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HE negotiations 2019-20

30 October 2019

The higher education (HE) joint trade union claim 2019/20 has been agreed by the five HE unions - EIS, GMB, Unison, Unite and UCU and was submitted to Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) on 19 March 2019. It can be found here. The claim covers the key UCU policy issues on pay, gender pay, precarious contracts and workloads.


Due to the Covid-19 pandemic no further action was taken in this pay round.

The consultation on the higher education employers' offer saw 61% of voters rejecting the offer, with 39% voting to accept. UCU's higher education committee (HEC) will meet in the autumn to discuss the next steps of the campaign. Watch UCU general secretary Jo Grady's video announcement and commentary below:

Consultative ballot results [108kb]

The consultation on the final offer made by UCEA is now open and members in higher education branches should have received an email containing a link to vote, with subject line 'UCU - University College Union - Consultative ballot'.

Voting closes on Wednesday 29 July.

UCU is now preparing to consult members on the UCEA final offer made in connection with the JNCHES negotiations for 2019/20; the 'Four Fights' dispute. The consultative e-ballot will open on Friday 10 July and members will start to receive emails with details of how to vote from this date.

The consultative ballot is being conducted for UCU by Civica Election Services (formerly 'Electoral Reform Services' (ERS)) and you will receive a secure email from them with details of how to vote. You will also receive a commentary on the offer from the UCU negotiators on why the offer should be rejected.

The ballot will open on Friday 10 July and close on Wednesday 29 July. 

After a recent branch delegate meeting UCU's higher education committee has unanimously adopted the outcomes of the branch delegete meeting held in May, and will now consult members directly via e-ballot on the UCEA final offer with a recommendation to reject. The timing and details of the e-ballot have been delegated to the new HEC officers, general secretary and head of HE to progress. 

The re-ballot of branches proposed for the end of June will not take place and will be considered by a future HE sector conference should members vote to reject the final offer.

UCU has received an offer from employers, which is a revised version of the offer which employers originally tabled in January this year.

Our 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. 

See the briefing on the offer and what it means here.

As it stands, the higher education committee (HEC) has resolved to aim to reballot branches for industrial action, starting at the end of June or as soon as practically possible thereafter, and ending in September. However, the HEC has also arranged for branch delegate meetings to be called before any final decisions on reballots are taken.

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. 

See also the update from Jo Grady, UCU general secretary: A revised Four Fights offer from employers, and other important developments in our disputes

The general secretary, Jo Grady has written to members to reinforce that the issues over UCU is in dispute with employers have not gone away. She said that on 1 April the employers had tabled a revised version of the pay and working conditions offer which they originally made in January. UCU negotiators have responded and the two parties are planning to meet soon. The HEC will consider any offer that is on the table, and any steps which it may wish to take, at its next meeting on Friday 24 April. 

Reballots postponed due to Covid-19; pickets cancelled but action continues

Our negotiators met employers on 9 March for talks in our 'four fights' dispute. Discussions followed a similar pattern to previous meetings: constructive dialogue and good progress towards a possible resolution on equality, job security, and workload, but employers remain very resistant to making an improved offer on pay. 

A fuller report from the pay negotiators can be found here. [94kb]

You can also read Jo Grady's latest update for members, which includes information on the potential impact of Covid-19 and the options for industrial action next term.

Will the employers take a last chance to avoid summer term disruption, asks general secretary, Jo Grady.

The general secretary, Jo Grady, has written to members with a detailed update on the state of the 'four fights' pay & equality dispute, as well as with the negotiations over USS.

She said that the employers (UCEA) have been receptive in principle to many of the additions and amendments which we have asked them to make to their offer covering workload, job security, and equality.

On the pay element she said that 'given the prospects of progress on the three non-pay elements, and given how much we know they matter to you, our negotiators have signalled to UCEA that they are willing to make significant concessions.' The negotiators have  therefore indicated that 'an offer of a 3% increase in pay to members could resolve the dispute.'

Negotiators' statement on 'four fights' talks, 5 Mar 20 [176kb]

Leaked minutes of a recent meeting of Russell Group universities on casualisation. The minutes reveal that some universities are starting to face up to the massive increase in precarious employment that has happened under their watch.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said, 'The leaked document cites UCU reports and surveys and recognises that our arguments have gained a lot of traction. But if universities were truly serious about addressing the issues, they would mandate UCEA to negotiate properly with us, rather than scrambling to hold secret damage-limitation exercises behind closed doors.'

'Positive and constructive and talks are set to continue', UCU general secretary Jo Grady said today. She urged members to not let employers get away with claiming that our demands are unaffordable, saying that 'they would not be wavering and reconsidering their position if you were not continuing to withdraw your labour'.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady reports that the employers have have scheduled a meeting with negotiators today, but only on the understanding that they will 'nuance' and 'clarify' the offer which they made at the end of January rather than changing its substance. 'This is not good enough', she said.

Support for the biggest ever wave of strikes on university campuses is solid as UCU members at 74 universities begin 14 days of strikes.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady has appeared on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 outlining the reasons UCU members are embarking on 14 days of strike action over USS and pay & related issues:

UCU has laid the blame for the impending UCU strike action squarely at the door of the employers after UCEA said again yesterday that it would still not talk to the union about the crucial pay element of the dispute.

In a pre-strike message to members, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said, 'Employers are sitting on their hands. They believe they can avoid making any bigger concessions, in the hope that we will falter and lose our resolve. They are wrong. What we need to do in the next few days is show them that we are not going away.'

UCU general secretary Jo Grady says 'the unprecedented level of action shows just how angry staff are at their universities' refusal to negotiate properly with us' as members prepare to walk out for 14 more days strike action from 20 February.'

UCU's national negotiators have provided a briefing to members [167kb] on the 'four fights' dispute and negtoations with the employers, and why members are now being asked to take further strike action.

With ten days to go until the next wave of strike action in our higher education disputes, UCU general secretary Jo Grady has answered some of the questions and address some of the issues members have raised and has invited members to join her for a Facebook Live Q&A on Thursday 13 February from 1pm to 2pm.

Members in affected branches are being called to take 14 more days of strike action during February and March. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said that while members' action has made employers more cooperative, 'we haven't yet seen the movement we need.'.

The full strike dates are:

  • week one: Thursday 20 and Friday 21 February
  • week two: Monday 24, Tuesday 25 and Wednesday 26 February
  • week three: Monday 2, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 4 and Thursday 5 March
  • week four: Monday 9, Tuesday 10, Wednesday 11, Thursday 12 and Friday 13 March.

The results of the reballots in the pay & equality dispute [56kb] are now available.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'UCU members at 74 universities could walk out this term. We have been clear from the outset that we are prepared to take serious and sustained action to defend pay and conditions, as well as our pensions, and these latest ballot results show that members are just as determined as ever': Staff at another 14 universities can join strike action

UCU's negotiators issued a statement on the offer ahead of UCU's higher education committee meeting on 30 January which will decide the next steps.

UCU has issued a 10-point briefing [189kb] following a further detailed offer from UCEA. UCU general secretary Jo Grady has also provided a detailed update for members on what this means and the next steps.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady provides a brief update to members on the process of negotiations with the employers and subsequent decision-making within UCU. The next negotiating meeting takes place on 24 January.

UCU vice-president Vicky Blake has also urged members to vote in the 'four fights' pay & equality dispute reballots, saying 'This fight is about shifting employers to make meaningful change to the way widespread casualisation, gender and race inequality, and dangerous workloads impact staff alongside how we are paid. It is about what we should be able to expect from decent employers: universities should be beacons of excellent employment practice not exploitation.

'UCU negotiators are clear that we are negotiating to embed change, to get agreements that are substantive and measurable in order that we can start to rebuild trust across our sector, and return universities to their civic mission. Universities should be values-driven organisations which benefit all of society. We need real change at the core of how universities are managed; and for that we need our employers to understand that to refuse to make the change we need is an abdication of responsibility and of what is right.'

Vicky also drew attention to the report released by UCU on 20 January which hit hard at the disgraceful treatment of casualised academics as second-class citizens.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady has reported that some progress was made at the meeting with employers to discuss the 'Four Fights' pay dispute on 10 January, although there has been no increase in the pay offer of 1.8%. However, she said, thanks to our industrial action, employers have finally become open to establishing sector-wide expectations for progress on reducing workloads, increasing job security, and closing the gender and ethnicity pay gaps. 

Depending what emerges from the next meeting on 24 January, UCU's higher education committee may schedule another wave of strike action when it meets on 30 January.

You can read Jo's full update here.

Ballots over the 'four fights' pay & equality campaign, alongside ballots over USS, opened today at a further 25 branches, bringing the total now being reballoted to 37. UCU general secretary Jo Grady has written to remind members what's at stake.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady updates members on the pay & equality dispute, saying that progress has not been straightforward, but it is happening.

UCU has written to UCEA today [200kb] in relation to the pay and equalities dispute, outlining our disappointment at the employers' letter of 5 December which stated they are unwilling to reopen negotiations on pay. The letter reaffirms UCU's position that all four elements of the dispute - pay, casualisation, workload and equality pay gaps - need to be meaningfully addressed for the dispute to be resolved. The negotiators have confirmed that we are willing to meet UCEA again on 17 December for further negotiations and encourage employers to provide UCEA with a mandate to make an offer that substantively engages with each element of our claim.

After a letter from the employers saying they would not talk about pay, UCU has called for sensible university leaders to speak out if disputes that have seen eight strike days already this term are to be resolved.

This comes the same day as news that more than £100,000 has been donated to the UCU's fighting fund since the ballots for strike action at universities opened in September. UCU said the support and generosity from students, sister trade unions and the general public has been overwhelming, and will only help to strengthen members' resolve.

With eight days of strike action drawing to a close and action short of a strike about to begin, UCU general secretary Jo Grady tells members 'employers should be in no doubt: they badly misjudged us'.

UCU general secretary writes to update members on the strike action and the latest talks with the employers, urging members that 'what we need to do now is make the next four days just as inspiring as the first four have been'.

UCU's HE pay and equality national negotiators have updated branches on the negotiations which took place yesterday. They reported 'it is clear that it was UCU's strong ballot result and the prospect of solid industrial action which have brought UCEA to the table', adding a thanks to members for the strong and vibrant support which continues to have an impact on the discussions. During the meeting the negotiatiors made it clear to the employers that UCU members expect progress on all aspects of the claim, and they pressed the employers' representatives to improve their offer on each of the four interconnected areas of pay and working conditions.

UCEA have agreed to return to their member institutions, and have committed to a written response early next week.

The negotiators wish to reiterate that 'while we are pleased that this consultation is occurring, the fact that it is happening against the backdrop of ongoing industrial action is a sign of a significant disconnect between university management and the staff who make up our higher education institutions'. The negotiators further advised UCEA to 'strongly encourage their membership to engage with staff on the picket lines, and to listen to what working conditions are truly like in our sector'.

UCU today said that it needs to see more than 'warm words and meagre promises' following the latest pay talks prompted by UCU's strike action.

UCU also announced that more universities are to be balloted over strike action. These institutions* are:

  • Leeds Beckett University
  • Leeds Trinity University
  • SOAS (also balloting over USS)
  • University of Worcester
  • University of East Anglia
  • University of Arts London
  • University of the West of Scotland
  • Falmouth University
  • Northumbria University
  • University of Surrey (also balloting over USS).

Imperial College London and the University of Kent are being balloted over USS at the same time.

Also today, UCU said Sheffield Hallam University should stop trying to use strong-arm tactics after the university was accused of trying to students into snitches.

*Institutions updated from initial list

UCU said that strong shows of support for strikes at 60 UK universities sent a clear message that staff would not settle for pay cuts and deteriorating conditions: Solid support for strikes sends clear message to universities

The day before action begins UCU general sceretary Jo Grady  says 'We strike to improve our working conditions, but we also know as well as any group of workers that strikes are about education. Let's take this opportunity to remind our students and the wider world how much our work matters'.

Industrial action confirmed after universities are accused of being 'all spin and no substance' in their response to disputes over pensions, pay and working conditions: University strikes ON after universities refuse to deal with pensions, pay and working conditions

UCU has accused universities of 'playing games' after they ruled out talking about pay, less than a week before its members are due to walk out on strike for eight days at 60 universities.

With one week until the strikes in 57 institutions over pay & conditions, UCU general secretary Jo Grady says the best way to make that happen is to be ready to follow through on our threat of strike action and make it as effective as possible: One week from strike action

FAQs, resources and more in the new strike info centre.

Employers have just under two weeks to meet us and find a solution to our disputes over USS pensions and pay and equality and Jo Grady makes clear that the ball is in the employers' court.

Sixty UK universities will be hit with eight days of strike action from Monday 25 November to Wednesday 4 December, UCU announced today: UCU announces eight days of strikes starting this month at 60 universities

UCU general secretary Jo Grady told members 'I am serious about using the powerful mandate you have given the union to get round the negotiating table and achieving a meaningful, lasting resolution': Eight days of strike action called in HE disputes

UCU members working in UK universities have backed strike action in ballots over both pensions and pay and working conditions: UCU members back strikes over both pensions and pay and conditions

The general secretary, Jo Grady, said that the HE ballot results send a strong message to employers.

With time nearly up, Jo Grady says every vote counts in the HE ballots.

With the ballot deadline looming, Jo Grady urges members to beat the 50% threshold.

Jo Grady argues that we need to fight to defend the national agreements that hold the sector together in both post-92 and the pre-92 sectors.

Jo Grady urges members to vote in the current pay and equalities ballot: We're worth it - so have your say

Members have only two weeks left to vote in UCU's national ballot on pay and pay-related issues, before the deadline closes on 30 October: Give your union a mandate to make the sector fairer

UCU has urged university employers to 'stop spinning and start talking' on pay and pensions, after the Universities and Colleges Employers Association published a second misleading report within a week down-playing problems with pay and contracts in the sector, while failing to respond to a call for renewed talks from the shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner has 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.

Pay for university staff has plummeted in real-terms in the last decade, according to a report released by universities' representatives. 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.

We've published an FAQ on the pay and equality dispute and how we've got to where were are now: HE pay and equalities - explained!

For a more indepth review of what's at stake, please watch this presentation by UCU HE pay negotiator Robyn Orfitelli: Pay and equalities: (not!) enough already

The general secretary announces that the National Union of Students (NUS) has agreed to work with UCU and throw its full weight behind our strike ballots: We stand 'shoulder to shoulder' with you. Read the full joint public statement: Joint UCU/NUS statement on the current HE disputes

Post-92 members need a better deal, which is why they should back the industrial action, says UCU's general secretary.

Vote yes, urges UCU general secretary Jo Grady, so that we can put pressure on the employers to enter into meaningful negotiations to find a long-term solution to the sector's ongoing issues.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady is touring higher education institutions across the UK this autumn, calling on members to vote YES in both the USS pension ballot and the higher education pay and equality ballot.

Industrial action ballots confirmed: University strike ballots will open on Monday 9 September

As the USS and equality and pay-related ballots are due to open in higher education, UCU general secretary updates members on the latest developments and the importance of the ballots.

Following the Higher Education Committee (HEC) rejection of the employers' final offer, on 16 and 25 July UCU participated in JNCHES dispute resolution talks with UCEA and the other HE trade unions. During the meetings UCU negotiators pressed the employer's side to improve their offer on pay, gender and race pay, precarious contracts and workloads; all of which are core UCU policy objectives and headline elements of the campaign.

It is very disappointing to report that the employers failed to sufficiently improve their offer.

In line with the decisions taken by the HEC, UCU has today written to the heads of institutions we believe are part of the JNCHES national bargaining arrangements lodging a trade dispute with each institution and setting out the steps they should take to resolve the dispute.

UCU's general secretary-elect, Jo Grady, updates members on the position of the employers on annual negotiations around pay, equality, job security, and workload, as well as USS: Defending our profession

The UCU HE national negotiating team for 2019/20 has now been confirmed, and includes Vicky Blake, Mark Abel and Jo McNeil (Higher Education Committee chair and vice chairs) and four negotiators elected by HE sector conference at the end of May: Joanna de Groot, Marian Mayer, Robyn Orfitelli and Sean Wallis. You can contact the negotiators through UCU head of HE, Shahenda Suliman.

UCU general secretary-elect, Jo Grady, updates on the simultaneous strike ballots over pay and USS planned for September.

UCU's higher education committee (HEC) met on 28 June and set out a timetable for that ballot on pay and also for a ballot on USS pensions to run at the same time.

The ballots will run from Monday 9 September to Wednesday 30 October and the union's HEC will meet to consider the results on Friday 1 November. The ballots will be disaggregated so each institution will be polled separately.

Universities on strike warning as UCU announces pay and pension ballots

At the annual UCU congress meeting in Harrogate delegates voted for an industrial action ballot in the autumn on the issues of precarious employment, pay inequality, workload and salary erosion in higher education. This follows the employers' refusal to engage properly with the union's national claim beyond offering a below inflation pay increase of 1.8%. 

The next step is that UCU's higher education committee (HEC) will meet on 28 June to agree the substance of and timetable for the national campaign. You can read the pay claim presented to the employers here.

UCU branches will continue to campaign locally to exert pressure on employers to tackle the issues of casualisation, workload and inequality. We will provide a full report to members following the HEC meeting.

The national negotiators' have produced a report for the higher education sector conference being held at the end of the month, which includes recommendations on motion HE1 on HE pay. Branches have been asked to consider the report and its recommendations and circulate to members.

The third and final negotiating meeting took place on Tuesday 30 April.

UCEA offered a slightly improved headline pay offer which means which means 1.8 % for UCU members. The offer also means and higher tapering to bottom of spine from point 15 downwards and spine point 2 is removed; 1.8% meets the current consumer price index including housing (CPIH) measure of inflation but not retail price index (RPI).

UCEA also made a limited improved offer of joint work on gender pay and intersectional issues in the form of reviewing existing data and looking a new data however this falls short of action plans and JNCHES reviews as set out in the claim.

On precarious contracts the offer is for limited work on data and zero hours guidance but again no action orientation and role for JNCHES on reviewing local agreements.

The employers made no meaningful offer on workload.

UCU's negotiators expressed their disappointment with the offer and confirmed it will be considered by HE sector conference at the end of the month.

The second negotiating meeting took place on 11 April. The national employers' representatives marginally improved the headline pay offer to 1.5% for UCU represented grades, which was tapered slightly higher for those in the lowest grades on the pay spine. UCEA made no meaningful offer in regards to the pay equality elements of the claim: a national agreement on closing the gender pay gap and addressing intersectional issues; UK level joint action to deal with widespread casual contracts in the sector; and an agreement to tackle excessive working hours. UCEA re-confirmed that they do not have a mandate from employers to deal with gender pay, precarious employment or workloads at the JNCHES negotiations.

UCU's negotiators expressed their frustration with the UCEA pay offer which means another below inflation increase for members. On pay equality, the negotiators expressed concern that in UCEA were deliberately restricting JNCHES and that this was not acceptable or sustainable.

The final meeting takes place on 30 April. Branches and members will be updated after the meeting.

The higher education trade unions met the employers at the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association (UCEA) on 26 March for the first New JNCHES pay negotiation meeting for 2019/20. The joint trade unions presented their claim and pressed the employers to reverse the decline in members pay as well as addressing gender inequality, precarious contracts and workload.

The employers made the following statement:

'The employers open the negotiations, on behalf of the participating universities, with an initial envelope for discussion of 1.3% across all the elements of the pay claim.'

The unions note the employers opening position which falls far short of the unions' claim. The negotiations continue on 11 April, the unions are looking forward to receiving an improved offer which provides a fair pay rise, and addresses all elements of the pay claim.

Last updated: 9 June 2022