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Use your voice

UCU vice president (HE) Vicky Blake wrote to members announcing the opening of two ballots in higher education this week:

Today, two vital ballots open: an envelope will be sent to all UCU members working in higher education. This envelope represents your voice. Every vote cast is an act of solidarity with workers across higher education; every vote cast helps us to ensure we are heard. Please vote YES to strike action and YES to action short of a strike, in defence of higher education: for job security, equality, fair workloads and pay for all, and in defence of pensions.

Every member eligible to vote in the ballots is asked to return all votes for which they are eligible. Not voting directly risks silencing the entire union, because to be heard we need the turnout for each ballot to reach the anti-democratic 50% postal ballot turnout threshold established by the Trade Union Act 2016.

We are stronger together

Having worked in highly casualised employment for a decade, with multiple contracts across more than one institution, I know first-hand the impact that solidarity from more securely employed colleagues can have. As UCU vice president, I chair both higher education negotiation teams, and I know how much our bargaining power strengthens when we speak as a union against the unacceptable working conditions we all face in higher education, and against attempts to decimate our pensions. 

Distinct, yet linked disputes

Inequality and casualisation now also mean heightened inequality in retirement. Pay stagnation will reduce our incomes in retirement as well as squeezing us right now. Each dispute is important and reinforces the other.

UCU negotiates with UCEA over casualisation, equality, pay and workload alongside other higher education unions. Our joint union claim is here. Employers have imposed a derisory, sub-inflationary pay 'rise' of 1.8%, while continuing to claim they have no mandate to negotiate meaningfully with us over issues directly impacting the health and wellbeing of staff in the sector. 

UCU negotiates with Universities UK to determine how the USS pension scheme is managed. UUK representatives recently backed measures that will increase USS contribution costs. We must oppose this pinching from our pay for unjustifiable cost hikes predicated on a deeply flawed methodology.

Better job security and conditions; decent pensions for our future

Our pay has been eroded against a backdrop of reduced overall spending on staff and increased capital expenditure (e.g. lavish building projects). We all face escalating, pressured workloads, with staff in the sector routinely working in excess of 50 hour weeks. These extra hours, like much of the preparation time hourly paid staff are required to put in, are unpaid. Racialised, gendered pay and pension gaps shame a sector which should be a beacon of progressive employment practice.

How to vote

Your envelope contains papers for voting in one or two ballots: members in all branches vote in the 'four fights' ballot. Members in pre-92 institutions also vote in the USS ballot.

Each set of voting papers are accompanied by a 'ballot insert' to explain the legal basis of the disputes and why UCU is asking all members to vote YES to strike action and YES to action short of a strike. All voting papers should be returned together in the same prepaid envelope contained in your pack. These must arrive by 12pm on Wednesday 30 October, which means the last recommended posting date is Monday 28 October. If you are worried that your ballot paper has not arrived, an online form to request a replacement pack will open on Tuesday 17 September.

Standing up for each other

As chair of both teams of negotiators, and as an ordinary member, I implore every member to return your ballots, and to vote YES to strike action and YES to action short of a strike. 

In solidarity,

Vicky Blake 
UCU vice president (higher education)

Last updated: 10 September 2019