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The new, 1.5% pay offer from employers: not good enough

12 May 2021 | last updated: 13 May 2021

It is just over a year since UCU members in 69 universities were on strike over the 'Four Fights': pay, equality, job security, and workload. Thousands more members voted to take action than had previously voted for action over those issues, and your commitment finally forced employers to negotiate on all four issues rather than just pay. 

Since the pandemic started there have been further negotiations with employers but employers have been extremely stubborn and unwilling to change their position. During our 2020-21 negotiating round employers made an 'offer' of 0% on pay and very limited joint work on the other three issues. That offer was overwhelmingly rejected by members who took part in our consultative ballot earlier this year. 

For the 2021-22 negotiations, which ended last week, employers' final offer works out at 1.5% for staff at point 22 of the pay spine or above. On the other three issues, employers have again offered very little of any substance. The employers' written offer was published yesterday and you can find it here.

I'm sure you will agree with me that this is unacceptable under any circumstances, but especially given the year which the sector has just had. Employers have done hardly anything to reward the extraordinary efforts which you have made and the risks which they have forced you to take throughout the pandemic. 

What happens next 

Decisions about your union's industrial strategy are made by you, the members, via your democratic structures. Over the past two months we have held a number of meetings of branches to discuss whether or not to hold another industrial action ballot on this matter, and if so, when to launch it. The clear consensus that emerged from those meetings is that this decision should be taken by our higher education sector conference. 

The next sector conference takes place on 2 June. That meeting will be an opportunity for delegates selected by your branch to take important decisions about how to respond to the employers' offer and whether or not you would like to commence an industrial action ballot. 

You can see the motions and amendments submitted so far on our website. I am sure your delegate(s) will be doing everything they can to talk to and consult members in the run up to the conference but if you're not sure how to have your say, do get in touch with your branch. 

If your branch hasn't registered its full complement of delegates, there is still time to register before the 14 May deadline via our website. 

What we are fighting for 

For a decade, employers have suppressed your wages, created insecure contracts, intensified your workloads, and tolerated and even exacerbated gendered and racialised inequalities. Winning this struggle is not going to be easy, and we need to learn from previous disputes to ensure success in the future. It is a long time since any union in the UK managed to win an agreement of the kind we are pursuing - an agreement that covers all employers and improves conditions for all staff in a massive sector of the economy. When we win, we will be able to say we achieved something historic. 

Whatever is decided at sector conference, I know that as UCU members you are committed to making things better in your sector. During and since the Four Fights dispute, UCU branches have been making real progress locally on some of the issues covered by that dispute. A number of branches have won improved conditions for casually employed staff, and positive agreements have been reached on workload and gender pay as well. 

Meanwhile, even as I write, several UCU branches are taking or preparing for industrial action to protect against redundancies and other attacks on staff, as you can see in our overview of current disputes. I believe that during this pandemic UCU has balloted more members for industrial action than any other union in the UK - including unions ten times our size. 

At the same time, across the UK, UCU staff and activists are developing an ambitious campaign to win full employment rights for postgraduate researchers. If successful, this would represent a massive shift for the sector and a huge step forward in the struggle against precarity in higher education. 

Finally, I know that those of you who are in USS are extremely concerned about the future of their pension scheme, now that Universities UK (UUK) is consulting employers about possible cuts to defined benefits and the creation of a lower-quality DC-only option outside the main scheme. 

I will be emailing all members soon with another separate communication about USS, covering questions which you have raised in response to my most recent email, what will happen when the UUK consultation closes on 24 May, and how you can play your part in defending your hard-earned pension benefits over the coming months. 

If you have any questions about our negotiations with employers or anything else, please email me using this link.