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UCU: update on national pay and pensions negotiations

UCU industrial action

Message from Vice-Chancellor Professor Robert Van de Noort


Dear colleagues,

The University & College Union (UCU) Higher Education Committee has confirmed that they will be instructing members to take a further 14 days' strike action. UCU has given notification of strike action on the following dates:

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

This is in addition to the current period of action short of strike, which continues until April 2020.

Before Christmas around one-third of UCU members locally took part in up to eight days' strike action. It is regrettable that our students may now face a second period of disruption in this academic year. For some of our students, this will be the third period of strike action that they have faced during their studies, and it feels entirely unfair that they should again be placed in the middle of this dispute.

This announcement of further strike action is particularly disappointing given that national discussions between UCU and employer representatives are ongoing in relation to both the USS pension scheme and the national pay negotiation process (and related matters).

On pensions, the Joint Expert Panel, which includes representatives of both the UCU and employers, published its second report on the USS pension scheme in December. This report makes recommendations covering governance of the scheme, the valuation methodology and possible ways forward. The report was welcomed by UCU and UUK, and it provides a platform for ongoing negotiation about how we strengthen the scheme, ensure that it remains sustainable and deliver the best outcomes for members and employers alike. Five productive meetings have taken place in January between representatives of Universities UK, UCU and USS about how to take these recommendations forward. This group is committed to meeting until at least March.

On pay, the employer representative, the Universities & Colleges Employers Association, has been clear that they have no mandate to revisit the 2018-19 pay settlement. UCEA has, however, presented a range of positive proposals to address important issues around employment in universities, focusing on casual employment, workload and the gender and ethnicity pay gaps. This follows constructive dialogue throughout December and January with UCU and the other unions involved in these national negotiations.

The ongoing discussions on both issues demonstrate, I believe, the goodwill on behalf of university employers to engage constructively. The financial challenges facing universities are not a negotiating tactic - they are very real, constraining what we can do in responding to the UCU demands. I've talked about this in detail on many occasions.

I'd encourage colleagues to come along to the upcoming briefing sessions that I'll be delivering with Samantha Foley, our Chief Financial Officer, and Professor Mark Fellowes, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Academic Planning and Resource. These will focus on how the University manages its finances, how Schools are funded and the pressures they face. The sessions are a useful forum to talk openly about these issues and understand how the financial implications of the current disputes would affect us.

We have also continued to make very positive progress with our local UCU branch here in Reading on the important issues of sessional teaching staff and Grade 6 Teaching Fellows. We are committed to work together on closing the gender pay gap too. The outcomes of these discussions will benefit our University community and I hope to be in a position so that we can share the results of an agreement on new arrangements soon.

As with previous periods of industrial action, our priority will be on minimising disruption for our students as we are legally required. This work will be led by our Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Parveen Yaqoob. This work is particularly pressing given the assessment and exams that take place this term, which we cannot jeopardise. She will write to all colleagues in due course with details of this work.


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