation in the dispute(s) visible by changing your profile pictures on social media and using our other campaign resources
  • talk to non-union colleagues and students about why you are taking action. Employers will do their best to paint you as unreasonable, when they are the ones who are choosing to invest less in their staff and can afford to make an offer that would avoid industrial action.

The survey on industrial action which we conducted in January and February this year found that members feel more enthusiastic about industrial action when more colleagues in their department are taking part.

That will be how we achieve victory in these disputes: by building trust and support for collective action among members in every workplace and every single department. The more staff take part in this action, the sooner you will win and the sooner you can return to work in a sector that is finally starting to value you and your contribution properly.

The ballots close on Thursday 4 November at noon, so please post your papers as soon as possible. As always, if you have any questions, please contact me using this link and I will do my best to address them in future emails.

With best wishes

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Last updated: 6 May 2022