Extraordinary General Meeting
1pm – 2pm, Friday 20 August 2021
Video meeting on Zoom
Noted that chat will not be open during meeting, except that members can use the chat to message the meeting hosts if they prefer to use text when called to speak, or to ask questions.
Update on disputes
Chloe Wallace, branch president:
On USS, the employers (Universities UK – UUK) have proposed a package to deal with the purported deficit, which will cut benefits especially for early career staff. Talks are ongoing but our UCU negotiators are seeking industrial power to support them in order to get somewhere with the negotiations.
On Four Fights, the pay offer for 2020-21 was zero, for 2021-22 it’s 1.5%, and very limited offers on casualisation, workloads and equality. This is unacceptable especially given how hard we’ve all been working during the pandemic. One of the achievements of the last industrial action was serious negotiations on the three non-pay issues, which are structural and sector-wide not local. The employers (UCEA) now seem to be backing off from negotiating on these, now just offering ‘working groups’. Negotiations are ongoing but our negotiators need industrial power behind them to get anywhere.
On both disputes, we are being asked as a union to decide how much leverage we will give our negotiators. UCU Congress in 2021 made some general decisions – a continued commitment to all of the four fights and to keeping them together, agreement to reject the 1.5% pay offer and to enter into dispute. It also discussed campaigns and strategy. On USS, if negotiations aren’t successful and employers won’t budge, Congress agreed to move to ballot also. There are also legal actions on USS in the pipeline.
HE Sector Conference on 9th September will now decide what next, and this meeting is to feed in from Leeds to that conference.
Mark Taylor Batty, branch pensions rep:
UCU negotiators have been working on USS for months and our arguments have all been rejected. The Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) have to respond to the valuation – by agreeing changes to benefits and contributions. UUK are wanting to push through their proposals which include a two-tier scheme and reductions in benefits. UCU can put a counter proposal, but are still discussing what counter proposal to put – either a ‘no deficit’ proposal whereby employers meet the whole of the contributions increase, or a proposal which is more of a compromise. Any UCU counter proposal would probably be rejected as the chair always sides with UUK.
USS have rejected the idea of doing a 2021 valuation although their arguments against it have been disproved. There are also legal challenges but legal action is not a solution on its own.
Members will know that we are due to see an 11% rise in our contributions in October, which is a result of the 2018 valuation.
Industrial action is the only way to get employers to back down. It’s an unhappy situation but we can’t let these changes go through. It’s not a question of whether we strike but when.
Vicky Blake, UCU president
We need to decide as a union whether and how to link the two disputes, which is why the forthcoming sector conference is so important. This meeting will advise our delegate to the sector conference, who will set policy on this, which the Higher Education committee will then implement by taking the statutory decisions about balloting and industrial action.
The most important thing is that, whatever the debates and disagreement we have within the union, that once decisions are democratically taken that we all stick by them and stick together to do whatever is decided.
The employer bodies wont move without us taking a stand. Since Covid they think they can get away with anything, and we need to hold them to account. They need to be clear about how serious we are about improving things for all of our members, and to be worried about what we will do. They need to be motivated to work with us. We must be solid in pursuing this.
1) We’ll need funds to support members if we take strike action. What’s the situation with our local fighting fund and the national strike fund?
A: Our local fund is very healthy. We were able to pay all the claims that members put in during 2018-2020 and the fund still has £25k, thanks to generous donations.
A: Nationally the strike fund is good but has a lot of demands on it – there are local disputes over redundancies and H&S issues, and a big dispute coming soon in Further Education. So it’s important to keep raising money for it. Look out for more fundraisers coming soon, and if you can personally donate that would be great. Note also that part of the strike fund comes from member subs, so the more members we have the more that fund grows.
2) What is our membership density?
A: It varies across the university – very strong in some areas and less so in others. Our membership grew considerably during the 2019-20 dispute and continued to grow a little during Covid.
Our power depends on how many members we have and how many are willing to take action. So it’s important to keep recruiting as many members as possible. Please ask your colleagues to join!
3) What is the position of our VC on USS, has it changed after the Big Conversation?
A: No change. She supports UUK line. We know however that she is very concerned about the possibility of industrial action.
Megan Povey: We are dealing with intransigence of our employers and USS. The choice of valuation date was designed to undermine the value of the pension scheme, so as to get away from Defined Benefit and get the pensions risk off university accounts, which supports marketisation and privatisation. Our VC has said that DB is unaffordable. Fighting for pensions is fighting for our sector.
Gabriella Alberti: The state of our sector is worrying – lots of disputes, redundancies, non-continuation of FTCs and casualisation getting worse. But maybe we have more leverage and bargaining power now? From things like students being bribed to defer, sector becoming less appealing to join.
Branch motion – Progressing the Four Fights and USS disputes
This branch notes that:
- UCU paused the USS and ‘Four Fights’ disputes during the pandemic.
- UCEA imposed a 0% pay rise last year and their ‘final offer’ of 1.5% this year is below inflation.
- despite progress during 2020 negotiations, UCEA are now not making any substantial offers on casualisation, workload and equality.
- UUK have not joined UCU to pressure USS and the Pensions Regulator to cancel the 2020 valuation and use a moderately prudent approach in 2021.
- Pension contributions will rise in October to 11% of salary.
- UUK’s proposals on USS are likely to mean lower pension benefits, a two-tier scheme which disadvantages early career members, and further contribution increases
This branch believes that:
- The four fights and pensions issues are inextricably linked. Low pay, pay inequality and job insecurity all lead to poorer pensions and a worse retirement. Casualised and low paid members may not be able to afford to join the USS pension scheme at all.
- It is in all our interests to make sure that everyone has fair pay, good working conditions (including a reasonable workload), job security, and a decent future pension.
- Employers would seek to divide us, pitting those with relative job security who are worried about their pensions against those whose main concerns are low pay, equality and casualisation. So solidarity across roles and job types is vital – we must stand together rather than only caring about what affects us personally.
- This solidarity was strong during the action in 2019-2020 and we must reinvigorate it now.
This branch resolves to:
- Make clear to UCU centrally that we believe co-ordinating the disputes is essential.
- Campaign locally on the four fights and pensions campaigns together.
- Hold local UCU meetings across the university during the start of the autumn term to discuss the disputes and plan the campaign.
- Work with student groups to seek their support, particularly to pressure management to use Leeds’ influence within the employer bodies to make substantial progress in both disputes.
- Work closely with our sister campus trade unions on campaigning.
- Prepare for industrial action balloting by developing a strong local ‘Get The Vote Out’ strategy.
Proposed by Ben Plumpton. Seconded by Simon Hewitt.
Joe Kanuritch: Putting the two disputes together is important. On the picket line, talking to colleagues who aren’t members or public, it was good to have different issues to explain, most would support some of the 5 things. Would be a shame to take separate action.
Lata Narayanaswamy: Support the motion. Struck by how much money the university seems to have on getting students to defer. Staff are consistently not a priority.
[48 people in meeting so quorate.
Votes for 42, Votes against 0, Abstentions 3]
The motion was carried.
Motion to be submitted to Higher Education Sector Conference (HESC) – Combining Four Fights and USS disputes
HESC believes that:
- The four fights and USS issues are inextricably linked. Low pay, pay inequality and job insecurity mean poorer pensions and a worse retirement, and some members cannot afford pension contributions.
- Solidarity between different groups of members (casualised/permanent, different pay grades, equality groups, academic/related, pre- and post-92 branches) was hugely important during the 2019-2020 industrial action.
- Continued solidarity will be vital to winning the disputes and for building the union.
- It is therefore crucial not to separate the disputes or give priority to either.
HESC resolves to:
- Coordinate the four fights and USS campaigns, highlighting the links.
- Give parity to both disputes in strategic planning, balloting and publicity, ensuring that all affected branches have a voice in developing the dispute strategy.
- Ballot and take action on both disputes concurrently.
- Coordinate action with sister unions, if possible, to improve effectiveness.
Proposed by Ben Plumpton, seconded by Aisha Walker.
1) Some people at the university are in the TPS pension scheme because of legacy from being employed somewhere else – can they participate in the USS dispute?
A: Yes all full members in participating branches can participate in industrial action ballots and action. (Note that this doesn’t include retired members, student members, unemployed members or members likely to be on long term maternity, parental or sick leave during the period of any action. Postgraduate student members on the full free membership are entitled to vote)
[48 people in meeting so quorate.
Votes for 43, Votes against 0, Abstentions 3]
The motion was carried.
President’s closing comments
Chloe Wallace will submit the motion for the Higher Education Sector Conference (HESC) on 9th September.
Committee will endeavour to find a way for members to discuss and comment on the agenda for HESC once that is published.
This page was last updated on 11 January 2022