Lack of Leadership Results in Yet Another Loss of HE Pay

The result of the consultative ballot on HE pay has been returned and National Officers have made the decision to call off the current dispute.

The turnout was incredibly poor, just over 12% with only 7% of our HE membership voting to end this dispute.

The notice to members tells us:

  • 57% of those who participated in the ballot voted not to undertake any further industrial action with 43% voting for further sustained action.
  • 52% of participating members voted to agree that the offer provided a sufficient basis for the union to begin ‘detailed joint work aimed at tackling the gender pay gap and casualisation’ while 48% did not agree that this offer was enough.
  • The 1.1% pay uplift which employers had already imposed was ‘noted’ it was not accepted.

There are a number of reasons why I’m angry and why our members will be feeling the same, even those who voted to end the dispute and particularly those who didn’t engage in the ballot.

The offer made by UCEA was not just insignificant, it was insulting. They offered a 1.1% pay rise and they invited us to ‘working groups’ to further discuss casualisation and the gender pay gap. In other words, they kicked two of the most damaging aspects of our current working conditions, into the long grass.

Our dispute was live. We were working to contract, external examiners had resigned, we have all lost THREE days pay.

The implementation of the Trade Union Bill means that any future ballots will have to have a 50% turnout before we can take any national industrial action.

I attended three of the four Regional Pay Briefings in September where members were consulted about the future of the dispute. The main themes to emerge from those briefings were concerns relating to the lack of an effective industrial action strategy, issues about transparency in regard to the consequences members would face if they went into a marking boycott and the ability to deliver the level of action needed given the action had stagnated and members were disengaged.  Nobody said they didn’t think pay, casualisation or the gender pay gap were not worth fighting over. In fact, many delegates said they’d seen an increase in engagement in relation to casualisation and gender pay being a part of the pay dispute.

On October 14th a report was given to HEC detailing the outcome from the Regional Pay Briefings which included recommendations for next steps, one of which was a consultative e-ballot. I tabled an amendment which was carried nem con. The amendment instructed Head Office to circulate contextual information to all members. We talked extensively about making members aware that any future ballots would be held in the context of the TU Bill. This information was not circulated.

When questioned about this, our current General Secretary told me she believed our members are ‘intelligent’ and therefore didn’t need this detail. I don’t doubt our members intelligence, I do however, know how overworked and stressed the majority of them are just completing their ever increasing daily workloads. I know far too many of them are on casualised contracts so don’t always have the opportunity to access emails or get to meetings. I know many of them are worrying about losing their jobs in one of the never-ending re-structures and I know that our overworked, underpaid members expect UCU to provide this kind of detailed information to them – they pay their dues, they expect UCU to do that work, they want us to offer direction and lead them to a win!

Our members are sick and tired of being led into industrial action, losing pay, putting their necks on the line only to be marched back down the hill by the national union who don’t have any confidence in their own strategy.

A win takes hard work, it takes time and resource and effort to build a high profile, national campaign which should be at its height when the ballot opens in order to maximise turnout.

NEC carried a motion instructing the General Secretary and NEC members to go on a speaking tour of branches to build the campaign prior to the ballot in an attempt to increase turnout. Did they come to speak at your branch?

Timing is key and co-ordinating our timeframe with the joint campus unions offers our members a collective position we always find strength in.  Sending ballots out during holiday periods is always problematic,  our national officers, from General Secretary through to the elected Chairs of our national committees, should know how the academic year runs by now!

Ultimately we need a clear, effective strategy, our members want to know what we mean when we put Action Short of Strike on the ballot, they want to know how academics can  ‘work to contract’ when hours of work are not specified in their contracts. They want to know how Academic Related staff and Researchers etc can support a marking and assessment boycott when they are not contracted to do any marking. Most importantly, our members want to know specifically what support the national union will give them if hardline employers move to 100% lockouts.

I led the University of Liverpool branch to a win over a major dispute where almost 3000 staff were threatened to be dismissed from their contracts and reinstated on far inferior terms and conditions. I organised a high profile campaign, held mass meetings, employed a range of tactics which made the employer pay attention and then, with the campaign at its height, we went to a ballot. We had a 50% ballot result which gave us the mandate we needed to push our employer into a corner and come out with a win!

I know how to lead and I know how to co-ordinate and deliver an effective dispute strategy. UCU needs a leader who can win the industrial fights we initiate.

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