Our final week was immense, with excellent turnouts in miserable and sunny weather, new leaflets, more hats, more runners, more sweaty assets, picket poetry, amazing speakers and shared solidarity with students, the TUC and NEU, Debbie Harry-led singalongs in person AND online, and gorgeous furry virtual pickets. Take a look at our galleries and remember the solidarity, the creativity and the energy of a union fighting for a better HE!
The month of March brought even more excitement and solidarity on Leeds picket lines. We were delighted to be joined by our fantastic former branch president and national UCU president-elect Vicky Blake last Monday and today. It has been great to hear from Vicky, a UCU negotiator, that our strikes are having an important impact. During the week the crowds kept on coming and we had musical, artistic and of course literary amusement with World Book Day, plus energising workouts with Sweaty Assets and our growing running picket. Today’s equality themed picket (following International Women’s day) brought even more inspired placards and outfits. Thanks to all those who come and show their solidarity, and to those who share it online from home! See you tomorrow for more fun and fighting for a better HE! #ucustrikesback
Some of our favourite pics from the week just gone. Keep up the solidarity! #UCUstrikesback
Negotiations are at a crucial stage. We need pickets out in great numbers.
Thank you so much for all the strength you have put into the action over the last few days. The weather has been shocking, public transport a nightmare, and yet we have seen lots of cheerful and, most importantly, determined picketers every day – and many more a visible presence online.
We need to keep up the pressure and grow the action. Because of what we have done so far, UCU’s negotiators were back in negotiations with the employers’ body UCEA today, on the anti-casualisation, workloads, equal pay and pay dispute. They are back in ‘without prejudice’ talks which means they are not able to share details about what was discussed, but we understand the meeting went on much longer than it was supposed to, which has to be a good sign!
The next couple of days are, therefore, crucial. Please come out to picket if you can – if you don’t live in Leeds you can give support to a picket at a university closer to you. Here’s the picket sign-up form (for University of Leeds branch).
If you can’t picket, please be as loud and visible on social media as you can (#UCUstrikesback), and use this tool to make your views known to the Vice-Chancellor https://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeback-speakout
If you’ve been checking your university email, you might have seen on Friday that the university sent round an open letter from UCEA and UUK to all staff. Today, we have written a response, which makes clear where our issues lie and, in particular, where we think the previous offer needs improvement – we very much hope that these are the issues which are being discussed ! Please read it and share widely: http://www.leedsucu.org.uk/open-letter-from-ucea-and-uuk-leeds-university-ucus-response/
All staff at the University of Leeds were sent on Friday by email a copy of an Open Letter from UCEA and UUK to all staff members in striking institutions. This is our response to that letter.
To start with, we are happy to hear that our employers care about staff and want to create a healthy work environment. Unfortunately that care, and that aspiration, is simply not being felt on the ground. Whilst a powerful wave of strike action does seem to have galvanised some institutions into starting to talk about casualisation and ending insecure contracts, the problems are still visible. Institutions are still creating and advertising impossible fractional and short term contracts; they are still paying hourly paid staff late, or not at all, and not paying them enough to do the basics of their job; they are still trying to keep people for who have worked for an institution for years on fixed term or hourly paid contracts. On the pickets, we are hearing stories of workloads getting even worse. Institutions are failing to address unfair and unsustainable workload models, and are dependent on individuals and union reps to lean in and point out workload risks and problems every time they appear. People are still working evenings and weekends to do the basics of their job. Institutions are celebrating minute improvements in gender pay gaps (and not talking about ethnic pay gaps at all), and are placing responsibility on individuals to fix them (by mentoring and confidence building) rather than facing up to structural inequalities and institutional discrimination.
These kinds of things could stop right now, and they haven’t. Instead it has taken sustained strike action to even get UCEA to the point of seriously addressing working conditions in the sector. The fact that they have had to be pushed to it in this way is a central reason why we need them to commit to implementation of their promises, in the way that their most recent offer simply doesn’t, otherwise the risk is that they will backtrack from their words and promises once we have settled the dispute. Striking is hugely disruptive for everyone: we don’t want to keep having to do it.
We do agree that real progress has been made in negotiations – but only because we have taken strike action. It takes our strike action to get everyone back around the table and that is not good enough from employers who say they care. Frankly, it is very clear to us that they will only act if they have to – so we need mechanisms in an agreement that will allow us to hold them to account.
We are also happy to see progress on the future of USS, and we fervently hope that that continues.
But we also remember that we wouldn’t be in this position if employers hadn’t launched down the dangerous road of excessive de-risking and faulty valuations, and that it took our strike action to stop them. We don’t think that asking members to pay more contributions as a result of the fact that employers started down that road is ‘a fair contribution’ – we didn’t cause the problem, and indeed we lost 14 days pay in 2018 challenging scheme changes which it is now recognised were unnecessary. UUK say they have faith that USS will implement JEP 2 and solve the problem of increased contributions; we lack that faith (given that they did not implement JEP 1) and are not prepared to commit on trust to further contributions for employees. If UUK are right, of course, the increased contributions which we are asking employers to pay will not last for long!
Our employers keep returning to issues of affordability, both on pay and on pensions. The first thing to say is that we are struggling to afford the status quo. The increase in contributions is making the pension unaffordable for new starters, which is no good for them and no good for the scheme. We as individuals are having to shift financial plans and financial priorities to accommodate a rising cost of living, pay that doesn’t keep up with it and increased pension contributions. And casualised staff are constantly struggling to budget and plan for the future with the massive financial uncertainty of short term contracts. Institutional financial positions vary a lot, but over the sector staff costs are decreasing as a proportion of overall expenditure and other costs are rising.
Institutions are planning on the basis of low to no pay increases, and that’s not good enough – staff conditions should be a priority, not a nice-to-have. And financial plans and priorities aren’t set in stone, and certainly shouldn’t be. We need creative thinking based on those good intentions from our leaders to find a way through this position so that staff are fairly paid and their conditions of work are acceptable.
Finally, it is not a ‘perception’ that our concerns are not met. It is reality, and to suggest otherwise is insulting. It is very clear to us and our negotiators what further progress is needed, and our negotiators are ready to propose solutions and make compromises. So we call upon university leaders to demonstrate their care for us in practical terms, by working with our negotiators, thinking constructively and creatively, and finding a resolution to this dispute.