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National bargaining: use it or lose it

21 October 2019 | last updated: 5 March 2020

Post-92 members who haven't yet voted in UCU's current higher education ballot: now is the time to do it. You have about a week to post your papers - the last date you can post them in order to make sure they arrive on time is Monday 28 October.

If you have lost or not received your papers, you need to order a replacement urgently. The deadline for ordering replacements is 12 noon on Wednesday 23 October.

Unfortunately the 50% ballot turnout threshold required by law means that if you miss these deadlines you risk depriving your colleagues of a chance to defend our interests. I know you will be overburdened with work at this point in term and it can be hard to find time to post your vote. But voting is the only way you can help us negotiate a better deal for all higher education staff.

National agreements that hold the sector together - and protect us all

Higher education institutions are bound together by a number of national agreements on pay and pensions. In this ballot UCU is trying to strengthen the agreements we have and expand them to cover workload, job security and equality as well. Our enjoyment of a reasonable workload, or a secure contract, or freedom from discrimination should not depend on which university we happen to work for.

These national agreements are hugely valuable. If our employers decide that they can get away with abandoning the national bargaining framework we may have to switch to local bargaining in individual branches. This will place the burden of fighting for higher standards on you, your colleagues, and your branch committee.

We have already seen signs that the sector could break apart as a result of government reforms to funding. Wealthy institutions have got wealthier and poorer institutions have struggled. If individual universities are allowed to offer different levels of remuneration to staff that process will only intensify. The inequalities that already exist will increase.

Protecting the post-92 contract

As staff in post-92 universities, you serve a diverse range of students from your local communities and from further afield, as well as producing ground-breaking research. But your institutions are being put under pressure by competition from pre-92 universities - not because they offer more to their students, but because of the wealth and prestige which they have been able to leverage in pursuit of tuition fee revenue.

We know that your workloads are increasing in the face of these pressures. We are already seeing staff in post-92 universities coming together to demand a better system. Just last Friday Sheffield Hallam UCU beat the 50% turnout threshold and delivered a resounding YES vote in a local ballot against workload intensification in their institution.

UCU has called attention to the importance of upholding the basic right to a reasonable workload as detailed in the post-92 contract (and, in the case of Scotland, the HE2000 contract). The best way to address the underlying issue is for all institutions, post-92 and pre-92, richer and poorer, to stand together in this ballot. Let's send a message to our employers that we all deserve a fair, manageable workload, regardless of which university we work for.

National bargaining: use it or lose it

UCU members can be proud of what they have achieved in upholding these sector-wide standards. From the ground-breaking 2006 agreement on pay to last year's historic defence of USS pensions in pre-92 universities, we have done more for higher education staff than any other organisation.

We have to use our national bargaining frameworks or risk losing them. If we do not act to defend the whole sector, employers will become more confident that they can divide and conquer us. That is why I am asking you to vote YES for industrial action. Post your ballot by Monday 28 October and remind your employers that higher education staff stand together.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary