One of the most serious and important debates in our union took place on Thursday at the Higher Education Committee of UCU over the two disputes, ‘Four Fights’ and USS pensions. After a lengthy discussion, reviewing feedback received to HQ and taking reports from negotiators, it was agreed to call 14 days of strikes for both the USS and the Four Fights disputes. The dates are those determined by the HE Sector Conference in December. It was also agreed to permit branches to vary these by agreement if they fell during ‘reading weeks’ and similar periods.
74 branches have now successfully got ballot mandates to strike on one or both of the disputes. Imperial College London is outside national pay bargaining but voted to strike over USS and (local) pay.
HEC heard that employers continue to resist making commitments on the Four Fights, but they are being forced to respond to the issues at the heart of the dispute. Employers have conceded the principle that pay inequality, casualization and workloads are issues they can agree UK-wide agreements with UCU on. But UCEA’s proposed recommendations to employers go nowhere near enough in terms of being enforceable.
UCEA claims that it does not ‘have a mandate from its subscribers’ to negotiate further over casualization, workload and equal pay gaps. This is their excuse for making limited commitments. But branches can and should start demanding their employers give UCEA such a mandate, in order to resolve the dispute. Branches should also submit local claims identifying key areas that need improvement.
There is some promising news from USS negotiations, which if confirmed and followed through could represent an historic win for the union. UUK has finally conceded that ‘Test 1’ and de-risking has to end. But USS and the Pension Regulator both have to agree to this. Were de-risking abandoned, USS contributions should fall and the scheme should return to its historic long-term stability. But nothing is confirmed yet, USS managers have resisted this argument, and the second Joint Expert Panel report proposals will take much longer to reach a conclusion. There is plenty of opportunity for USS to block fundamental change, so we are some way to go.
HEC also voted to build up a strike fund from members and branches not taking action as well as from the wider trade union movement.
HEC will meet again on 14 February.