Vice Chancellor Simone Buitendijk: We’re going into 10 days of strike action and yeah I must say I’m a bit sad about it.
Leeds UCU: Of course, nobody is happy to have to participate in industrial action. Colleagues much prefer to be teaching, supporting and advising students. But when employers will not enter into meaningful negotiations with employee representatives on issues that have needed addressing for years, and when negotiating opportunity after opportunity is thrown away by employers, staff are left with industrial action as their only option.
VC: That an important minority of our committed staff have decided to take such dramatic action
UCU: The law requires that over 50% of trade union members must vote for any result to mandate industrial action. This is a greater test than required, for example, electing a police commissioner (typically, a 35% turnout). At Leeds, 75.2% of voting members supported strike action, and 85.5% supported ‘action short of a strike’.
VC: I’m sad because students have already endured so much disruption and this is going to impact on their learning their education their experience
UCU: Many students have been impacted by Covid, and UCU constituency staff were often their first port of call for support and assistance. The University has been keen to communicate that their education was not disrupted during this period. This was again down to the resilience and dedication of those colleagues, working in difficult circumstances, adapting to new modes of delivery, often putting their work ahead of their families to keep classes running.
VC: And I don’t think industrial action and strike action is the solution to the problems that clearly need fixing. The University of Leeds is part of UUK and there’s not much that I can do by myself because that is a national dispute
UCU: Our VC sits at the tables of both the UUK and the Russell Group. She represents Leeds there, an institution with one of the highest number of USS members in the UK. At those tables, it is reasonable to believe that she contributes meaningfully to decisions about negotiations, communications and decisions. This is not powerlessness, it is responsibility.
However, if we take what is said here at face value, it seems to indicate that UUK members have no power over the UUK, that it is out of control, and does not listen to its members, not even those such as Leeds with the highest density of USS members.
VC: And I try to play as strong a role as possible together with my other colleagues on the leadership team because I think we all want a pension scheme that keeps its value that’s sustainable and I think the proposal that’s on the table now the UUK proposal is the best for the moment.
UCU: The UUK proposal requires the youngest members of staff (mostly) to pay off a debt that no longer exists. They have to pay that with their future income in retirement, seeing a third or more lopped off its value. The younger a member is in the scheme, the more money they will lose. This impacts on women worse than men, due to the 18.5% gender pay gap that has been acknowledged at Leeds. With such unfairness baked in, the UUK proposal is a long way from the best available.
The UCU offered a compromise proposal on 26 January, as a means for us all to avoid the strike. The VC did not acknowledge that proposal until the afternoon of 11 February, less than a working day before the strike was to begin.
Does the VC want to negotiate, as she claims, or does she want to keep supporting the UUK intergenerational unfairness at the UUK table?
VC: So at the University of Leeds we realise that we need to change the way we deal with contracts with employment that there’s a lot that needs changing so we’ve developed a campaign that we call Fairer Future For All and one of the focal points is having far fewer short-term contracts so we’re going to be working towards more open-ended contracts and we’ve already started.
UCU: UCU put in a formal claim to challenge the University’s use of casualised contracts three years ago. The University still refuses to negotiate on it.
Productive work on contracts with the unions that was ongoing has ground to a halt since the Fairer Future for All campaign was launched. If further work is ongoing, the recognised trade unions have not been informed, let alone involved. In the meantime, staff on fixed term contracts are still losing their jobs, sometimes after many years of service, and Postgraduate Research Students who teach have no contracts and still get no paid sick leave.
VC: We will be looking at workload and workload models to make sure we can keep the workload under control.
UCU: Joint work is ongoing to produce some high level principles to govern workload management. Whether this will be complete by the end of March, as the Vice Chancellor states in her email, depends on whether it can be agreed. Whatever other work is ongoing is being done without consulting, or involving, the recognised trade unions.
In the meantime, staff are worked to breaking point and more is asked of us every year. When the University was hit by a double whammy of ongoing COVID-19 issues and massive over-recruitment in some areas, senior managers denied that there was a crisis and refused to take any meaningful steps to reduce staff workload in the immediate term.
VC: So a lot of what the unions are after is something that’s very much on my radar.
UCU: And what about the national picture? The University states that one of our values is collaboration – why can our senior management not collaborate with the management teams of other university to commit to UK-wide agreements to improve our whole sector, not just Leeds?
VC: I would like to say both to staff and maybe even more so to students who are apprehensive who are worried about the disruption that we do have quite a bit of experience, maybe I should say unfortunately, but we do, with past rounds of industrial action so we’re on top of this and we’ll do our utmost to ensure that students have the education that’s as uninterrupted as possible we’re going to work really closely with heads of school so they’re going to make sure that they monitor where teaching doesn’t take place they’re going to ensure that it gets picked up again after strike action is over.
UCU: We very much hope that this is not a threat to follow other Universities and deduct pay for action short of a strike (in addition to the pay docked for striking). For Leeds University to engage in this bullying behaviour would be divisive and confrontational, and would harm our cohesion, possibly irreparably.
VC: They’ll mitigate, they’ll work with the teachers and the staff in their schools to come up with solutions that are bespoke from different student cohorts. We have an incredibly resilient community, we’ve done an amazing job getting us through the pandemic, really keeping the show on the road. I think our community is stronger than it’s ever been, so I know we’ll pull through this and we’ll do it together.
UCU: We certainly hope so. We will pull through this when our senior management take responsibility for negotiating seriously to protect our pensions and pay and to create concrete improvements in our working conditions. They need to listen and act on the concerns raised by staff through their trade unions. Staff have done an amazing job, at considerable expense to ourselves, and we deserve better.
No mention of equalities issues in this video? The Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970 and came into force in 1975. It was superseded by the Equality Act 2010.
In 2022, women are paid 18.5% less than men at the University of Leeds. That means women earn 86p for every £1 that men earn when comparing median hourly pay.
Additionally, there is a national race pay gap of 17.1% and a disability pay gap of 9%. Leeds have not published their local figures. We have been asking for years for this to be addressed, and promises of a fairer future keep deferring the issue instead of actively addressing it in the present.
Still on equalities. Last year, for the first time in its history, the University dismissed a member of staff for not having enough research outputs. This British Asian member of staff demonstrably had the same or more research outputs than some of their white colleagues at their grade and even above.
Industrial action only happens after months and years of discussions and negotiation breaking down. It is always only a last resort.
Together we are stronger.
Join UCU online at https://www.ucu.org.uk/join
UCU University of Leeds Branch
This page was last updated on 18 February 2022