Last Wednesday our elected Leeds delegates had a double dose of special Higher Education Sector Conferences (HESCs) which had been called to decide the next steps for UCU in two higher education disputes:
1. The Pay and Equality dispute (Wednesday morning) It was decided to have a UK-wide re-ballot in the new year, highlighting the casualisation, equality, and workload aspects of the dispute alongside pay. See more detailed Pay & Equality report below.
2. The Pensions dispute (specifically what next after the JEP report on USS) (Wednesday afternoon) After the Joint Expert Panel Report and recent revelations about USS valuation methods, the conference advised UCU to negotiate for no increase in our USS contributions and and end to so-called “de-risking”. See more detailed Pensions dispute report below.
The Higher Education Committee of UCU and our union negotiators will take forward these decisions and advice.
1. Pay and Equality dispute
The first HESC, on the Pay and Equality dispute, was quorate, which means that its decisions complement, confirm, or supersede those taken by the Higher Education Committee (HEC) the previous week.
Decisions taken at the meeting (including amendments) can be downloaded via this link: https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/9939/HESC-1118-pay-decisions/doc/UCU9057Nov18_-_Decisions.doc
All the original motion texts can be seen here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/9754/Higher-education-special-sector-conference-pay—motions
The meeting opened with the Chair’s introduction and comments. A report was also given by Paul Bridge, UCU Head of Higher Education, about the context of the recent ballot result. The report noted that UCU HE members voted with a clear majority in favour of action and action short of strike (ASOS) over the pay and equality claim for 2018-19, but that we did not clear the 50% turnout threshold set by the (anti-) Trade Union Act 2016. Across the UK, our turnout was approximately 42%. The disaggregated (branch by branch) ballot left us with 8 of 147 branches who would have been legally able to strike over the current pay and equality claim. It was noted that this turnout for a dispute over pay and conditions would historically have been seen as high, and prior to the establishment of the 50% threshold, is one we would have celebrated. The report noted multiple factors that may have affected turnout, and this theme continued in the motion debates.
Motion 1 kicked off a significant debate about whether UCU HE members should re-ballot over the current dispute. The motion was comprised of 4 branch motions (as they were concerned with the same/related themes). It contained a number of clauses and sub-points, some of which were voted on separately (“in parts”). An amendment from London City UCU was also passed, changing the re-balloting time-frame from “before December” to the new year (early in Spring term). With an emphasis upon improved resources and communications over the current claim, and the removal of the clause regarding only re-balloting branches who achieved 35-50% turnout, the motion was passed.
This means we will be re-balloting in late January / early February over the current claim. The claim will be reframed to emphasise the important equality aspects to the claim, to the “Casualisation, Equality, Pay and Workload” dispute. Materials produced will reflect this. Motion 1 also called for improvements and specific changes to UCU’s Get The Vote Out (GTVO) strategy.
Immediately following Motion 1, the meeting agreed to debate Motion 5 which called for a return to aggregated balloting, where all members are balloted as one unit UK-wide. The threshold of an aggregated ballot is reached if 50% of the whole eligible membership vote. The recent Pay and Equality ballot, like the USS ballot, was disaggregated, meaning that each branch which met the 50% threshold was legally able to strike, but those which did not could not. In a disaggregated ballot over a UK-wide issue, UCU would need to decide how many branches would be needed to meet the 50% threshold to call an effective set of strike actions which could be considered as a UK-wide action. Leeds UCU successfully moved an amendment to this motion, which directs UCU to invest more in resources and support for this, and any other ballot campaigns.
The debate over aggregated / disaggregated ballots was raised in speeches for and against Motion 1 and Motion 5. As Motion 5 was passed (as amended) this means UCU will proceed with an aggregated re-ballot of all members: ti.e. our turnout will be taken together, rather than branch by branch. There was considerable discussion of how to weigh up the threat disaggregated balloting poses to UK-wide bargaining if only a subset of branches were balloted, versus the risk that an aggregated ballot might miss the 50% turnout threshold. Motion 5 was passed after a very close vote; it was notable that everyone speaking in this debate was in favour of protecting UK-wide bargaining over pay.
A later motion (“Late Motion L1”) reinforced UCU’s existing policy on UK-wide bargaining on pay. (Note: an amendment is missing on the webpage, which was agreed, and stipulates that branches will be assisted in educating members about how the bargaining “machinery” of “New JNCHES” works, such that they are better able to follow and be involved in conversations about the formulation of all future UCU and joint-union claims)
Many of the remaining motions noted the need for resourcing and coordination for any successful ballot. Leeds UCU successfully moved an amendment to Motion 7 (“Study best timing and duration of ballots”, Oxford UCU) which directs the HEC to investigate whether “consultative e-ballots” prior to postal ballots confuses members / may reduce turnout in any actual postal ballot (feedback we have received from Leeds UCU members suggests this was a factor in the recent ballot).
Other specific decisions included:
- That UCU should campaign against the 50% ballot threshold.
- That we should aim to negotiate pay on a multi-year basis.
The union’s Higher Education Committee will be meeting on 23 November, and will plan the next steps on the basis of the decisions made at HESC. With a ballot due in the new year, we anticipate that the union nationally will provide useful resources and advice, but branches will need to run strong campaigns to persuade everyone to vote. It is crucial that members participate in the union’s democracy so that a strong and definite decision can made in the new ballot. So, Leeds members, your branch needs you to get involved with this, both in talking with colleagues and wider publicity! Please talk to your school or departmental rep about how you can help.
2. USS and the Joint Expert Panel (JEP)
The second meeting, on USS, was specifically called for by over 20 branches passing motions at quorate general meetings (including our branch) in order to discuss the report of the JEP. This meeting was sadly a little short of reaching quorum owing to a strange artefact in our rules. This holds that the quorum must be the same as for any “whole sector” HESC, despite USS affecting only a proportion of the branches in Higher Education. There were 91 voting delegates on the day, with 108 needed for a quorum, and therefore this HESC’s decisions could only be in an advisory capacity. (We in Leeds UCU are already working on a proposed rule change to help avoid this happening again!) This means that the debates and votes taken on motions about USS are to be understood as “advisory” and they will be referred to the Higher Education Committee (HEC) again for final decision. However, our UCU pensions negotiators will be in negotiations this week, before the next HEC meeting on 23 November. Therefore, our negotiators will need to balance current policy on USS with the guidance provided by the November HESC’s advisory voting positions on the motions.
Advisory decisions taken at the meeting (including amendments) can be downloaded via this link: https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/9940/HESC-decisions-JEP-nov18/doc/UCU9067Nov18_-_Decisions.doc
All the original motion texts can be seen here:https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/9755/Higher-education-special-sector-conference-JEPUSS—motions
The meeting began with some controversy owing to procedural issues with motions that had not been ruled onto the agenda by the Congress Business Committee (CBC) whose job it is to ensure rules governing conference business are followed correctly. The issue stemmed from the fact that the National Disputes Committee (NDC), which was set up by Congress specifically to steer the USS dispute, is technically not able to submit its own motions to decision-making meetings. However, eleven branches (including Leeds) signed up to move the NDC motions as emergency motions to the meeting, which was accepted by the conference. A late motion from Leeds UCU was also passed saying that NDC motions should be discussed, and that in future the HEC should be instructed to ensure all NDC motions could be submitted properly to relevant conferences. Our late motion also called for a supportive rule change to be put to Congress to allow them, or any similar/subsequent incarnation of the NDC to submit their own motions in future.
National Dispute Committee (NDC) report and Superannuation Working Group (SWG) statement
The report of the National Dispute Committee, and details of its composition, can be read here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/uss-ndc
The report commends the sacrifices of UCU members who took strike action over USS, confirms that the ‘Test 1’ used in the valuation is fatally flawed, and calls for it to be abandoned. It also rejects any move to transfer USS investments to low return assets (known as “de-risking”, or as we said on the picket lines, “reckless prudence”).
Two key motions from the NDC were agreed, which included:
- that there is no justification for any reduction in benefits or increase in contributions in the current valuation round,
- that we should ballot for industrial action if Universities UK (UUK) attempts to impose either of these,
- that UUK and employers should apologise to staff and students for their role in triggering the dispute, and provide compensation.
Other advisory decisions reached
Further motions under discussion (including two submitted by Leeds) agreed:
- That there should be no detriment to USS members.
- To call on USS to abandon the 2017 valuation. There was debate about whether the unions should press for using an interim valuation at March 2018, which HEC will take forward.
- To call on USS to stop “de-risking”.
- To call on the JEP to progress phase 2 of their task (working on a new valuation.procedure) as quickly as possible.
- That the ‘cost-sharing’ approach currently being taken by USS, which would mean staggered (and staggering!) contribution increases should also be abandoned.
- That the employers should pick up the full cost of any increased contributions that USS impose until a new valuation is agreed.
- To call on USS to provide full information – data and methodology – to enable UCU and scheme members to assess their calculations.
- That casualised staff should have equal access to USS. Many casualised staff supported the USS industrial action without themselves being beneficiaries of the pension scheme
- Instructed the SWG and the HEC to pursue a policy of pressuring USS to adopt an ethical investment policy and, in particular, to withdraw from high carbon investments.
Latest developments: Following the HESC, on 9th November, Universities UK has said that, based on their recent survey of employers, ‘it is clear that there is support from most employers for the JEP’s recommendations’, see https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/9761/Clear-employer-support-for-JEP-recommendations-says-UUK (An analysis of the employers’ responses have been released by Universities UK on 15 November, downloadable here and the University of Leeds response here). This is a major concession from the employers, who in early 2018 were trying to impose massive cuts to our pensions. And on 14 November, USS stated that they have received the UUK update and will be discussing it over the next few weeks. The Pensions Regulator issued a statement on 14 November (to the Financial Times) which essentially said they expect UUK, UCU and the USS trustees to come up with a joint proposal.
The USS board next meet on 21 November. UCU’s pension negotiators met informally with UUK last week, with upcoming formal Joint Negotiating Committee meetings scheduled for November and December. We expect the negotiators to operate from policy set by previous conferences (including the large annual HESC at Congress in the summer) and with guidance from the advisory decisions explained above.
We look forward to some good news on the pensions front, hopefully before Christmas!
What are HESCs?
While the annual “UCU Congress” includes a Higher Education Sector Conference (HESC) as part of our annual policy-making proceedings, there are decisions that need to be made more frequently. This is where the Higher Education Committee (formed of all National Executive Committee members from higher education) comes in. HEC meets regularly between Congresses to enact UCU policy, in line with decisions taken at annual Congress. It also makes steering decisions in line with policy, for example in the case of “next steps” in disputes. However, special “HESC” meetings can also be called to form policy in between conferences. All eligible branches can send a delegation to participate and vote at a special HESC. Leeds UCU is currently entitled to send 5 branch delegates, based on our membership size.
The motions at a special HESC are sent in by branches, and by HEC. If a quorate HESC passes them, these motions can direct and even change the direction of a dispute (or other policy area). Special HESCs can be called for by 20 branches voting to do so at properly called, quorate branch General Meetings (GMs), or by a decision of Congress.
What is the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff (JNCHES)?
We have had a single pay negotiating body for higher education in the UK since 2001: “JNCHES” refers to the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff. In 2004, negotiations also produced the Framework Agreement and a single (common) pay spine in Higher Education. When we negotiate with UCEA (Universities and Colleges Employers Association) over pay awards, it is this pay spine which is updated, UK-wide. UCU itself came into being as a result of the merger between AUT (Association of University Teachers) and NATFHE (National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education) in 2006.
In 2008 “New JNCHES” brought single, common bargaining. UCU is not the only union which negotiates in this forum. Usually, the relevant higher education unions (this year: UCU, Unison, Unite, GMB, EIS) work together on a Joint Union Claim, which is lodged with the employers’ representative body for pay negotiations, UCEA.
Three letter acronyms!
SWG = Superannuation Working Group
Our USS negotiators are elected annually at the HESC which forms part of the business at annual Congress. The electorate is comprised of delegates from USS branches to this annual HESC. The USS negotiating team is comprised of the following:
– Chair of HEC or nominee
– National Official
– Three delegates elected by and from delegates from USS branches to annual HESC
– Two reserves elected by and from delegates from USS branches to annual HESC
NDC = National Disputes Committee
The National USS Dispute Committee (NDC) was established and given its remit by motion H13 at the May 2018 Higher Education Sector Conference (HESC) and motion 11 at the June 2018 special HESC. It has 12 members, elected from regions and with representation from the BAME, women’s, anti-casualisation and disabled standing committees The NDC is mandated to “give a representative steer” to the USS dispute for the current valuation round, including on any suspension of the dispute or re-ballot. The NDC is asked to approve any proposed ballot text on a future employer offer concerning USS before it is put to members.
JEP = Joint Expert Panel
The Joint Expert Panel was set up after the USS strikes in February/March 2018, with three members appointed by Universities UK and three appointed by UCU, together with an independent chair, to consider the scheme’s highly disputed valuation. Their first report, published in September, largely validates the arguments that UCU has been making for many years about the USS valuation, and criticises both Universities UK and USS.