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May 20th, 2016:

Higher education strike is ON

UCU negotiators met with the University and College Employer Association (UCEA) this week in the hope of finding a solution to the current dispute among growing anger over news that vice-chancellor pay rose by 6.1% last year.

UCEA made no improvement on the 1.1% pay offer to staff or on measures to address gender inequality and insecure contracts and the strike action will continue on Wednesday and Thursday next week as planned.

Please join picket lines and support the strike action:

Senior HE leaders enjoy 6.1% annual pay rise, says Times research

A comprehensive survey by the Times Higher Education magazine has revealed a latest annual increase in pay and benefits (excluding pensions) of 6.1% for those senior leaders in HE.

One in five universities gave their bosses a rise of 10% or more. The Times Higher Education compares that to an average increase of 1.3% for staff over the same period.

Yet while university leaders have received pay increases many times higher than inflation, the final pay offer to staff of 1.1% is described by the employers as the “very best offer” possible.

This simply cannot stand.

The union’s higher education committee (HEC) has agreed a comprehensive programme of industrial action aimed not just at improving this final offer but also persuading the employers to address the gender pay gap and the growth of casual contracts.  Please give the union your support starting with the two days of strike action on Wednesday 25 and Thursday 26 May.

Finally for today, I have been inundated with messages about the union’s appeal to external examiners to resign their posts and not take up new ones for the duration of the dispute.  Many of you ask what notice you should give. UCU is not asking you to break your contract by giving incorrect notice.

You must always give the requisite notice stipulated in your external examiners’ contract or accompanying handbook. Where no expressed ie. written notice period is given you must give a reasonable period of notice which will depend on the circumstances. If you require more detailed advice please contact Matt Waddup at mwaddup@ucu.org.uk

You can read about the Times Higher Education VC pay survey here.

You can read UCU’s response here.

You can read about our programme of industrial action here.

Message from UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt about strike action

Dear colleague,

I am writing to set out in further detail the union’s plan of action for the campaign for fair pay in higher education.

As you will know 65% of members voted for strike action and 77% of members voted for action short of a strike. It is clear that without disruptive industrial action, sustained for as long as it takes, there will be little movement from the employers on either the final pay offer of 1.1% or on the gender pay gap and the issue of casual contracts.

First, the union will be asking you to take two days of strike action on 25 and 26 May. Many of you have contacted me to say you support UCU but to ask if the union provides exemptions from strike action for staff who were due to attend exam boards, vivas, or other student assessment on those two days. With regret the answer is no. It is very important that all members support the action and that we show we are prepared to fight for fair pay in HE.

Second, the union will be asking branches to choose a further day of strike action in June or July aimed at creating the maximum local disruption. The could be an open day, a popular day for exam boards or even in some cases a graduation day.

Thirdly, the union is asking you to step down from any external examiner positions you currently hold and not to apply for or accept offers for new external examiner posts. This is a big step but I hope it will demonstrate to the employers that there will be no ‘business as usual’ until they seriously address our claim for fair pay in HE.

The union’s lawyers have drawn up some advice for current post holders here. To protect your own contractual position, I would strongly recommend you follow the advice and provide the correct notice as specified in your contract with the employing institution. Please email me to let me know when you do resign any examiner posts.

Fourth, with effect from 25 May 2016 the union will be asking you to ‘work to contract’ and – in any case – to work no longer than 37 hours a week every week until further notice. I have gathered together a series of frequently asked questions about what working to contract means and about the 37 hour weekly maximum. You can read them here.

Fifth, the union is making detailed preparations to call for strike action on 18 August, the day when A Level results are released in England. Similar alternative days will be called for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland aimed at hitting university admissions.

Sixth, the union is making detailed preparations for a full setting and marking boycott to begin at an agreed point during the autumn term.

Of course I hope that none of this action is necessary because the employers finally decide to see sense. Since 2009 your salaries have reduced in value by 14.5% against inflation, yet there is a surplus of £1.8bn across UK higher education and those in charge of our institutions have awarded themselves pay rises three to four times higher than those achieved by rank and file academics.

I would like to thank you for all your support since the ballot finished. We are determined to take the first steps towards fair pay in HE.

Sally Hunt
UCU general secretary