UCU Higher Education Sector Conference 2014 – Pay Campaign and National Bargaining
Last week’s UCU Higher Education Sector Conference (HESC), comprising elected Branch-based delegates from all HE institutions, elected UCU Regional delegates, and all members of the Higher Education Committee (HEC), sent a clear message that it will not in future allow agreed HESC campaigning strategy and tactics to be overturned by elements of the national leadership and it condemned the IBL (Independent Broad Left) HEC-majority’s decision to publish internal ballot branch breakdowns to our employers (see motion HE2), and that UCU will take national action to defend each and every local branch where employers attempt to impose 100% pay-docking for partial performance during a national dispute (see motion HE3). This was also overwhelmingly endorsed by Congress (comprising both FE and HE delegates) – see motion 33. Motion HE3 also noted the failure of the HEC IBL-majority to call a strike on the 26th of March alongside the NUT’s national strike action, and resolved to call on the incoming HEC, regions, and branches/LAs to energetically lobby other unions whenever there is a campaign of industrial action and promote whatever networks of rank and file unity are conducive to successfully winning such action.
HESC decisively rejected the disastrous idea that branches should develop a 2-tier approach to pay bargaining – in effect the precursor to the dismantling of national pay bargaining in HE (see motion HE4).
In addition, HESC set out the timetable for future national pay disputes (see motion HE5), that we consider 2014-15 as a preparatory year for a 4-year, ‘keep up and catch up’ campaign from 2015 and that we do so by measuring losses from 2008 (see motion HE6).
HESC also overwhelmingly passed motion HE7 which argued that future pay fights are publicised as a fight for ‘Social Justice’, by ensuring the plight of low-paid junior academics and non-academic staff are contrasted against the excessive remuneration of VCs and university senior management. In particular, we will in future disputes place great emphasis on the importance of higher education as a social good. The passing of HE7 (following the defeat of an HEC amendment) ensured that UCU abandoned the futility of two-hour strike campaigns in favour of two-day and three-day rolling regional strikes, an early implementation of any marking boycott, and the escalating to sector-wide strikes in response to intimidation by employers.
- 2% achieved by industrial action but still a real cut
- HEC decision delaying marking sanction, leaving little opportunity for responses to intimidation, was inconsistent with HESC policy
- 2014-5 2% only achieved by industrial action but still a real cut for 2013-15
- majority HEC December decision to delay marking sanction, leaving little opportunity for responses to intimidation, was inconsistent with HESC policy
- GS/SFC decision on strike pay for a day’s stoppage for 2-hour strikes, and seeking legal redress
- HEC decision to consult members, without recommendation, on UCEA’s offer
- unprecedented publication of branch ballots.
- outgoing HEC mishandled the dispute, and overturned will of Conference
- strike pay rather than escalating UK-wide action supporting victimised branches, encourages employers to seek to bankrupt UCU
- HEC responsibility is always to offer members a lead via clear recommendations, and not to demobilise campaigns.
- ballots and recommendations in national campaigns will be decided by a Special HESC, where HEC can recommend changes to policy or tactics
- Conference remains UCU’s supreme policy-making body for HE, and HEC’s role is implementation of policy, not its alteration
- ballot details are confidential and not to be used for intra-union disagreements.
HE sector conference notes:
- the commitment of members to execute the 2013 sector conference decision on the 2013/14 pay campaign shown by the unprecedented number of days in which they took strike action within a month
- that the HEC overturned an accepted plan of action involving a marking boycott in January 2014. Instead, it introduced the concept of 2-hour strikes to the campaign and delayed the marking boycott until 28 April
- that HEC’s introduction of 2-hour strikes left some members bewildered, frustrated or angry as they had not had an opportunity to discuss the tactic. It also left UCU not fully prepared for the escalation by some employers in terms of punitive pay deductions
- that the HEC has a role in implementing the decisions of HE sector conference; this should not include retreating on decisions voted on by the elected conference representatives
- that union solidarity is key and industrial action far stronger when conducted alongside other public sector and educational unions
- that the HEC failed to call a strike on the 26th of March alongside the NUT National Strike. we therefore call on the HEC, regions and branches/LAs to energetically lobby other unions whenever there is a campaign of industrial action and promote whatever networks of rank and file unity are conducive to successful action
- that UCU is committed to call for national industrial action (comprising strike action) in the event that a local employer imposes a 100% pay deduction on members engaged in action short of a strike as part of a national dispute.
Conference is fully committed to national pay bargaining and structures, which provide pay parity across the sector.
Conference nevertheless recognises that national pay bargaining sets pay levels at the maximum that can be afforded by financially weak institutions, even though most institutions can afford to pay more.
Conference thus instructs HEC to:
- prepare a draft model and strategy designed to achieve minimum national pay levels to be topped up by local negotiations over additional pay, holiday allowances, bonuses and other means of rewarding all staff equally for the success of their institution
- consult on this draft widely with branches and individuals
- prepare a final version for consideration and ratification by a Special Sector Conference to take place no later than the end of Feb 2015.
- members’ 13% real pay cut over 5 years
- UCEA’s refusal to increase its initial offers during negotiations over 5 years
- that negotiations run from March to August, after the end of the academic year.
- the negotiating timetable gravely hinders UCU’s prosecution of annual pay campaigns
- members are angry about their real-pay losses and support a plausible strategy to begin a process of catch-up
- that industrial action during the year of claim offers the best chance of success.
- to demand that negotiators conclude negotiations by the end of April each year, unless real progress is being made on the central aspect of any claim (i.e. the headline rate of increase)
- to ballot for industrial action early, and take first action, in the autumn term, and to escalate action progressively in the spring and summer terms during negotiations
- that any decision to apply a marking sanction should be actioned in the spring term so as to maximise our capacity to respond to draconian pay stoppages.
HESC notes the:
- positive response to 1-day and 2-hour strikes despite widespread scepticism over their effectiveness
- HEC postponement of marking sanction left little opportunity for effective industrial response to stoppages
- HESC policy was a January start of assessment sanction, and two and three-day regional strikes.
- HEC’s December decision deescalating action paralysed the campaign
- 2014-15 must be used as a preparatory year for a 4-year, ‘keep up and catch up’ campaign from 2015 (measuring losses from 2008).
HESC resolves that the:
- HEC will implement Conference policy, strategy and tactics, not change them
- 2015-16 campaign will implement action in a timely manner, with national dispute resolution dependent on restitution of all local stoppages for marking sanctions
- lockouts will be met with escalating UK-wide action.
Given the little momentum building up from the current strategy driving the present industrial dispute and its failure to win the sympathy of the wider public – evidenced by allusions to well-paid academics wanting more money in times of austerity – we move that UCU represent the action as a fight for ‘Social Justice’, foregrounding the relative low-pay of junior academic and non-academic staff (alongside the increasing erosion of academic pay at the lower end of the scale) against the excessive remuneration of senior academic staff and VCs and the importance of higher education as a social good that should not be rationed by the wealth of students’ families, or extravagant expectations of earnings premia.
Furthermore, we move that UCU abandon the futility of two-hour strike campaigns and to move towards two-day and three-day rolling regional strikes, an early implementation of the marking boycott, and escalating sector-wide strikes in response to intimidation by employers.
This congress condemns:
- the 100% pay deduction at MMU, the University of Surrey and other HE institutions for a 2-hour strike
- that in response the MMU Branch voted for escalation
- that MMU management is threatening to deduct 100% in any marking boycott
- that only branches suffering punitive pay-docking had the option of escalation.
- that during national action any attack by one employer is the direct concern of every branch
- that during national action every branch attacked individually must be supported by the whole union.
- that during national action, branches which suffer individualised attacks from management should have the option of escalation
- that during national action, when there are individualised attacks all branches involved in the action should have the opportunity of escalation
- that the UCU nationally should provide information and support to this effect.
- Punitive pay docking during a national dispute must be treated as ‘an injury to one is an injury to all’. No institution(s) should be left to fight alone. It demands a national response. UCU must call on all branches in a sector to support individual institutions, including by industrial action and escalating national action, until the selective punitive deductions cease.