1. Building the fight over pay
The Higher Education Committee (HEC) had an extensive and wide-ranging debate on taking forward the action agreed at HE Sector Conference (HESC) at the end of May.
The second wave of strike action has involved branches naming days locally. This has so far has been successful, in particular around open days, with branches often being creative, looking outwards and involving students. The HEC noted the centrality of the issues of the gender pay gap and casualisation, and their importance in mobilising members. Strike action will continue over July, mainly targeted at open days and graduations. However 33 branches will take action on 5 July jointly with NUT.
After a lengthy debate, HEC agreed to:
- encourage branches to take further non-strike action over the summer;
- to implement the HESC decision on ASOS and escalating strike action in the autumn term;
- to consult with members via branch briefings in September the implementation of this strategy (what activities should be covered by ASOS and how to carry it out most effectively).
UCU Left members on HEC argued for escalating strike action leading to ASOS rather than the other way around. This was lost by a narrow vote, but it was agreed to consult members about the implementation of ASOS in the autumn.
We would propose that members use the briefings to call for strike action early in the autumn term, and with the other campus unions and NUT, and to discuss the details of ASOS.
HEC also discussed how escalating action could be taken in the case of punitive deductions. If UCU is to launch ASOS in the early part of next term, branches must not face punitive pay docking alone. UCU Left supporters reminded the HEC that Congress had supported the calling of national strike action in response to punitive pay docking by any employer.
The aftermath of the EU referendum has generated a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. Many are rightly concerned about the racism that is the product of both official campaigns and where this leaves the pay campaign. The answer, shared by all sides on the HEC, is that the pay campaign is more important than ever. Irrespective of whatever the outcome of the EU referendum had been our employers are continuing to press down on our pay to pay for their investment plans.
The gender pay gap is an integral part of the pay claim. The relationship between local and national work on this was discussed. Employers pretend to not understand that there can be a gender pay gap due to occupational segregation, including of women in the lower grades, even when there is equal pay for work of equal value. Much of the problem is that men are on the higher grades and women are underpromoted and underrecruited at the higher levels. It should be noted that University of Essex VC has taken action to remove the gender pay gap for professorial staff by increasing the pay of senior women staff by three points.
2. HE Bill
Despite the uncertainty following the EU referendum, the Government has stated it is intending to go ahead with the Higher Education and Research Bill this parliamentary session. There is a small but significant risk that the Second Reading of the Bill may take place before the summer. This needs to be headed off by public campaigning and lobbying. Many university managements have been gambling on expansion, assuming that EU and international recruitment would be predictable and stable. Now the Brexit vote has created uncertainty. Even in their own terms, it would be extremely risky for the Tories to try to intensify market competition on universities after Brexit.
3. Campaigning Objectives
Five campaigning objectives were agreed for the year to cover the HESC motions:
- Collective bargaining on pay, equality and pensions.
- Countering casualisation.
- Collective bargaining in tertiary education.
- Work-life balance and safe sustainable workplaces, including environmental motions. It should also include the safety of EU citizens, which became a major issue after Congress.
- Quality and professional standards
4. Victimisation of reps
This continues to be an important issue, though the suggestion it should be added to the priorities was not taken up. Mark Campbell and David Hardman at London Met are awaiting their appeals against redundancy, will and need a national campaign if their dismissal is confirmed.
5. National Ratification Panel
A review of national ratification panel procedures was agreed. This panel ratifies agreements made with local managements over key issues that might set precedents elsewhere. There have been a number of local disputes, like Newcastle’s Raising the Bar dispute, where if the branch had lost the repercussions would be very serious. The responsibility of the ratification panel is to maintain minimum standards.
The ratification panel includes the hourly paid panel with the HE anti-casualisation rep on NEC. The panel should be seen as providing support to branches to get improve unsatisfactory agreements.
A workload paper based on the 2016 workload survey carried out by UCU was discussed. Staff in both FE and HE are working on average of 2 days unpaid each week. The vast majority of staff reported that the pace and intensity of their workload have increased in the last three years. Staff are carrying more administrative duties and responsibilities. Student expectations have increased and career development has suffered. The paper will be used to inform bargaining advice for branches.
7. Supporting EU staff and students
We need to ensure that they are given indefinite leave to remain and combat racism and hostility. The following emergency motion was passed with one abstention.
HEC very strongly welcomes the motion passed by NEC and recognises the need for some HE-specific campaigning.
HEC resolves to ask the General Secretary to contact UUK to arrange a meeting urgently to discuss common interests related to the outcome of the vote.
This should include:
- Joint public statements opposing racism and welcoming EU and international students and staff and the their very valuable contribution to UK education, research and the economy.
- Agreement for joint work between UUK and UCU on supporting current staff and students from EU and pressurising relevant Westminster government departments for them to be given indefinite leave to remain.
- Putting pressure on Westminster government to ensure that EU staff and students will continue to be welcome, have easy access to the UK and not be charged increased fees.
- Putting pressure on Westminster government to ensure by appropriate mechanisms that UK staff and students (where appropriate) are still able to participate in EU research programme and exchanges on the same basis as currently.
HEC further resolves to:
- Contact branches to contact their principals and VC to ask them to agree to work jointly with UCU on supporting current staff and students and ensuring (by appropriate means) that they are given indefinite leave to remain.
- Produce a branch briefing to support the above.
- Encourage branches to actively involve migrants and refugees in action round pay, gender pay gap and anti-casualisation campaign – both from our own membership and from appropriate organisations e.g. as speakers at events.
The following draft letter was suggested for use in the briefing, but not voted on.
Dear Principal/Vice Chancellor/Provost etc
We are writing with some urgency following the EU referendum result. The result places [institution] staff who are current EU citizens but who do not currently have Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) in the UK in a specifically vulnerable position.
Some staff have told us they have begun looking for work elsewhere in the EU. Others may find themselves having to apply for the right to continue working while in [institution] employment. We risk a brain drain while the City faces a capital flight.
The current position  is extremely unclear. Government has made no guarantees that, once two years are up and negotiations concluded, current EU citizens residing in the UK will be permitted to stay. However, during the campaign, both official Leave campaigns  pledged that such citizens would “automatically” be given this right, i.e. be given ILR.
This uncertainty helps no-one. We believe it is time to demand that the Government agrees to the up-front commitment made by the ‘Leave’ campaigns and protects EU citizens living and working in the UK.
We are writing to invite you to support a joint public statement, from [institution] and its trade unions, to that effect. For politicians, there are good grounds for acceding to this call. The UK can ill-afford to lose EU workers. Processing three million individual ILR applications is not feasible in the timescale available. Making this pledge would reduce the threat of a reciprocal deportation of 1.3 million British people from Europe. Finally, in the current febrile atmosphere, it would represent a clear line against those who would wish to blame migration for economic ills.
We are open to discussing the wording of a joint statement. For example, it could be extended to include demands for guarantees regarding the position of EU students and EU research funding.
However, the most immediate call, and the one that would address the fears of EU staff, would be an up-front guarantee from Government that they would be granted ILR within the next two years, independent of the outcome of any exit negotiations.
 This is what the Leave proponents said (op cit):-
EU Leave campaigners indicated support for such an approach during the referendum campaign. Supporters of the Vote Leave campaign said that, in the event of a vote to leave the EU, there will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK. It envisaged a post-Brexit immigration system in which EU citizens already living in the UK will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present. The Leave.eu campaign gave a similar assurance during the campaign that European migrants living in the UK would not be removed in the event of a vote to leave, pledging that. Any restriction of free movement would not be implemented retrospectively.