Value being a member of UCU? Spread the word!

Build the UnionIf you’d listened in on – or taken part in – any of the conversations between UCU members on the picket lines during the recent strike action, you’d have heard conversations about why they value being a member of the union, the ways in which the union has helped them, and the importance of having a strong union – especially at times like these.

But these conversations weren’t just between members. It provided an opportunity for non-members to ask questions about the UCU, trade unions in general, whether industrial action works (it does), how much it costs, and why people are members.

And as a result? More people joining the union, helping to build a stronger organisation that can fight on your behalf.

We’d love these conversations to continue.

Next week is UCU’s recruitment week, and ordinarily we’d put up a stall in the Atrium, with mousemats and leaflets to encourage people to join.

But this time, we’d like you to get involved.

Start a conversation with a colleague who isn’t a member. If you like, you can pick up some materials from us (even mugs!) to support your conversation. Email to arrange this.

Sounds daunting? Yes, it probably does. But really, it’s just a conversation between colleagues. You don’t need to spout lots of official lines from the union – just say why you find being a member of UCU valuable. And remember the very important URL –

For some of those ‘official lines’ though, here’s a presentation with some useful information, and some answers to common questions about membership:

Download Join UCU presentation (pdf)

How to answer the ‘why join’ questions

Q: Why should I join if I get all the benefits anyway?

A: UCU advice, representation and other benefits are only available to fully paid-up UCU members. While non-union staff get the benefits won by UCU members they do not get an opportunity to have input to any debate on the issues being negotiated. UCU’s bargaining achievements are based on its membership strength, so the more people who join, the more UCU can achieve.

Q: Will I have to take industrial action if I join?

A: Industrial action is only taken as a last resort, and cannot take place without the consent of a majority of UCU  members via a secret postal ballot. Most situations are
resolved via expert UCU negotiations, supported by UCU members, long before the threat, let alone the use of industrial action is required.

Q: Won’t joining the trade union damage my career prospects?

A: No. Trade union membership is a right and UCU is the sole recognised union for the post-school education sector. As UCU offers protection in the workplace, not joining is far more likely to damage your future career if something does go wrong.

Q: What have trade unions ever achieved?

A: Most of the gains made in the workplace are down to unions. Without unions there would never have been paid holidays, superannuation schemes, equal opportunities
or health and safety legislation. Without the constant work of unions there would be no annual pay rise, nor preferential pension schemes. Unions offer a voice at work,
expert advice and information and protection.

Q: I am on a fixed-term contract, why should I join?

A: Staff on fixed-term contracts are vulnerable, especially at the beginning and end of a contract, or if your contract is very short and is likely to be renewed or extended.
Your UCU branch/local association can represent and advise you. Information provided by the UCU is often not provided by employers. What happens when your contract ends – is it fair for the university to ‘dump’ you? Is this really the best outcome for your work, and for your own career? What are your rights? Members of the UCU are campaigning for all university staff to have open-ended contracts – the UCU believes this is best for everyone involved. Our ability to campaign and negotiate at the local level depends on active membership interest and participation. It is extremely difficult to negotiate effectively on behalf of a group of staff who are not members.

Q: I can’t afford to join, but I’ll think about it.

A: UCU membership ranges from under £3 to around £24 per calendar month depending on earnings. This means national membership can cost at most about
the same as buying a sandwich & drink for lunch once a week!

Also, UCU negotiators regularly achieve annual pay increases higher than the employers’ original offer and this easily covers the subscription rate. But the real question is: can you afford not to be a member? Not to have a say in the way your department and indeed institution is run; not to have access to expert advice, up-to-date information and guidance; not to have access to representation, including legal representation, if things do go wrong? UCU can only help you if you are a member.

What next?

When you’ve had a conversation, or a dozen (!), we’d love to hear how it went. Drop us a line at

Be vigilant!   HR & Payroll errors could cost YOU money.

A number of issues are emerging that we would urge all members to be aware of:

Strike Notification

We have had reports that despite having notified the University of their intention to participate in strike action by completing an HR form, members are now being accused of failing to do so, which would be an offence under TU legislation.

The form in question was entitled “notification of participation in industrial action”, and some members reasonably assumed that in completing this form their duty to inform has been discharged.

HR however insist that this form was, despite its title, merely a means of ensuring that pension payments could be maintained by staff who wished to do so, and in doing so “protecting rights such as death in service”.

This implied loss of rights has little basis in fact. There is no obligation to do so before participation and we suspect was merely a fishing trip to draw out as many declarations of intent as possible to allow for some damage limitation.

The act does not prescribe the means of notification, and whilst the LA was content with the on-line post participation means of informing, other channels may have been employed (such as speaking to a line manager, sending a letter to HR or the Vice Chancellor) that we contend still meet the obligation.

We would urge the University to desist from accusing members of breaking the law and instead take a closer look at their own broken and ineffectual HR systems.

Pay Deduction

Members are beginning to see the effects of their participation in strike action in recently issued pay packets. Feedback from those on compressed hours’ arrangements indicates that their deductions have been in excess of the 1/365th per day of strike.

We contend that this is contrary to the Apportionment Act and the recent Supreme Court ruling on this matter. None of the current contracts make provision for a deviation from that ruling, and as a consequence we would advise that ONLY 1/365th per day of participation is legal.

Swift action by the LA has resulted in an immediate climb down and in the case of at least one member the refunding of what was a not insignificant sum.

We are also aware of at least one instance of pay deduction not quite matching the 1/365th calculation even though the member is on a standard full time contract. In simple terms the maths appears to be incorrect, and we would therefore advise all staff to do their own calculations rather than trust in the University.

The USS Pensions Dispute 2018 – a summary

Or – Why you should join UCU

At its heart, the 2018 USS pensions dispute has its origins in the general breakdown of trust between university employers and their employees.

A university is one part of society where we would hope that opposing views are debated, their merits weighed, and a consensus reached.

In January 2018 the university employers dispensed with this approach and railroaded through a set of pension reforms that were breath-taking in their ambition to dismember our pensions.

It is only through the longest sustained industrial action that UK Higher Education has ever seen that these proposals have been stopped.

The other major result of this industrial action is the realisation that university staff, when united in a common aim, do have the power to reverse what is often presented as a fait accompli.

It is our contention that we need to harness this newfound awareness in order to tackle the many other issues that are chipping away at what it is to be an academic or academic related member of staff in the present day.

Every three years USS is required to make a valuation of the fund and predict future liabilities.

This is a complicated process, which by its nature has to take into account a number of variables. For many years, UCU has sought to make this a more transparent process. Indeed, one of the major concessions made by the employers in the recent agreement is to constitute a new committee comprising nominees of UCU and UUK to arrive at a jointly agreed methodology.

Unfortunately, in the autumn of 2017 this committee did not exist. The ‘cloak and dagger’ approach taken by UUK in the current valuation round is covered in some detail here.

Suffice to say, we were left asking such basic questions as: Is there even a deficit?

In January 2018, armed with their flawed data, UUK pushed through their plan to convert our Defined Benefit (DB) pension scheme into a Defined Contribution (DC) scheme. The underlying idea of this proposal was to remove future pension liabilities from the employers’ balance sheet and place all the risk on the employees.

The result for us would have been a much less secure and poorer retirement.

We were told that this was a final decision; that there was nothing left to negotiate.

This set the scene for the strike action that has just come to an end.

It is quite clear that the employers would not have conceded anything without staff withdrawing their labour. This strike has secured a great deal, but at considerable financial cost to those who took part in the action.

We would like to think that all in the USS scheme are grateful for the sacrifices made by striking UCU members to defend their pension.

At a local level we face many challenges. Every part of the university has been, or will be, under close review.

We have lost many colleagues through voluntary, and recently, compulsory redundancy.

There has never been a more important time to have strong campus trade unions. We work closely with our sister unions Unite, Unison and the GMB, to challenge management decisions and to question the strategic direction of the institution. At an individual level, much of our time is spent supporting colleagues in work-place disputes and in providing guidance during restructures.

It is quite clear that we will have a busy case-load in the months and years ahead.

The more staff who are in the union the more we can push back against unjust management decisions both nationally and locally.

As evidenced by the employer climb down on the pensions dispute, collective action works.

As far as we are aware, this is the first time that employees have successfully faced down an employer proposal to move from a DB to a DC pension.

Together we are strong. Join the union.

Where’s the Money Going?

Those of us who are perhaps a little longer in the tooth, or at the very least have a few years of service under their belts, will possibly recall that the previous Vice Chancellor Professor Mark Cleary was readily sympathetic to the UCU branch view that deductions made to pay would most usefully be redirected to student use. Accordingly, he agreed to make sure that savings in staff pay made as a result of strike action would be deposited in the Student Hardship Fund.

Despite the passage of time your LA Committee agrees that this approach is as relevant now as it was then, and hopes that the present administration is equally sympathetic to this point of view.

DEADLINE FOR RE-BALLOT – 16 February 2018

UCU recently announced that there would be a further ballot of the seven branches whose members voted YES to action but failed to meet a 50% participation threshold, of which the University of Bradford was one.

Your LA Committee did uncover significant errors within the database held at HQ, and calculate that those errors contributed significantly (and almost certainly critically) to our failure to meet the participation threshold, which is important to recognise as we enter the second ballot.

Put simply, your vote counted last time, and there was a clear majority of participants voting YES to strike action (84.3%).

The ballot opens on Friday 2nd February, and is open for just two weeks, so it is important that you look out for your ballot paper and return it promptly using the enclosed pre-paid envelope.

As before, we stress that how you vote is a matter for you and your conscience; it is perhaps even more important in this second ballot nevertheless, that participation levels meet the required threshold to make the vote legal and valid. Voting ensures that the democratic rights of you and your colleagues are preserved and their voices are heard. Failure to do so is more than just personal choice; it has the potential to remove that choice from union colleagues by rendering the ballot invalid.

Please cast your vote and take any opportunity to encourage those around you to do so as well.

BALLOT DEADLINE 19th January 2018 – Now is the Time to Act

As the ballot deadline approaches all members may want to take a moment to consider the importance of exercising their vote.

The Trade Union Bill challenges unions to achieve a 50% turn-out in any ballot for industrial action, and moreover requires that this threshold is achieved AT EVERY WORKPLACE. This means that the failure to meet the threshold at ANY INDIVIDUAL INSTITUTION will lead to that institutions members being banned in law from striking or taking other forms of action.

Your vote is a matter for you and your conscience; it does matter however that participation levels meet the required threshold to make the vote legal and valid.

For that reason and that reason alone we should all exercise our democratic right and cast our vote. Failure to do so is more than just personal choice; it has the potential to remove that choice from union colleagues by rendering the ballot invalid.

Please cast your vote and encourage those around you to do so.

USS Pension – How Does Your VC Vote?

UUK is now consulting USS employers on a UCU proposal to retain the status quo of a Defined Benefit (DB) scheme up to £55,550, but with the accrual rate reduced from 1/75 to 1/80. (DC would remain as is, except that the unpopular voluntary 1% DC match would be eliminated.) This could be funded by a modest increase in contributions — a little more than 2% for employers and 1% for members — but only if USS reverts to the valuation they originally proposed in September. If, however, USS sticks to their revised, more pessimistic November valuation, this proposal will be unaffordable.

Even though 53% of employers accepted the level of investment risk of the September valuation, the opposition of 42% prompted USS to revise their valuation in November by speeding up the shift of the portfolio from growth assets to bonds during the next twenty years.

UCU Bradford LA Committee contacted Prof. Cantor in the week prior to the most recent University Assembly, suggesting that he might like to indicate his and the University’s position regarding USS pensions and proposed changes; regrettably the VC failed to do so and has yet to respond to our request for a statement.

One can perhaps surmise that this deafening silence speaks volumes, and that our employer Is indeed amongst the 42% who UCU urges to revise their position to make this proposal possible. Otherwise, it’s likely that the UUK proposal of 100% DC accrual going forward will be imposed on us come the 23rd January.

UCU Bradford LA Committee will be making yet another request for clarity from the VC, making it clear that an opposition stance and support for the shift to 100% DC is simply incoherent: namely that low risk is intolerable when shared by 350 institutions but high risk is fine when borne by workers individually.