Strike action in higher education

Special HE sector conference - USS dispute

The business of this HE special sector conference on 6 December 2019 is to review the position and consider all actions available to UCU to defend USS.  No other business may be transacted at this special conference (rule 16.11). 

Documents

First report of the Conference Business Committee
UCU989.html | UCU989.rtf

Convening notice
UCU971.html | UCU971.rtf

Congress standing orders [89kb]


Motions for debate

All business will be taken in private session.

1  Legal action against the USS trustees
2  Change within USS as a high priority
3  No more groundhog days
4  Scheduling inclusive and equitable strike action: selecting days and weeks
5  Disproportionate deductions for ASOS
L1  Responding to university action to undermine ASOS
6  Migrant workers' rights and the dispute
L2  Staff walkout for pension gender inequality
L5 Emergency motion

1  Legal action against the USS trustees - University of Dundee

The activist group Academics for Pension Justice have passed to UCU a legal opinion prepared by a QC specialising in pensions law stating that 'there are good grounds to take this matter to court based on breach of trust'.

Conference thanks Academics for Pension Justice for the very many hours they committed to assembling the legal brief and for passing the resulting opinion to UCU.

Conference calls on NEC to:

  1. consider the merits of launching legal action as outlined in the legal opinion and report to members by the end of April 2020
  2. investigate using crowdfunding to fully or partially fund the legal action.
  3. publish the legal opinion as soon as reasonably possible.

CARRIED

2  Change within USS as a high priority - University of Sheffield

Conference notes serious problems with how USS conducts its business, including the appalling treatment of UCU director Jane Hutton, the suppression by its chief executive and chair of a complaint of misrepresentation from the Pensions Regulator, inappropriate levels of secrecy, an overbearing control on the flow of information, and a much criticised approach to valuation.

Conference notes the 'no detriment' policy previously established, understood as no decrease in benefits and no increase in contributions for members, and supports 'no detriment' as a negotiating target.

Conference notes the crucial importance of change within USS in advance of the 2020 valuation, and instructs the HEC/NDC/SWG to pursue this as a high priority. In particular, conference:

  1. reiterates its call for the chief executive to resign
  2. calls for the suspension of the chair and an investigation into his conduct and tasks those negotiating to demand that UUK support these calls.

CARRIED AS AMENDED

2A.1 University of Dundee

Point numbered 1, before 'to resign', add 'and all the independent trustees'

Add new point 2:

  1. calls for the appointment of new independent trustees committed to operating USS as an open defined benefits scheme

Re-number point 2 as point 3 and delete all after 'into his conduct' ('...and tasks those negotiating to demand that UUK support these calls')

Add new point 4:

  1. calls for and tasks those negotiating to demand that UUK support these calls.

CARRIED

2A.2 University of Sheffield

Add at end:

In order to effectively push for internal change at USS, it is crucial that UCU identify and put pressure on key decision makers. Chief among these decision makers are university heads. This conference therefore calls on UCU to develop a comprehensive campaign, including communications strategy and local suggested action plans, to be implemented at the branch level to put pressure on university heads to work towards positive internal change at USS.

CARRIED

Substantive text

Conference notes serious problems with how USS conducts its business, including the appalling treatment of UCU director Jane Hutton, the suppression by its chief executive and chair of a complaint of misrepresentation from the Pensions Regulator, inappropriate levels of secrecy, an overbearing control on the flow of information, and a much criticised approach to valuation.

Conference notes the 'no detriment' policy previously established, understood as no decrease in benefits and no increase in contributions for members, and supports 'no detriment' as a negotiating target.

Conference notes the crucial importance of change within USS in advance of the 2020 valuation, and instructs the HEC/NDC/SWG to pursue this as a high priority. In particular, conference:

  1. reiterates its call for the chief executive and all the independent trustees to resign
  2. calls for the appointment of new independent trustees committed to operating USS as an open defined benefits scheme
  3. calls for the suspension of the chair and an investigation into his conduct
  4. calls for and tasks those negotiating to demand that UUK support these calls.

In order to effectively push for internal change at USS, it is crucial that UCU identify and put pressure on key decision makers. Chief among these decision makers are university heads. This conference therefore calls on UCU to develop a comprehensive campaign, including communications strategy and local suggested action plans, to be implemented at the branch level to put pressure on university heads to work towards positive internal change at USS.

3  No more groundhog days - Open University

This conference believes we need a satisfactory long-term settlement to the USS dispute, rather than one that will require us to fight the same battles repeatedly. We therefore need an agreement that will protect us in the long term. This should include a full commitment to the recommendations in the first report of the JEP, to the principle no detriment going beyond the next valuation, and to improved governance of USS.

This conference instructs our negotiators, dispute committee and Superannuation Working Group not to accept settlements to the USS dispute that are short-term only in nature.

CARRIED AS AMENDED

3A.1 University of Sheffield

Third sentence (end of first paragraph), delete 'include a full commitment to the recommendations in the first report of the JEP, to the principle no detriment going beyond the next valuation, and to improved governance of USS'

Replace with '...aim to include commitments going beyond the next valuation and improved governance of USS.'

Final sentence (second paragraph), delete all after 'Superannuation Working Group' and replace with:

'...to aim for settlements to the USS dispute that are long-term in nature.'

CARRIED

SUBSTANTIVE MOTION

This conference believes we need a satisfactory long-term settlement to the USS dispute, rather than one that will require us to fight the same battles repeatedly. We therefore need an agreement that will protect us in the long term. This should aim to include commitments going beyond the next valuation and improved governance of USS.

This conference instructs our negotiators, dispute committee and Superannuation Working Group to aim for settlements to the USS dispute that are long-term in nature.

4  Scheduling inclusive and equitable strike action: selecting days and weeks - City University of London

Conference notes that:

  1. different institutions have different term dates
  2. most university teaching recurs weekly on the same day
  3. strike action that hits one day harder than another produces inequities around which students are affected and inequities for staff
  4. staff inequities may be most consequential for casualised staff whose teaching is concentrated on particular day(s).

Conference believes that:

  1. student support is critical for members' confidence and our effectiveness
  2. face-to-face classroom-based interaction is an essential mechanism by which members gain student support
  3. members' typically want actions that are equitable and inclusive
  4. well-designed action makes it easier for members to participate.

Conference resolves that:

  1. future USS strike-days be spread across the week as equally as possible
  2. to facilitate prior face-to-face discussion with students, concurrent national action is timed so that no branch begins strike action earlier than week two of the teaching term.

4A.1 UCL

Add new Resolves (iii)
  1. accounting for different timetables and Reading Weeks, and timed allowing for branches whose ballots close end January to join, to call national strikes for twelve days in the Spring Term escalating from 2 to 5 days, concentrated for impact with a break of a week as follows: 2, 3 days (Thursday - Wednesday), 0, 2 days (Thursday - Friday), all 5 days per week, thereby evening up the impact on students from recent strikes.

LOST

4A.2 University of Liverpool

After 'Conference resolves that', delete i and replace with

  1. we take 14 days of strike action (20th, 21st, 24th, 25th, 26th February; 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th March). This pattern should spread the action as evenly as possible across different days of the week, so as not to place a disproportionate burden on particular members.

In developing this proposal, we have taken into account the regional and national variations in the most appropriate timetable for action.

CARRIED

4A.3 University of Dundee

Add at end of motion:

  1. announce immediately as practicable after conference an intention to strike in the following timetable and note a week's pause is included to allow employers to reach a settlement prior to the action escalating further:
    Week [24-28 Feb], 2 days
    Week [2-6 Mar], 3 days
    Week [9-13), [pause]
    Wk 9 [16-20 Mar], 5 days
    Wk 10 [23-27 Mar], 5 days
  2. invite branches to adjust one of the strike weeks (as in the 2018 strike) to allow for reading weeks.

FELL

4A.4 UCL

Add new Resolves points (iv - vii)

  1. USS branches are reballoted for summer term action from mid-February to mid-late April, creating a strike mandate as far as late October.
  2. the ASOS ballot be extended to include REF, TEF and KEF duties.
  3. branches be encouraged to set up 'summer term strike task groups' to identify dates for the most effective strike action to hit examinations, marking and exam boards
  4. create an appeal to support the national strike hardship fund.

CARRIED

In regards to Motion 4 as amended, conference was reminded that it does not have the power to call industrial action. This power is delegated to HEC under the rules of the union. HEC will therefore decide on the next phase of industrial action having very serious regard to the clear view of conference as expressed in motion 4.

Substantive motion

Conference notes that:

  1. different institutions have different term dates
  2. most university teaching recurs weekly on the same day
  3. strike action that hits one day harder than another produces inequities around which students are affected and inequities for staff
  4. staff inequities may be most consequential for casualised staff whose teaching is concentrated on particular day(s).

Conference believes that:

  1. student support is critical for members' confidence and our effectiveness
  2. face-to-face classroom-based interaction is an essential mechanism by which members gain student support
  3. members' typically want actions that are equitable and inclusive
  4. well-designed action makes it easier for members to participate.

Conference resolves that:

  1. we take 14 days of strike action (20th, 21st, 24th, 25th, 26th February; 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th March). This pattern should spread the action as evenly as possible across different days of the week, so as not to place a disproportionate burden on particular members. 
    In developing this proposal, we have taken into account the regional and national variations in the most appropriate timetable for action.
  2. to facilitate prior face-to-face discussion with students, concurrent national action is timed so that no branch begins strike action earlier than week two of the teaching term.
  3. USS branches are reballoted for summer term action from mid-February to mid-late April, creating a strike mandate as far as late October.
  4. the ASOS ballot be extended to include REF, TEF and KEF duties.
  5. branches be encouraged to set up 'summer term strike task groups' to identify dates for the most effective strike action to hit examinations, marking and exam boards.
  6. create an appeal to support the national strike hardship fund.

5  Disproportionate deductions for ASOS - University of East Anglia

The HESC notes that:

  1. ASOS highlights the volume of unpaid labour that is currently being undertaken in UK HEIs
  2. the failure to reschedule teaching events and other work missed due to strike action should not be considered 'partial performance'
  3. 100% deductions for ASOS are a draconian and unnecessarily punitive response to members' legal rights to take industrial action
  4. disproportionate deductions for action short of strike have the greatest effect on our most vulnerable and precarious members.

The HESC therefore resolves to instruct the HEC to:

  1. call for an international academic boycott of all institutions that implement disproportionate reductions for ASOS
  2. consider how strike fund contributions can be used to off-set any remaining deductions that result from ASOS, especially for our most vulnerable and precarious members
  3. authorise local strike ballots if requested by branches where disproportionate deductions have been made.

CARRIED

L1  Responding to university action to undermine ASOS - City, University of London

Conference notes that:

  1. the Office for Student's Briefing, encourages providers to 'take reasonable steps to avoid or limit disruption and do everything possible to minimise or make up for its impact', suggesting that providers who fail to make sufficient mitigation may breach conditions of registration
  2. some universities have understood this as a regulatory requirement to reschedule missed teaching or require that staff take on additional work
  3. this has led to threats of deductions for partial performance, potentially to be imposed ad-infinitum, until missed work is made-up
  4. members facing ongoing deductions for participation in ASOS may feel isolated and risk victimisation and casualised members may be threatened with work loss.

Conference resolves that:

  1. such threats seek to undermine ASOS
  2. members facing ongoing deductions or work loss for ASOS will be prioritised for financial support
  3. UCU will respond to institutional imposition of ongoing deductions or work loss with national strike action.

CARRIED

6  Migrant workers' rights and the dispute - Open University

Conference reaffirms:

  1. the reciprocal importance of UCU visibly campaigning for 'migrant' workers rights' if those workers are to engage in collective action
  2. that a decision to go on strike can be more difficult for members who are in the UK on work visas, and/or working on highly casualised contracts
  3. that members should not feel pressured by their peers to take action which jeopardises their right to remain in the UK.

Conference resolves:

  1. to produce a statement on the rights of members on work visas, with respect to industrial action
  2. that branches highlight this to all members, not only those directly affected
  3. that UCU's guidance on actions short of a strike should specifically address the visa position of migrant workers, and other frequently intersecting factors such as fixed-term or atypical contracts
  4. that UCU campaign to improve strengthen statutory protections in this area.

CARRIED

L2  Staff walkout for pension gender inequality - University of Strathclyde

Conference recognises gender inequality in the USS pension scheme and that any increased employee contributions will disproportionately affect female staff. Given that the average salary of female staff will be lower (by 21% at Strathclyde), that females are more likely to work part time, to be on casualised contracts and less likely to be promoted, and more likely to leave their academic career earlier than men, this conference resolves:

that HEC instructs all of the branches taking industrial action on the USS dispute stage a walkout on an agreed day in January to draw attention to, and oppose gender inequality in the current pension scheme.

REMITTED

L5 Emergency motion

(Supported by the following delegations:  University of Edinburgh, University of Dundee, Open University, University of Sheffield, Lancaster University, Durham University, University of Liverpool, University of St Andrews, Southern regional committee, University of Cambridge)

Conference notes that students at the University of Reading are to be disciplined by the management of the university in response to their attempted occupation in support of the climate strikes and UCU strikes.

UCU has policy to support students' right to peaceful protest.

This conference sends a message of solidarity to students who have protested at the University of Reading and calls upon management not to respond to the students in a draconian or heavy-handed manner.

CARRIED

Last updated: 10 December 2019