Why are we taking action including striking? Everything you need to know about the disputes. (Including PowerPoint slides)
Who are UCU and why are you striking?
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
Pension cuts: massive unnecessary changes to our retirement benefits which will see a typical member lose 35% of their pension. You can find out more about our pensions dispute at https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/12469/FAQs#USS_pensions_dispute
That sounds familiar…..?
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)
The National Union of Students support our action.
Leeds University Union executive have also taken a position in support of our strike action – find out more here
There’s a student group called Leeds Student Staff Solidarity: connect with them on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/LeedsStudentStaffSolidarity), Twitter (@SSSleeds) or email them at Leedsstudentstaffsolidarity@gmail.com
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
These slides can be downloaded as a PowerPoint presentation
Sample letter to the vice chancellor
If best to use your own words, but here’s a sample letter you can use if you like:
- Vice-Chancellor: Simone Buitendijk (email@example.com)
- Deputy Vice Chancellor, Student Education: Jeff Grabill (J.Grabill@leeds.ac.uk)
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?
This page was last updated on 17 February 2023