Where will I find my ballot papers?
Look out for a white A4 envelope with the UCU logo on it. It will either come to your home address or at work (check your pigeonhole), depending on which address you chose when you completed your UCU registration or updated your membership record on MyUCU. Log in to MyUCU to check and/ or update this at www.ucu.org.uk/myucu
If your ballot paper hasn’t arrived by now you should request a new one at www.ucu.org.uk/ballotrequest You will need your membership number – if you don’t know it, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org using the email address that UCU holds for you and your membership number will be emailed back.
How do I use my ballot papers?
There is a pre-paid envelope in your voting pack. Detach each A4 ballot paper and vote twice on each (once about strike action, and once about action short of a strike) by putting crosses in the boxes. Fold each ballot paper and put both in the pre-paid envelope and seal. You shouldn’t post back the paper with your address on.
Why are there two ballot papers, couldn’t it all be on one?
Only pre-92 universities are in the USS pension scheme, so only members at those universities can be balloted about USS. All universities are under the same bargaining structure for pay and related matters, so all HE members are being balloted on the ‘Four Fights’ dispute (the four being casualisation, equality, workloads and pay). Legally they are two disputes with different employers’ bodies – Universities UK (UUK) for pensions and University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) for pay etc. But thankfully the two ballot papers will come in one envelope, and you post them back in the same envelope, so it’s just a question of ticking boxes on two bits of paper.
What is the last date for submitting my ballot papers?
We’d suggest sending it now, but, in order for it to safely arrive in time, we’d recommend sending by Monday 28th October at the very latest (they need to arrive by Wednesday 30th October). Postage is pre-paid.
I haven’t received ballot papers. How do I request a replacement?
To request a replacement ballot paper, go to ucu.org.uk/ballotrequest – please do this by Wednesday 23 October so there is (just) time for the new ballot paper to reach you and you to post it back by 30 October. If you request a new ballot paper but then subsequently find the original one, you can use either to cast your votes.
Why can’t we vote online?
We have no choice – voting on paper is a legal requirement. The Trade Union Act 2016 specifically and deliberately outlawed online voting in industrial disputes, at the same time as requiring a 50% turnout.
I’m new to the university or not a member yet, can I join now and vote in the ballot?
Yes, we’re keen to have you as a member! If you join by Wednesday 23 October you will be sent a ballot paper. But it has to be sent and returned by post, so it’s better to act sooner than the deadline.
Am I eligible to vote?
If you are a full member of UCU you are entitled to vote. Fully retired or attached members are not eligible, but people who are partly retired but still doing some work at the university are eligible. Postgraduate students who teach and are on the full free membership are entitled to vote. Other student members are not entitled to vote.
If you are on long term sick leave, or maternity leave, or likely to be abroad on research for the whole of the potential period of industrial action, or are unlikely to do any paid work for the university duringthat period, then you are not entitled to vote. Please contact email@example.com if you are in this position. Note that the potential industrial action period is 6 months from the end of the ballot, so if you will be working at the university at any point before the end of April you are entitled to vote.
If you are still a UCU member but have moved to another institution, you need to log in to MyUCU to change your branch and your place of work. You can get a replacement ballot paper sent to your new address using the form at ucu.org.uk/ballotrequest (by Wenesday 23 October).
I’m a student member, can I upgrade my membership so I can vote?
If you have started doing paid teaching work for the university, you can upgrade to full free membership and then become eligible to vote. The deadline for doing this iis Tuesday 22 October. See more about the full free membership.
What are we trying to achieve? What is the goal?
With the Defending Our Pensions ballot, we are fighting for a long-term agreement on our pensions with ‘no detriment’ to our benefits and no increases to our contributions. We want employers not only cover the costs of increases but also make firmer commitments to honour the Joint Expert Panel’s conclusions and hold USS to account (the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) was the outcome of the last strike and their first report discredited USS’s valuation methodology, yet USS still continue to use this methodology to justify contribution increases).
For the Four Fights One Voice ballot, we want our employers to:
- Address the scandal of the gender pay gap
- Bring an end to contract casualisation and rising job insecurity
- Tackle the rising workloads driving our members to breaking point
- Pay awards at, or above, the rate of inflation.
A strong ballot would strengthen our mandate to push for meaningful negotiations with employers with the goal of a national agreement on these issues. This is our chance to change our sector for the better. Yes Yes votes send the message that we will not be squeezed now or in retirement. This obviously impacts us now, but also keeps the sector attractive to future colleagues who may not join the HE workforce if conditions continue to decline.
I’m not sure if I want to strike, should I abstain?
If you don’t vote, you are effectively voting to stop the rest of membership from being able to take action, because of the 50% turnout rule. Union democracy is vitally important, we need to know what the whole membership thinks, so please do use your vote. Abstaining is not sitting on the fence. It undermines the strength of the union across the board, not only on the current disputes, but the future of your terms and conditions (continual erosion?) and on in the many local issues, disputes and negotiations on which UCU works for its members.
Also, and most importantly, remember that the higher the turnout and the higher the Yes vote in both disputes, the more worried the employers will be about a possible strike, and the more likely they will be to come up with better offers. Paradoxically, the stronger the votes the less likely we are to actually end up on strike!
I can’t afford to strike, what should I do?
We understand it is really difficult for people to strike and face losing their usual income. Please remember that there are both national and local fighting funds you can apply for to reduce the financial impact upon you, if indeed yes ballots leads to a strike. Details of how to apply for national and local fund will be on the Leeds and national UCU websites once a strike is planned. It is important to check that your membership is being paid at the correct rate so that you will be eligible for financial support.
On 3rd October, UCU announced that reimbursement from the national fighting fund will be increased:
- members earning £30,000 or more will be able to claim up to £50 from the third strike day onwards
- members earning below £30,000 will be able to claim up to £75 per day from the second day onwards.
The local hardship fund is in good health and will be used for further support in any strikes.
Would there be two strikes if we get over the 50% threshold for both ballots?
At this point we don’t know. There are many ways we could take action and it will be decided by Higher Education Committee once the ballots are in (in early November). What we do know is that it is crucial to get a strong ‘Yes’ vote for both ballots, as both are distinct yet linked. The future of our sector depends on them.
Pensions are more important to me than pay – I’d prefer if the union would sort out our pensions first rather than having another dispute about pay at the same time.
The HE trade unions can’t choose when different issues are discussed – there are different negotiations machineries for different issues. The pay and related matters offer needs to be responded to now, because to do nothing would have meant accepting the latest dire offer. The pensions dispute is necessary because on the 22nd August, Employers voted to increase our USS pension contributions from 8.8% of salary now (8% until recently) to 9.6% in October and 11% next October, despite the Joint Expert Panel report largely vindicating the UCU position. If we wait and hope for the best, the progress that we fought for and won in last year’s strikes may be lost.
I’m in a research only role, no one will notice if I go on strike, what should I do?
The issues we are balloting on affect you too, and we are fighting for your future as much as anyone else’s. Please vote – it’s important we reach the 50% turnout so that (assuming we get a majority in favour of action), we can legally strike. Don’t abstain – vote and thereby help maintain the union’s strength in fighting for decent terms and conditions.
I’m on a good grade and happy with my pay. Why should I vote for action on the Four Fights ballot?
Because, as the name of it suggests, this ballot is about so much more than the pay spine figures alone, although it is clear that pay in higher education has been eroded, and that there is money in the sector to afford a decent pay rise (compare it to what we have been given, which is equivalent to a cut in real terms). Beyond that, there are four, interconnected aspects which affect most people working in higher education: casualisation, equal pay (pay gaps), and workload alongside the rate of pay itself. Remember that colleagues on casualised contracts supported the USS pension strike even though many didn’t qualify for the pension! Many colleagues are given restrictive contracts on a fractional basis which makes it difficult to find work elsewhere – for example, someone on a 0.2 FTE contract who is timetabled to work those hours stretched across a four-day week will struggle to combine those hours with another job (or jobs) to make ends meet. It’s really important that members on secure contracts support their (often more junior) colleagues who are casualised.
It’s imperative to remember that a strong vote will show a strong will to act for the collective benefit of all our members, and affects our overall strength as a union. We actually hope we won’t need to strike, but knowing that we are ready to strike and take action short of a strike in defence of pay and conditions gives our negotiators a much stronger hand. If we do not beat the 50% turnout threshold with a strong yes vote, our employers’ representative body will pretend that it can ignore our concerns, despite the enormous levels of dissatisfaction, stress, and precarious work in the sector. This is also about collective strength, solidarity, and bargaining power. We must not allow employers to feel emboldened about pushing through other deleterious changes while hiding behind the turnout threshold as an excuse to silence us. We urge you to vote “yes, yes” and above all, to vote.
Why do we need to take action?
- In our sector there are significant disability, gender and ethnicity pay gaps. The gender pay gap in Britain remains the highest in the European Union.
- There are over 170 000 colleagues on casualised contracts.
- Staff in higher education (and further education) are working an average of more than two days unpaid every week
- The value of our salaries has fallen by over 20% since 2009 as a consequence of below inflation increases for many years.
- As things stand, our pension contribution will increase to 9.6% of your salary from 1 October 2019 until October 2021. This is up from the current 8.8% and the 8% that it was before the USS pensions dispute began. This will impact on your take-home pay, erasing any uplift from the inadequate 1.8% pay offer, and the increased contributions will do nothing to increase your projected pension.
- Another HE is possible! Two strong ‘Yes’ results will send a strong message that it is time to change our sector for the better!