The new UCU branch committee for the 2018-2019 academic year takes office from 1 August. Thanks to everyone who served on the committee for the last year, especially those of you who haven’t stood for re-election, who have done a great deal to help UCU members over many years. Members who were on the committee last year but aren’t this year are Andy Stafford, Charles Umney, Gavin Reid, Jill Edwards, Kyle Griffith, Simon Hewitt, Stephen Lax and Steven French.
We’re welcoming new members to the committee: Alan Roe, Andi Rylands, Chloe Wallace, Dima Barakat Chami, Lata Naranaswamy, Laura Loyola Hernandez, Peter Tennant and Rachel Walls.
The full list of department representatives, including postgraduate reps, anticasualisation reps and workload reps, is at leedsucu.org.uk/about-us/departmental-representatives. There are still some departments without a UCU rep – email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to nominate a colleague to be a UCU rep or if you’d like to do it yourself.
Update sent by branch vice president Tim Goodall to all members by email on Friday 3 August
Dear UCU members,
You will have seen that the USS pension scheme has announced it will implement a ‘cost-sharing’ package, meaning that both employers and employees will see increased contributions to our USS pension scheme. These increases will be staggered, and begin in April 2019, when our contributions will rise from 8% of salary to 8.8%. That will then increase to 10.4% after six months, and up to 11.7% in April 2020. Employers will see a similar phasing of increases, up to 24.9% by 2020. The employers’ 1% match of voluntary additional contributions will come to an end.
The USS argues that these increases are necessary to make up the ‘deficit’ as calculated on certain disputed bases last year. USS will consult with scheme members on these changes in September.
The Joint Expert Panel was set up after the agreement of UCU members earlier this year, with a remit to look into that deficit. We do know that USS’s ‘accounting deficit’ has recently dropped from £17.5bn to £8.4bn, as a result of them applying different mortality and bond yield forecasts, demonstrating how pliable any pension ‘deficit’ can be, based on a number of variables.
Note that the cost-sharing adjustments that are to be implemented are based upon the November 2017 valuation of our pension ‘deficit’. Some reminders:
The September valuation was rejected by a substantial minority of institutions (42%), leading to that more damaging November valuation and related proposal of shifting from defined benefits (we know what we will receive in retirement) to defined contribution (we only know what we pay in).
It later transpired that this 42% consensus had been generated by double-counting institutional responses to UUK surveys, and some evidence of seeming collusion between some of them.
USS themselves had calculated that institutions could afford increases based on that September valuation, and if we were able to return to it (seeing as the majority of institutions already supported it), we could avoid those heavy cost-sharing increases and maintain the status-quo more or less.
It remains to be seen if the Joint Expert Panel comes up with some agreement that might lead to an altered approach to cost-sharing.
Gabriella Alberti and Dima Barakat Chami report on this significant change to Home Office rules brought about by pressure from UCU, especially from members of UCU University of Leeds branch
On Thursday the 12th of July our General Secretary informed all union members that our UCU campaign for the right to strike of international staff under visa has been won. According to the guidance and immigration rules for migrant workers (under the tier 2 and 5 immigration routes) any staff dependent on a working visa who would incur more than 10 non-consecutive days of unpaid leave (thus including legal strike action) per calendar year would risk the possibility to be reported by their employer to the Home Office. This would effectively put her/his and their family’s right to reside in the UK at risk. It is thus not impossible to imagine how such a punitive and unequal law would discourage migrant workers from joining strike action beyond the symbolic day or two. In this sense we are very proud that our longest ever strike in higher education has acted not only as a terrain to test such unequal treatment on a fundamental democratic right, but ultimately also as springboard for change. By revealing an obvious injustice in the system, the strike triggered a wave of outrage that pushed the UK Parliament and the Home Secretary to be held accountable and change the law regulating unpaid leave for any worker on visa. How did we get to this important outcome in a short period of time?
Initiated through lay members involved in the industrial action in the midst of our great 2018 strike over pension, lamenting their frustration and constraints in participating and their sense of injustice, in the space of a few months individual members, local branches, activists and supporters across the country have mobilised and lobbied to make this change possible. In particular the change consists in including industrial action among the exception that will not be counted against the maximum threshold of unpaid leave.
Sajid Javid the Home Secreary declared in his statement last Thursday:
“It is not the Government’s policy to prevent migrant workers from engaging in legal strike action; and, to date, I am not aware of any case where a migrant worker has had their leave curtailed, or been removed, as a result of having engaged in legal industrial action. However, to put the matter beyond doubt, I will be making changes to the guidance and Immigration Rules for migrant workers (under the Tier 2 and 5 immigration routes) and their sponsors. The specific change will add legal strike action to the list of exceptions to the rule on absences from employment without pay for migrant workers. It will make clear that there will be no immigration consequences for any migrant worker who takes part in legal strike action in the same way that a migrant worker is not disadvantaged if they take maternity or paternity leave.”
A battle born in the HE sector will now bear its fruits and realise all migrants for fear of exercising their collective right beyond our sector and across all industries and sectors.
This is a major victory for the union movement and all those who care about equality and understand the importance of equal access to collective rights such as the right to participate in industrial action and freedom of association (guaranteed under various pieces of EU and International law), which are already highly constrained by the restricting legislation on strikes such as the Trade Union Bill, and growing employers’ hostility to trade unions in the UK. A variety of actors have contributed to this important and fast result, which shows the importance of articulating local and national battles if we want to win our campaigns.
As recalled by Sally Hunt in this national campaign, both the actions of the many individuals who have lobbied their MPs and put pressure on political representatives in Westminster and the support from key opposition politicians such as John McDonnell who has played a crucial role in heightening public awareness and visibility of the topic have played a central role to achieving victory. Being one of the branch that has contributed to the campaign, by submitting a motion to congress, organising a legal session with an immigration lawyer and rising the issue with colleagues beyond the union, and with the executive management at the Equality and Inclusion committee of the university, we also want to emphasise the importance of the activity of local branches in developing the grassroot movement and influence that bring about social and political change.
During our legal workshop at Leeds we also learned that the attack on the right to strike is only one element of the evil architecture of the ‘hostile environment’ against our fellow internationals: not only living in an atmosphere of anxiety and fear during exceptional periods of action such as strikes, but in their everyday life as researchers, teachers and academics they are massively constrained by the current Home Office rules in their capacity to travel and be away from the UK (including for research and conferences!) for longer than 180 days.
The current rules indeed establish that the Home Office can arbitrarily pick up any 180 out of any calendar year when it comes for the migrant to apply for their indefinite leave to remain, thus jeopardising their possibility to regularise and extend their stay in the UK (and the rights of their dependant family members). We believe that, although impacting on very different areas of work, the underlying logic of the hostile environment is the same as the one that established the limitation to the right to strike: constraining people mobility and their individual and collective freedoms to keep them subjugated and docile in a climate of fear where their employment is constantly dependent on the authority and revocable. The 180 days rule brings with it the contradictory outcome to decrease migrants’ ability to do their job well, their opportunities for training and development, and not least, their very academic freedom. This is at least what we see in the field of HE but of course the principle of keeping workers under a constrained mobility regime and in a constant status of insecurity in terms of their right to reside tight to the continuation of their employment, is a principle that marks immigration controls across all sectors. At least now these same workers will feel that they are on equal foot with their peers when it comes to the right to voice concerns and participate in lawful industrial action and any future action related to our terms and conditions of employment, including, the effects of this oppressive immigration regime.
We are really proud that our union and its members have contributed to a change in the law that will deliver important result for all migrant worker in the country. This is however only one aspect of the hostile environment and our longer term and wider scope battle against the unfairness of the immigration regime on our campuses and beyond can only be reinvigorate and grow as a result of this victory. But there is still so much to do, from the Monitoring of staff and students (link to Unis Resist Border Controls survey), to the consequences of Brexit, Prevent, and heads up against everyday acts of racism and xenophobia that occure in our workplaces, let alone the institutional racism that make BAME workers still disadvantage at the point of recruitment and progression.
This is a critical political moment where the Hostile Environment is finally under greater public scrutiny and where migrant workers from all sides can join in together to resist the Point based system and the inequality that results from it.
We have held the structures of power accountable, and we have won! We view this victory as an affirmation that collective action works.
United we stand! Onwards with our migrant equality agenda, in Leeds and everywhere.