A message to students: UCU members working to contract and you

From Monday 10th October you will see posters and badges indicating that lecturers and academic-related staff are ‘working to contract’. What is going on and why?

Regrettably members of the University and College Union (UCU) are working to contract in a dispute with employers in 67 of the UK’s best-known universities, including the University of Bradford.


The dispute is about changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme. This is a private scheme, paid for by staff and universities, not the state. It is the second largest private scheme and is in good financial health.

In June, USS imposed the university employers’ proposals for detrimental changes to the scheme, despite overwhelming opposition from fund members.

The average lecturer is set to lose over £100,000 over the course of their retirement.  Existing staff face increased contributions, less protection against inflation and a substantial reduction in their pension if made redundant – a particular worry for staff at the present time and a distraction from their focus on teaching and supporting students. An inferior pension scheme, with no final salary element, has been inflicted on new starters. This is manifestly unfair and creates division among the staff working with you.

University staff already often earn less than they could in the private sector and pensions are part of the overall pay package. If these detrimental changes remain, there will be an impact on students as staff  leave the sector and those that remain become increasingly demoralised by opportunistic management focused on short-term money-grabbing savings, rather than long-term strategies for quality education. There is no crisis in the pension scheme and the UCU has proposed independently supported changes to address demographic issues facing the scheme that employers have ignored.

University staff  have twice voted by 90% margins against the proposals made by the employers which were only imposed following threatened legal action against UCU’s representatives. The union has consistently called for a negotiated agreement, offered counter proposals and sought the assistance of ACAS to try and resolve the dispute. The employers have refused to talk. More detail can be found at: USS pension dispute briefing

How will this affect students like me?

The action will commence with UCU members ‘working to contract’. This means they will simply work to the terms of their contract (including their obligation to perform their duties in an efficient manner).

This action is effectively a withdrawal of goodwill in staff relations with the University, which are actually very important to University operations ‘behind the scenes’. This should not impact directly on students but includes simple things such as: no longer working unpaid overtime; not breaching the Working Time Directive; using holiday entitlement; not attending unnecessary, voluntary staff meetings; checking and ensuring that the University is providing a safe working environment; not taking on voluntary tasks outside of contractual obligations.

As staff are simply working to contract (which will make the University managers realise the enormous amount of unpaid, voluntary contribution and goodwill from staff that they take for granted) we do not expect the University to ‘fine’ staff by reducing or withholding their pay.

If the University does respond aggressively then, regrettably, UCU members will need to consider their response which will involve rolling strike action. Similarly, if we are not able to persuade the employers to re-enter talks within a few months, we will need to escalate action. This will have an impact on students, but please understand that this would be a last resort against an unfair response from University managers or from a complete refusal of universities nationally to sit down and talk through the issues.

What can you do?

Staff  welcome all messages of support from students.  Just as UCU members at the University support you, UBU and NUS in the campaigns against the attacks on Higher Education we know we can count on your support at this difficult time.

You can do a lot to show your support for lecturers and University staff, for example:

  •  Add a comment to this blog to support your lecturers and staff in their dispute.
  •  Lobby the Students’ Union to debate the action and pass a motion calling on the University of Bradford Vice Chancellor to publicly call for the employers side to negotiate and for him to write to the national universities employers’ forum requesting they re-enter discussions with UCU about the pension scheme changes (for contact information see link here)
  •  Write directly to the University of Bradford Vice Chancellor and ask him to publicly call for the national employers’ forum to re-enter negotiations and to write to the forum requesting this (for contact information see link here):
  • Set-up a Facebook page to support your lecturers and University staff in dispute and add your comments and pictures showing your support

Thank you for reading this. We hope you understand our motivations and why we have reached this last resort. We hope that we can count on your support.


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