Update on industrial action
As colleagues and students will know, we have been through a series of national ballots about industrial action. Legislation requires trades unions that wish to ballot about such action to achieve an absolute majority and a turnout above 50%. Both Unison and Unite did not achieve that threshold in terms of turnout, but UCU has done so over two separate issues: pensions and pay.
UCU has now confirmed that they will hold strike action on 8 consecutive working days from 25 November – all of week 9, and most of week 10. They will also take action short of a strike from the 25thon an ongoing basis, that is, without an end date. UCU also reserves the right to take further industrial action in the new year.
This national industrial action will affect 60 universities across the country at the same time. We at Warwick are not directly involved in the negotiations on any of the issues over which there is strike action. Over pensions, we are represented by UUK. On pay, we are represented by UCEA.
The pay issue is a wide ranging one. UCU nationally asks universities to take action on pay gaps – across a range of characteristics, including gender. At Warwick, we have a Pay Action Group that is working hard to find ways of closing gaps that have arisen around the country (and more widely) for long term structural reasons and this group has already engaged with UCU locally. UCU also ask for more work to be done on casual contracts. At Warwick, we are working closely with UCU and with Warwick Anti Casualisation on a framework which responds to this for implementation in 2020. Nationally, UCU asks Universities to do more on addressing differentials in workloads, and absolute workloads. Everyone acknowledges that this is difficult in the context of an increasingly highly regulated environment, where additional work is created by external bodies such as the Office for Students. At Warwick, we have begun work on a workload framework that is comparable across the university. On pay, UCU argues that levels are too low and that universities have not matched the cost of living rises. At Warwick, where we pay the Living Wage Foundation rates, we have argued for higher national rises than those that have been achieved in negotiations.
None of this is of course to say that at Warwick we are perfect. It is to say that there are shared agendas and that some progress is being made.
On pensions, we at Warwick have argued strongly for the maintenance of the defined benefit scheme in USS, and indeed our voice was a lone one for some time amongst universities in the last dispute. UCU now argues that the pension contributions that have been increased by USS in order to retain defined benefits should not be met on the long agreed formula of 65:35, employer to employee. Instead they argue that the totality of the increase should be met by the employer.
I have tried to set out all the issues openly and without any attempt at judgement. Industrial action has been called and has been called legally. I regret it greatly. It will impact on our students in a negative way. It will impact on staff pay in the run up to Christmas in a negative way. It risks bringing rancour to our campus.
We would all very much like to see a shared agenda, such as that I have set out above, become the basis of negotiation between UUK, UCEA and UCU. Industrial relations disputes always end at some point: it would be good to focus on that end point as soon as possible. We are constrained in what we as a university can deliver on our own; because we must work through joint bodies such as UUK and UCEA where there are a range of opinions, and where some universities are struggling financially. But also, because to act alone, to break out of national frameworks, would be also opposed by UCU. That does not mean that we are powerless. We can and must seek to work with all those involved, including UCU, UUK and UCEA to come to agreement. I hope that others will take that view seriously.