Yesterday was the last UoNUCU branch committee meeting for Joe; he is off to pastures new – indeed (and here is another brain drain for UoN), he is leaving HE to take up a far better paid job outside. Joe has been at this university for about 7 years 7 months, working as a Learning Applications Developer in the Learning Technology Team, University of Nottingham Libraries. But more importantly for us, he has been a hugely respected member of the University of Nottingham UCU Committee, first as a member and then as APM officer for 3 years and 6 months. He was the Casework Coordinator for the last two years, an unenviable role, given the increase in casework we have seen in the last year and half. He was the go-to person for advice on all aspects of casework, and of course a caseworker himself. “Grumpy Joe’s” opinions were brilliant to listen to and (mostly) heed. The committee expressed their gratitude yesterday, at BC, and thanked him for all he has done for the branch. He will be sorely missed. We wish him well and know he will continue to battle for workers’ rights in his new place of employment. Farewell comrade.
Why we are taking industrial action and going on strike
Staff in universities have experienced years of real terms pay cuts, combined with rising workloads. Structural inequalities and discrimination mean that those least able to pay the price bear the highest cost. Since the economic crisis in 2008 the real terms pay of university staff has declined by 20%. The gender pay gap across the sector is 15% while disabled and Black and Minority Ethnic staff continue to experience serious pay discrimination. In 2019-20 33% of academic staff were employed on fixed term-contracts. These were the workers who were ‘let go’ when the pandemic struck. Staff’s working conditions are students’ learning conditions. This means that your lecturers, professors, library and student services staff are working more hours for less pay. The university is simply refusing to invest in its most important resource—its staff. This also means bigger class size for you and lecturers who are stretched thin and exhausted. If we don’t stand up, our working conditions, your learning conditions will be eroded beyond repair.
Since 2011, management has relentlessly attacked staff pensions. Every three years a valuation of the health of the USS pension fund is produced, which is based on highly dubious criteria, resulting in a large and artificially manufactured deficit. Staff are then asked to accept cuts to their benefits in order to address the deficit only to be confronted with the same scenario three years later. When the last period of industrial action ended in 2018, the resolution of the conflict included an agreement between employers and UCU to change jointly the method of how the fund is valuated. Employers, including our management, have now broken this agreement. The March 2020 valuation was undertaken at the height of the pandemic and during the first unprecedented national lockdown, when economic prospects looked particularly bleak. The valuation also once again used the same questionable method that management agreed to change in 2018. Unsurprisingly, the March 2020 valuation again produced a deficit and again we have been asked to accept cuts to our pensions, this time of about 12 per cent. We can no longer accept this cycle of ongoing cuts to our pension benefits. If we don’t stand up now, there will be soon little left of our pensions. These huge cuts to pensions are cuts to our pay—since pensions are deferred pay.
We do not want to have to take industrial action yet again. After a year of disruptions due to the pandemic, we have been looking forward to doing what we enjoy, teaching and supporting you. But management has forced our backs against the wall. We are left with no alternative. We do not take industrial action lightly. Every strike day implies a significant financial loss for us. If we do take action, it is because of the decisions that management is making regarding its priorities.
Support your lecturers and university staff, write to the Vice Chancellor and urge her to change management’s position on pensions and pay and working conditions. This is the only way to avoid industrial action.