Who are UCU and why are you striking?
UCU is a trade union of over 13,000 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. You can find out more about this dispute, known as the Four Fights dispute, here https://www.ucu.org.uk/he2021
Pension cuts: massive 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 here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforuss
That sounds familiar…..?
Yes. If you were a student in 2019-20 you will remember that we took industrial action during that year on these disputes. In fact, if you go back to 2017-18, you may remember our industrial action on the pensions dispute. In 2018, we were made promises which led to us ending our strike; those promises have since been broken. 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 last year, staff on fixed term contracts were laid off and our working conditions have got worse. This has to stop.
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 2020, Leeds reported a gender pay gap of 18.5%, 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. 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?
We would love to – but our employers refuse to make any better offers. 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.
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!
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 and have launched a petition calling on employers to come back to the table: please sign it at https://www.nus.org.uk/articles/student-views-on-ucu-strikes-revealed-by-nus
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.
Lobby Leeds University Union to support UCU in this dispute.
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.
This page was last updated on 23 November 2021