UCU is balloting over strike action on USS pensions and on pay, casualisation, workloads and equality (‘four fights’). Branch president Chloe Wallace is asking members to check your account details ready for a postal ballot at home, and to prepare to vote. Chloe’s email to members, copied below, also mentions initial responses the university’s improved guidance on face coverings.
I hope everyone is staying safe and well. This is an email primarily about the announcement received a couple of days ago about national ballots on the Four Fights and Pensions. I want to try briefly to pre-empt some of your questions and say something about what we will be doing here at Leeds. I will, however, add a paragraph at the end about the University position on face coverings as I have had a number of emails on that. That will make this a long email – I’d be grateful, however, if you could take the time to read it as it may help clarify what is going on.
The Union nationally has now established trade disputes with all relevant HE employers in the UK, including, of course, the University of Leeds. This is following decisions taken at a Special Higher Education Sector Conference, attended by branch delegates from across the country. You can find a copy of the letter sent to Universities on USS here and on the Four Fights here
I strongly recommend having a look at those letters, because they set out in clear terms what UCU’s demands are. I know that understanding the specificity of what we are seeking is important to you and that, perhaps particularly in relation to the pensions dispute, this can seem unclear. However, it is clearly spelt out in these letters what the employers need to do to resolve these disputes and avoid the massive disruption of industrial action. If you would like more detail on the claims in the Four Fights dispute, on workload, casualization, equality and pay, you can find that it in the formal claim document here
Our next step is to ballot for industrial action. The ballot will open on 18th October and run for just over 2 weeks. Under the 2016 Trade Union Act – a piece of Tory legislation explicitly designed to weaken trade unions by limiting our industrial power – a number of legal restrictions exist on this ballot. It must be conducted by post, not online; to be valid, 50% or more of eligible members must vote; and 50% of those voting must vote Yes to proposed action. You will be asked to vote separately on each dispute (USS, and Four Fights) and to vote on willingness to strike and to take action short of a strike. The ballot paper will need to state the range of actions short of a strike which may be proposed (e.g. marking boycott, work to contract, refusal to do voluntary work) but will not specify precisely which ones will be used and when, and will not specify strike days or how many days of action will initially be called. The decision as to when and for how long we strike and what action short of a strike we take will be taken after the ballot results are known by the Unions national Higher Education Committee. Once the ballot closes, 2 weeks notice of industrial action needs to be given to employers – this means that the earliest we can take action is the latter half of November. The ballot mandate remains in place for 6 months.
These rules are tough, but UCU has defied them time and time again, both for national and local disputes. Many branches have achieved a successful ballot outcome over the last 18 months, so remote or hybrid working is not an obstacle – it just means we have to do things a bit differently. Leeds University is one of the strongest, most engaged and active branches in the country and I have no doubt we can do it. But every vote counts- there are numerous examples of branches missing the turnout threshold by single figures of votes. So I am asking all members to take the following actions now:
1. Check your details on MyUCU and in particular ensure your postal address is right. We have been recommending for a while that you make sure your recorded postal address is your home address and we believe most of you have done this but double check anyway, particularly if you have recently moved home.
2. Commit to voting now. We are a democratic trade union and industrial action ballots are a key expression of that. Not voting prevents the union from acting and effectively silences the voices of those who do vote. A strong turnout helps us both nationally and locally – officers and negotiators need your power behind us.
3. Inform yourself to decide how to vote. There will be a lot of emails, both nationally and locally, and I know all too well how hard that is to manage, but informed choice is at the heart of democracy. There will be national events going on. At Leeds we will be holding non-motion focused meetings on the different issues in the dispute for you to hear what the issues are, ask questions, and learn how industrial action will help us win. There will also be local meetings called by local reps, to allow you to meet other members in your area and build solidarity.
Above all, please prepare to fight. No-one wants this, and it remains open to our employers across the UK to take the very simple steps needed to stop this from happening. But if they won’t, we need to fight to win, to protect our working conditions, pay and pensions, to stamp out casualization and inequality, and to save our sector, and the health and wellbeing of all within it. Vote, and vote yes.
As promised, due to the number of emails I have had about the new university position on face coverings, a few responses. What I am hearing is that it is better but not good enough and I agree. A number of people have asked about the wording that “No-one will be denied access to a teaching event for not wearing a face covering” This reflects what is stated in the latest government guidance for England, which is frankly incoherent. However, a number of universities have gone further and mandated facecoverings, including in teaching spaces, and we do not see why Leeds cannot do the same. If you are wondering what is happening around the country, a member at Sussex UCU, Andrew Chitty, is keeping a running account here We are awaiting further clarity in the form of FAQs about, for example, what to do if a student refuses. And we note that all of this change is happening far too late. We will be discussing next steps at our General Meeting on 7th October – please come along and make your voice heard.
Dr Chloe Wallace
Associate Professor in Law
School of Law
University of Leeds
Co-Director, Centre for Innovation and Research in Legal Education
Programme Leader, School of Law 4 year programmes
President, Leeds University UCU
This page was last updated on 24 September 2021