Get The Vote Out – The 2019 UCU Equalities Ballot

We hope you are ready to start the new calendar year refreshed and with renewed enthusiasm for your role in Higher Education.

Tomorrow (Tuesday 15th January) the UCU will open a national ballot in support of the 2018 Pay and Equalities claim, so please look out for your postal ballot papers. The four main elements of this claim are the following:

  • Employers and UCU will develop a nationally agreed framework for action to close the gender pay gap by 2020
  • They will also devise a nationally-agreed framework for action on precarious contracts
  • Employers will offer a nationally-agreed payment to recognise excessive workloads
  • We will receive a pay increase to all spine points on the 50 point national pay scale of 7.5% or £1,500 whichever is greater

We are sure you can agree that this claim prioritises some of the greatest challenges to the continued health of UK universities.

This ballot may seem like a case of déjà vu to some of you. Indeed, last year the union engaged in a disaggregated ballot in support of this claim – a disaggregated ballot takes the turnout and result for each individual university. Many Branches, including RHUL, didn’t quite meet the 50% threshold for member participation, which has been needed for a ballot to be deemed “legal” since 2016. At a national meeting in November UCU Branch representatives identified a few potential explanations for this: the timing of the ballot – it started without advance warning and before the academic year, so activists were relatively unprepared; some members were confused by the need to vote by post for industrial action when UCU held a “consultative” e-ballot on the topic over the summer; and, some of the UCU resources underplayed the equalities aspects of the claim. The majority of Branches called for the re-run to take an “aggregated” approach so that all UCU members can take industrial action, if this is the result of the ballot, even if their university had not individually reached the 50% threshold.

Of course, the need to reach the 50% threshold for the whole HE UCU membership means Branches are going to have to work really hard to convince members to use their vote. At RHUL we will be asking each of our Departmental Representatives to help us conduct a “Get The Vote Out” campaign, which will involve putting up posters, knocking on doors and talking to members. Last year many of you showed your commitment to the union and specifically to defending working conditions, so please let your Dep Rep know if you’d like to get involved with the campaign. If you are not sure how to do this then get in touch with us via our Branch email account:  rhulucu2018 at gmail.com.

If you wish to remind yourself of the full details and the background to the joint trade union claim you can read about it here.

Good luck to you in 2019 from your Branch Committee.

Using your vote in the current UCU pay ballot

Many of you may be returning to campus, to full mail slots and a backlog of administrative messages. Amongst this volume of correspondence is the very important ballot paper on the issue of this year’s pay negotiations between UCU and our employers, led by UCEA.

Earlier this year all HE trade unions submitted a joint claim which had a “keep up and catch up element” asked for a 7.5% raise or an additional £1,500 if that was greater, for those of our colleagues on lower salaries. The claim also raised many less of the less attractive aspects of work in HE: as we saw recently from the government’s reporting requirement, the gender pay gap remains a significant problem; casualisation is a growing issue which may damage the next generations of academic and professional service staff, with increasing numbers of staff only offered fixed-term and even zero hours contracts; and workloads continue to increase, with a 2016 UCU survey finding the average working week was 50.7 hours (FTE). Given contracts at RHUL stipulate a 35 hour working week, that’s more than two days of work we are producing for free. So, UCU and its partner trade unions called for national frameworks to alleviate these problems.

The full claim, and the arguments offered in support by HE trade unions, can be viewed here.

Employers offered only 2% rise after months of negotiations, with no specific responses on the other issues. Now we often console ourselves in the face of disappointing pay offers by reminding ourselves that we didn’t begin this career for the salary, BUT it’s time to get angry about this. Vice Chancellors, Principals and other senior university managers have enjoyed good rises relative to the rest of us. And, UCU estimates that we have borne, on average, a 21% loss in real terms since 2010.

Much of the literature and message from us around ballots keeps mentioning a “50% threshold”, but many of you may be unaware what this means and why it is relevant. Those of you with an interest in trade union law and or labour history (loads of us I am sure!) will know that since 1980 there have been many legislative assaults on the ability of trade unions to undertake their primary function –defending their members’ interests. In 2017 the latest piece of legislation in this area required that any ballot must attract the participation of at least 50% of eligible voters to be valid. So, during the recent pension dispute a handful of universities – including LSE and Birmingham – had to be re-balloted as they failed to encourage 50% of members to use their vote.

The ballot explores whether members wish to accept the offer and if not, asks about their willingness to take strike action and action short of a strike in pursuit of a better deal. Your responses to each of these elements are vital, both in determining nationally what will happen next in our pay negotiations but also so that your Branch understands where our members stand.

This ballot closes next month, so please don’t forget to use your vote. If you cannot find your voting papers, here is how to request replacements.

Whilst we have your attention, can we just remind you that next Tuesday (18th) we are running a training session on union case work on the RHUL campus, from 10-2. This is an introductory session, during which some of our existing case workers will outline how they help colleagues to defend themselves, when faced by redundancy, questionable promotion decisions or other manifestations of unfairness. Details are available on our blog  along with an article by Doug Cowie, who recently undertook a more intensive version of this training. We still have a few places left, so sign up soon if you’d like to learn more.

Posted on behalf of members of the RHUL–UCU Committee

London Weighting – ballot opening soon

Do you ever notice the minimal element of your pay slip designated “London Allowance”? Our London Weighting has not increased in many years, although other London area universities have chosen to increase this element of pay in recognition of ever escalating costs of living. When thinking about London Weighting we need to remember that increases in London weighting are progressive in that they can have a significant impact on the income of lower paid colleagues, whether that is administrators, security staff or hourly paid lecturers. So, this is surely an increase we can all get behind.

You may well recall that the three RHUL campus unions submitted a London Weighting claim last year. You may also remember that the College turned this down. It was our collective intention to follow this with a RHUL-based campaign working towards a formal dispute in pursuit of our claim. UCU work on this was, initially, delayed by the USS Pension strike action. Although the first stage of the pension action could (in certain circles) be considered successful, it is clear that the College, along with all USS employers is going to have to find additional financial resource to pay increased USS contributions, at least until the Joint expert Panel comes up with a miracle solution. Subsequently, the UCU, together with other main campus unions, made a 7.5% annual pay claim against the employers’ offer of 2%. This pay claim also includes improvements to casualised employment patterns, the gender pay gap and workloads. These are all areas we will be campaigning on locally next academic year. We are now entering a formal ballot period for this claim. We will need to reach the threshold of 50% of local members to be able to join the national action over pay, so we will encourage you over the summer to respond to email invitations to vote.

In light of the above, the Branch Committee discussed the efficacy of continuing with our London weighting claim at this point. Whilst we all believe that the value of London weighting at RHUL should be restored in the medium term, there were different opinions as to whether it was feasible to pursue this at the same time as employers face an increase in pension costs and when we are making a significant national pay demand. We put this dilemma to the AGM which, narrowly voted to ‘soft pedal’ on the London Weighting demand for the immediate future. We are, however, acutely aware that, with many hundreds of members, the AGM is not, necessarily, representative of the whole Branch. We promised, therefore, to put the vote to the whole Branch and would welcome your individual views. Please be assured that any postponement in pursuing this issue will be motivated by our desire to pursue our other objectives with what is very limited trade union Facility Time – but it will only be a postponement. As the College advertisement for a “HR Change Leader” closed recently we look forward with working with a new colleague to make this once again a decent place to work and study.

Please look out for an e-mail to your RHUL contact address, which will include a link to cast your vote in relation to the proposed London weighting campaign. We value your time in responding to these questions. We need your input so we can be sure that we are representing the will of our members.

Posted on behalf of the RHUL UCU Branch Committee

National pay consultation

Branch members should have received an e-mail on Wednesday inviting them to vote in a consultation from UCU National on the pay offer of 2% that has been made by the higher education employers.
UCU National is recommending that members reject the offer for the following reasons:
  • 2% is well below the current rate of inflation which, as measured by the Retail Price Index (RPI), is currently 3.4%
  • 2% does nothing to restore ground lost against inflation since 2010 which UCU estimates to be 21% when pay settlements are cumulatively compared to rises in RPI
  • 2% reflects a continuing de-prioritisation of staff pay; while the proportion of university expenditure spent on staff has fallen to just 54.7%, reserves held by institutions have increased by 259% and capital expenditure by 34.9%
The branch committee encourages all members to vote in this consultation. If you have not received an e-mail inviting you to take part, you can find a link to request a replacement here.
The ballot closes at 12 noon on 27 June 2018.