Leeds UCU is working hard to end casualised contracts in UK Higher Education. We think everyone at Leeds and other institutions should have a secure job, and that it is unacceptable that people live without knowing if they will be able to pay their rent or not due to precarious working conditions. Through our Anti-casualisation roadshow, Ignition (October 2018), the subsequent Anti-casualisation claim (January 2019) and our broader campaigns for fair pay we have highlighted the challenges faced by precariously employed staff and research students on teaching contracts and demanded the university pay attention.
To keep in touch with anti-casualisation news more broadly, follow Leeds Anticasualisation news @casualsleeds and nationally @UCUAnti_Cas. (The hashtag #zinesagainstprecarity may also be of interest as contains some great creative critiques of the current state of UK HE.)
UCU University of Leeds BranchPosted on by Alan Smith
Staff with (a) more than 2 years continuous service and (b) more than 6 months remaining on fixed term or fixed funded contracts should be contacted shortly (we are told this week) by HR with the offer of an ongoing contract.
The policies and procedures underlying this have not yet been agreed and UCU have concerns with the proposals on the table, which do not seem to offer much improvement in terms of job security. Consultation is ongoing and we hope that things will improve.
If you receive such an offer and would like advice please contact email@example.com and we will do our best to help. If you have fewer than 6 months remaining we expect you to be offered additional support in finding a new role – please contact us again for advice.
This post is from an email to UCU branch members from branch president Chloe Wallace, sent 19 April 2023
UCU University of Leeds BranchPosted on by Alan Smith
You may be aware of this communication from university management on the progress on fixed term contracts. While we welcome the advancement that has been made by the university management on this front, we would like to note several points:
The aim of the policy as communicated to the trade unions is to reduce the number of staff on fixed term contracts by 50%. While this is significant, it should be noted that it doesn’t cover all staff on fixed term contracts. A communication was sent to staff on fixed term contracts yesterday, and here is the link to FAQs that better explain some of the key policy elements developed by the university management team.
While it is true that the campus trade unions have been consulted, we feel there is still significant work to be done by the university. Our UCU branch committee is working with our local anti-casualisation working group, and with the UCU bargaining and negotiation team, to provide comprehensive feedback on the policy draft that has been shared with us so far. We note that significant concerns remain for negotiation and discussion.
We do hope that the university management will take our concerns seriously and continue working with us towards reducing the use of casualized contracts at the University of Leeds. If you have any questions, you can get in touch with us (firstname.lastname@example.org) or you can get involved in the anti-casualization working group (get in touch with branch anti-casualisation officer Marina Baldissera Pacchetti)
This post is from an email sent to members by branch president Chloe Wallace on Thursday 30 March 2023
UCU is a trade union of over 130,000 academics, researchers, tutors, administrators, IT staff, librarians and postgraduate research students in universities, colleges, prisons, adult education & training organisations across the UK. As a trade union, we fight for good working conditions for our members and for the health of the sector as a whole.
We are fighting across two separate disputes, which cover a range of issues.
Working conditions and pay: excessive and unsafe workloads which have been perpetuated for years and have got even worse over the pandemic; massive over-reliance on precarious contracts; engrained and embedded inequalities including pay and progression gaps; real terms pay cuts. Find out more about this dispute at https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/12469/FAQs#Pay_and_working_conditions_dispute
Yes. You may have noticed we took strike action in November 2022 for three days, and if you were a student last year you will remember that we took industrial action on these disputes. We also took action in 2019-20 on the same issues. In 2020 we stopped striking and returned to work, moving to remote working and teaching and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. As a thank you, we were given a 0% pay rise in 2021, staff on fixed term contracts were laid off and our working conditions have got worse. In 2022, we were offered a 3% pay rise. Inflation currently stands at 14.8% – so this is a massive real terms pay cut. Since we were out on strike in November we have received further offers from UCEA, but they were insufficient and thus we are keeping the pressure on with industrial action until they increase their pay offer and also address workload and casualisation.
Our fight to save our pension dates back to 2018. In 2018, we were made promises which led to us ending our strike; those promises have since been broken.
This cannot go on. Our employers need to negotiate sustainable solutions and keep their promises. Everyone in this sector – students and staff – deserves better.
Aren’t these national issues, not Leeds issues?
National issues are Leeds issues. Leeds staff are being hit by pension cuts and real terms pay cuts. Leeds staff are hugely overworked. Too many Leeds staff are on insecure contracts. In 2021, Leeds reported a gender pay gap of 18.9%, higher than the sector average. Across universities the race pay gap is 17% and the disability pay gap is 9% – Leeds doesn’t have the race and disability data but we know this gap exists at Leeds.
All of these issues impact students. If you are an undergraduate or taught postgraduate, some of the people teaching you are postgraduate research students, often hourly paid and on very poor contracts which they need to fund their studies. Your lecturers, personal tutors and support staff are exhausted, working long hours and often on insecure contracts – this means they can’t do their job properly and you suffer. Staff are leaving, exhausted and demoralised, and for some roles the pay is so low they can’t be replaced. Students feel the impact of this. The lack of staff of colour and disabled staff has an ongoing impact on what and how you learn. And students are our future – some of you may well want to join us as academics, researchers or professional services and support staff. We are fighting for you too.
We need national action to improve the higher education sector UK-wide. Leeds management can give authority to the national bodies that represent them in negotiations to make improved offers and they need to do so in order to resolve this dispute.
Can’t you go back to negotiations and avoid strike action?
Following three days of strike action in November, employers came back to the table and made an improved offer on pay – but it wasn’t enough and did not address the non-pay elements of our claim. Universities have been told what they need to do: tell their negotiating bodies to make a better pay offer, commit to meaningful national agreements and action on job security, workload and equality pay gaps; withdraw the current proposed changes to pensions and seek a negotiated settlement. If they don’t do this, we will strike. It is unfortunate that it takes strike action to force negotiations, but if that is what it takes, that is what we will do. We hope that the employers will make a better offer so that we can call off these strike days and get back to doing the jobs that we love.
What is a strike?
We do no work on the days we are on strike: no research, no administration, no teaching, no meetings, no emails. In return, we are not paid for those days.
On strike days, you will see physical and virtual picket lines – striking union members standing at campus entrances with leaflets and banners. Please come and talk to us and ask us your questions!
Although we withdraw our labour on strike days, many of us love teaching and learning and so offer free ‘Teachout’ sessions for students, staff and members of the general public. This year’s teachouts are scheduled for 21st, 22nd and 28th February at the moment and the details can be found here.
What can I do to support you?
If a member of staff – a lecturer, tutor, support staff or anyone – that you know tells you that they are striking, tell them you support them – this will mean a great deal to them!
If you are a postgraduate research student – join us. If you do paid work for the university (or any other university), you can join on full free membership and strike with us (we have a strike fund to help with the income you will lose). If you do not do paid work for the university, you can still join on student free membership and stand in solidarity with us. (And yes, free means you don’t pay whilst you are a student)
Students can show solidarity by not crossing the picket line and not attending lectures or classes. BUT, if you are on a Tier 4 visa you should attend all lectures and study activities as normal or it is likely to be counted as an unauthorised absence, reportable to the Home Office.
Complain to the Vice Chancellor of the University (email@example.com and copy to firstname.lastname@example.org). Whether you are in favour or against the strike your opinion is important and student concerns need to be heard. UCU always asks that the pay we lose through striking is put towards the Student Hardship Fund and student mental health support, and you could ask for this too. It’s best to write in your own words, but here is a sample letter you can use if you like.
A quick guide to UCU four fights and pensions, for students
I’m writing to ask you to use your influence to bring the current disputes in Higher Education to an end so that our staff can call off their industrial action.
I’ve learned about the issues from striking staff. Their demands are that university managements address pay inequalities, very high rates of casualisation and excessive workloads and, at a national level, agree to a proper pay rise for all staff. They also demand that you exert your influence to get the massive cuts imposed on members in the USS pension scheme revoked, and put pressure on USS to restore benefits to 2021 levels as soon as possible.
As one of the largest universities, and to honour our commitment to social responsibility, this university community needs to set an example and show staff and students that we take staff wellbeing seriously. Please ask your employer bodies UCEA and UUK to negotiate with the University and College Union in good faith and bring the disputes to satisfactory resolution.
Can you assure me you will help prevent further escalation and further disruption to our community and to my education in this way?
UCU University of Leeds BranchPosted on by Alan Smith
As you might be aware, the University is currently going through a process of revising the contracts of staff employed for 2+ years on fixed term contracts as of end of July 2022 in light of their “Fairer Future for All” pledge (you can read what we’ve been doing so far here).
The local branch are having discussions with senior management and HR prior to formal negotiations starting, and we need your help and feedback. There are two ways you can help:
If you are inclined to help by participating in the anti-casualisation working group, please get in touch with Marina Baldissera Pacchetti, branch anti-casualisation officer, via email@example.com. We particularly encourage staff on fixed term contracts to join.
If you are interested in participating in a strike day session on the fixed term contract / ”fairer future for all”, please still email Marina and share where you’d prefer to be contacted during strike days.
Casualisation has been on the increase in Higher Education and at Leeds for over a decade. UCU University of Leeds branch submitted an anti-casualisation claim to the university in January 2019.
In the last year, the industrial action taken as part of our dispute in 2021-22 and, in particular, the marking and assessment boycott, have pushed the university to act. The university’s commitment to reducing the number of fixed term contracts is expressed through the Fairer Future For All initiative. Specifically, the university has committed to transfer staff from fixed term contracts to permanent contracts if they have over two years of service (as of 31 July 2022). The UCU has noted that the pledge will bring the university in line with the law and its own policy, yet it falls far short of addressing casualisation at Leeds in a satisfactory way.
The university has started by addressing the contracts of university staff who have been on fixed term contract for more than 10 years. In the second stage, staff on fixed term contracts with two years of service or more will be contacted for potential transition to an open-ended contract. The UCU is monitoring the process and is fighting to avoid some staff being simply transferred to open-ended fixed funding contracts, which do not offer employment security and differ from fixed term contracts mostly in terminology under current university policy. The UCU will be in negotiations during the next few months and will be pressing for the end of the use of open-ended fixed funding contracts and that the maximum number of staff are moved swiftly onto permanent contracts.
UCU University of Leeds branch is involved in consultation and negotiation with the university to tackle casualisation in several key areas:
By monitoring the process of contract change and providing casework for casualised staff being moved onto ongoing contracts to ensure that the process is transparent and fair;
By having anti-casualisation working group meetings and communication with HR;
By ongoing consultation and negotiation with the university to make sure that Fairer Future for All does not exclude casualised staff on research contracts;
By contributing to the development of new policies on redundancy and redeployment through a process that will ultimately be negotiated between the university and the trade unions. In particular, UCU University of Leeds branch is contributing to developing a new interface and process for redeployment, which will simplify the redeployment procedure for redeployees and redistribute the burden of responsibility;
By building solidarity and addressing workplace and employment issues for all casualised staff through the anti-casualisation working group, anti-casualisation reps in schools, and services across the university.
Are you on a casualised contract?
Get involved: If you are interested in joining the anti-casualisation working group, please get in touch with UCU University of Leeds branch anti-casualisation officers, Marina Baldissera Pacchetti (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Draško Kašćelan (email@example.com).
In case you have been on a fixed term contract for more than two years as of 31 July 2022 and your contract is ending soon, please get in touch with UCU University of Leeds branch (firstname.lastname@example.org) who can assign you a caseworker to help in your conversations with the HR about possible transition to an open ended contract.
UCU rising: vote in the ongoing UCU ballot!
Nationally, tackling casualisation is a central priority in the UCU rising campaign. As you can read in UCU’s report, ‘Precarious work in higher education’, around one-third of all academic staff in the UK are employed on fixed-term contracts; this figure rises to almost half for teaching-only academics (44%) and over two-thirds (68%) for research-only staff. These national figures stress the importance that the University of Leeds Fairer Future For All initiative is implemented for all casualised staff at the university, researchers included. Pay, equality, workload and casualisation are all intimately linked to one another, and we encourage you to engage with the campaign and VOTE #YES in the ongoing ballot to keep our employers accountable and ultimately win our disputes.
Joint Statement of the University of Leeds and University of Leeds UCU regarding the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS)
The University of Leeds and the Leeds Branch of UCU are issuing this joint statement to mark their commitment to work collaboratively to advocate for a fair, affordable and sustainable pension scheme for members. It is clear from consultation responses that employee members greatly value the benefits provided by the USS pension as part of their employment reward package. Whilst they would prefer lower contributions and preserved benefits, consultation demonstrates that members are prepared to pay more in the short term to preserve pension benefits.
The University and the Leeds UCU believe that;
employer and employee members share a common interest in ensuring the USS is a fair, affordable and sustainable pension scheme.
the USS scheme should be responsive to the needs of both employers and employees and that this is a central aspect of making the scheme attractive and preventing members from opting out.
the USS Trustee should now be asked to consider a revised schedule of contributions and that should any upside arise from either a new schedule of contributions and recovery plan for 2020 and/ or a future valuation of the scheme’s assets and liabilities, improving the benefits for employee members of the USS should be a priority.
the optimal timing for the next valuation should be considered and then concluded in an expeditious timescale. We call on the USS Trustee to commit to prepare valuations which are evidence based and when conditions allow moderately prudent, and that they should lobby for a regulatory environment that recognises the unique nature of the Higher Education sector, with a view to schemes such as USS being able to take a different attitude to asset investment and de-risking.
USS should continue to be run on the basis that it remains an open scheme with a commitment from employers to a strong covenant which enables investment into growth assets and returns on investments that improve the value of the scheme for employee and employer members; Employers should continue to provide covenant support through the future valuation process and agree that this should be available to benefit proposals presented to the JNC by either UUK or UCU to ensure open and timely discussions.
USS should be asked to develop a credible/feasible plan for divesting from fossil fuels.
UUK, UCU and USS should support the rebuilding of trust through a transparent and evidence based approach to communications, that includes rapidly and publicly correcting any emerging errors of fact. This should include a commitment to treating consultations on UCU and UUK proposals respectively, in a transparent manner.
proposals for governance reform of the scheme should be urgently developed and progressed and UUK and UCU should be jointly and actively engaged in the related joint workstream. Transparency of governance of USS to be increased.
as soon as possible, over-arching high level sector-wide equalities impact assessments (EIAs) should be carried out and published to understand any direct or indirect discrimination arising from any scheme changes or options proposals. UCU and UUK should actively engage in the workstreams to explore an attractive and affordable range of options to enable all staff to participate in the scheme.
the maintaining a meaningful Defined Benefit element within the scheme is a principle which we support, whist also recognising that a well performing defined contributions scheme may provide enhanced benefits for some.
University Response to the UCU Four Heads of Claim
The University is committed to a Review of Employment Terms, which includes responding to the Leeds UCU anti-casualisation claims. Work on this began in 2020 and has included engagement with the TUs from its commencement. It is acknowledged that the review, which is a major exercise, has not progressed as quickly as planned. We will refocus our prioritisation of this work and will develop a timetable to monitor and report on delivery progress. This would also include reports on progress on actions falling on the unions (TUs).
The Fixed Term Contracts review is a key and first stage of the Review of Employment Terms and collective consultation with unions for the proposed changes commenced on Monday 30 May 2022. Other contracts review, including a review of the position of hourly paid staff and discussions regarding terms of engagement for PGRs who teach, will follow during the Autumn term, with priority sequencing and realistic timescales set, informed by discussion with unions.
The outcome of consultations will be taken to the joint committees for negotiation and/or ratification if necessary. Key to this would be the avoidance of elongation of processes wherever possible.
The University wishes to review the effectiveness and efficiency of the current framework in place for engagement with the unions, including on consultation or negotiation, with a view to enhancing this. The Procedural Agreement between the University and the UCU sets out in detail the respective areas for consultation or negotiation and we reaffirm our commitment to following these and to enhancing dialogue.
The University also continues to actively input into national discussions regarding the core models of employment in HE (through UCEA and more recently with UKRI) and proactive engagement with relevant commitments such as the Concordat for researchers. We believe our Review of Employment Terms to be innovative and potentially helpful to the sector and will share the outcome of our review with UCEA.
The University remains committed to in-sourced services across its core activities.
Gender, race and disability pay gaps
The University commits to report on race & disability pay gaps in 2023. We would ask that the unions support the encouragement of staff to declare the related personal information to progress this work to help ensure that the reporting is as meaningful and accurate as is possible.
The University is committed to reducing pay gaps and continuing to ensure equal pay for work of equal value. It is also committed to increasing the diversity of our workforce through positive action, reflected in the new EDI Strategy for which an action plan is being developed and which will include KPIs and milestones to measure success. It has also made key investments in senior EDI leadership posts. Our aim is that Leeds is a Pathfinder in relation to EDI strategy and its delivery. We will consult with the unions in our development of the action plan and welcome their support in its implementation.
To reiterate, the University is committed to reducing pay gaps and to ensuring equal pay for work of equal value. Specific examples of areas of challenge within universities are the STEM disciplinary and BAME staff pipelines. We are active participants in sector initiatives to help address these and are developing our own as well.
The University is committed to the development of a health and wellbeing strategic plan (as part of our enabling strategy) which will include consideration of work-related stress and ill health. This will be informed by a staff survey shortly to be launched.
Workload issues across the sector and in the University are acknowledged and we have worked jointly with UCU since May 2021 to review ‘Workload Principles’. The latest revised version (including UCU input) is currently progressing through University committees for approval. Once approved, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor will lead the process of their implementation and review of impacts with trade union involvement and share relevant data as to impact with trade unions.
The University will discuss with the unions how we and they can work collaboratively to review workloads. We will also review the role the SRDS might usefully play in workloads differentiating based on career stage and contract type. The University’s commitments and work associated with the Concordat for research staff is also relevant.
Review of the pay and grading structure
The University commits to fully review the pay & grade spine and to complete this in 2022/23 and will involve the unions in this process. This strategic review will include a benchmarking exercise with peer institutions and best practice. It will also include consideration of grade structures, incremental progression and market pay issues with a view to the University of Leeds staff having competitive (equal or better) reward packages to staff at peer universities and the University being an attractive employer of choice. Our commitments to equality, diversity and inclusion will be embedded in this work.
The University reward strategy is moving towards a more peer and benchmark comparison approach. We will strengthen the role evaluation process for determining role grades. A G10 review is underway with a view to ensuring it is fair and competitive.
The University also plans to fully review its Promotions and Role Evaluation processes. A staged implementation of improvements is already in train and will progress. Trade unions will be involved in the role evaluation process, for which training will be provided in HERA-based role analysis.
The above commitments and their progression in a timely way will require resource and shared commitments by the unions. The University commits to ensuring that people with the required skills, expertise and workload capacity are involved in the work to deliver these commitments.
The University reiterates its intention to review the current framework in place for engagement with the unions with a view to its enhancement and effectiveness in supporting positive and effective relationships.
UCU University of Leeds BranchPosted on by Alan Smith
We welcome the Vice Chancellor’s announcement which commits to addressing the issue of job insecurity at the University of Leeds. Acknowledging the damage insecure contracts do to the functioning of the university but, more importantly, to the people who hold them, is an important first step in addressing what is a widespread problem. We fully agree with the VC that insecure contracts undermine fairness at the university. We are glad that casualisation is now part of the conversation after being ignored for so long.
Members may remember that we have been urging the University to move on the issue of casualisation for some years. In January 2019 Leeds UCU formally submitted an anti-casualisation claim, which set out our proposals to end job insecurity at the University of Leeds. The claim included, but was not limited to:
an end to the use of ‘worker’ contracts;
hourly-paid staff to be moved onto fractional contracts;
equal treatment for all staff, regardless of contract type (specifically equal rates of pay, and access to progression and professional development); and
a reduction in the use of fixed-term contracts (FTCs).
Today’s announcement represents movement on one aspect – fixed-term contracts – and as such, we view this as some progress against our existing ongoing claim. The University’s stated aim of “converting the majority of fixed term contracts where colleagues have served more than three years – or possibly even less – to ongoing contracts” essentially amounts to the enforcing of its existing fixed-term contract policy. We hope that this new approach will see the end of the category of “open-ended fixed funding (OEFF) contracts, which UCU have been saying for some time are indistinguishable from fixed term contracts. Above all, we recognise that being made permanent is likely to have a tangible and positive effect on the work and lives of the unacceptably large number of staff who have been on FTCs for more than three years.
We are pleased to note the VC’s stated commitment to consult formally with the trade unions on the issue of fixed-term contracts and secure work, however these are matters for formal negotiation. In the three years since launching our claim, Leeds UCU has repeatedly requested formal talks with university senior management. While issues pertaining to the claim have been discussed at meetings between HR and the unions, senior management have not engaged in formal talks with UCU. Since October when the Fairer Future pledges were made, discussions on FTC policy and wider issues around the use of casualised contracts have been abandoned by HR.
In light of this, consultation is welcome and we look forward to a resumption of talks on addressing job security but, ultimately, given that we have lodged an anti-casualisation claim with the university, the terms of which have been reaffirmed by Leeds UCU as recently as March 2021, this is an issue for negotiation.
While we have some misgivings about the VC making this major announcement in an all-staff email at a time when the UCU is involved in national and local disputes over casualisation, we welcome her stated willingness to work with the unions. We want members to be clear – we are in no doubt that today’s announcements by the University have been prompted by the strength of industrial action taken by our members over the Four Fights.
In terms of our national dispute on casualisation, these plans to address job security laid out by the VC today leave several important factors unaddressed:
The plans we have been presented with show a willingness to act on the issue of casualisation, but we need to see the detail of how this will be implemented and whether it will become lasting policy which minimises job insecurity going forward. Until the substantive details of UEGs plans are clear, UCU will be entering into discussions cautiously;
Fixed-term contracts are only one aspect of casualisation; we need to know how (or whether) other aspects of job insecurity will be addressed; and, relatedly,
While there is much that can be done at the institution level to address casualisation, this is also a national issue. As the address acknowledges, insecure work is “hardwired” into many of the national institutions that are a core part of UK higher education —and, as such, it requires a coordinated national response. We need to know what efforts University of Leeds will make to engage with the national structural causes of casualisation. We believe taking an active and constructive role in negotiating with the UCU’s proposals around Four Fights is the best chance the sector has to do this.
All aspects of our Four Fights dispute intersect with casualisation; casualisation often results in low pay and overwork as a result of unpaid and unrecognised work. Importantly, casualisation is central to our equalities demands where women, staff of colour and staff with disabilities are more likely to be on insecure contracts and remain on them longer. These continue to be issues of serious concern for our members and all university staff and we are still waiting to see serious action on them.
In summary, we welcome the VCs new commitment to addressing casualisation. But this announcement only deals with one part of one of the Four Fights, and we have seen no movement from the VC regarding the erosion in pay that we have witnessed since 2009, equality pay gaps and unsafe workloads. Further to this, we would like to see a commitment to tackling casualisation at a national level which would make these changes more sustainable for the future. For this reason, we encourage all members to vote YES, YES, YES, YES and post their ballots TODAY.
UCU University of Leeds BranchPosted on by Alan Smith
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.