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Local response to the pay dispute

Dear colleagues,

As you may be aware, we narrowly failed to reach the 50% turnout threshold in the pay & equalities ballot nationally and were 33 votes short at a local level. I’d like to thank Reps and members for all their hard work over the past few weeks.  As well as working to increase democracy in our union, these discussions have raised important local issues that will shape our priorities over the coming year.  In particular, we as a branch will continue to pursue local issues around pay and working conditions to ensure that all colleagues, but especially those on temporary and casual contracts, feel represented by their Branch and their Union.

Pay ballot – wider context and where next

UEA: turnout 47.5%

Strike: 64.6% YES (210); 35.4% NO (115)

ASOS: 74.2% YES (241); 25.8% NO (84)

To put these results in a wider context, only seven institutions achieved over 50% turnout, with UEA placing in the top 25 in terms of turnout.  As you can see from the results above, of those members who did vote, the majority supported strike action and the vast majority supported action short of strike.  Unfortunately, the Branch and the wider Union has fallen foul of a combination of unprecedented growth in membership and stringent anti-union laws enacted by the current government.

We recognise, as well, that there are obvious differences between this pay dispute and the massive degradations to the pension scheme being proposed last year.  For many members, that action, since justified by a range of financial experts, signified resistance to concerning trends in higher education that went beyond a single issue.  We believe that the strong support for ASOS signifies that this concern about our sector remains beyond the establishment of the JEP and we will be talking with members to identify areas of local concern that we can work to improve.

We are particularly concerned that some of our Early Career and casualised colleagues have understandably interpreted this result as a sign that their Union and their colleagues do not support them in their fight for fairer contracts and pay.  As a branch, we are committed to ensuring fairer conditions and work practices for all of our members and recognise that colleagues on precarious contracts are often hit hardest by the continuing erosion of our pay and conditions.  While this ballot may have precluded industrial action on the current pay proposal, there is still a range of positive steps we can take at a local level to improve the working lives of members.

The recent staff survey highlighted significant dissatisfaction in terms of pay and benefits, excessive workloads, and persistent gender inequalities.  As a Branch we have set up working groups to spearhead campaigns on the following issues:

  • Anti-casualization
  • Gender inequality
  • Workload

To ensure that these groups represent the membership and have the capacity to enact real change, it is vital that their membership reaches beyond the current committee.  Please get in touch with the UCU office (ucu.office@uea.ac.uk) if you would like to get involved in these campaigns locally.

What can we do now?

  • For those missing the solidarity of the picket line, our first common room event takes place this Thursday 25 October 5pm in Scholars bar.  This is your chance as members to guide branch priorities and suggest topics that you would like to discuss in a collegial forum.  If you have any suggestions for future events, themes, and venues and are unable to make the meeting, please contact the UCU office (office@uea.ac.uk).
  • Our Ordinary General Meeting will take place on Wednesday 31 October, 1pm in LT3.  If you would like to propose a motion to the branch, please email the text to office@uea.ac.uk by the 30th October so that it can be added to the agenda.
  • The next branch committee is Tuesday 13th November.  If you would like to raise an issue to be discussed by the committee, then please email it to office@uea.ac.uk by Monday 5th November.
  • While the JEP has reported and supports the arguments made during or industrial action, we would still strongly encourage members to influence the USS consultation (which closes 2nd November) to ensure that our views continue to be represented.  You will find a template letter and more information on our website shortly.  If you have any resources that you have found useful on the USS campaign, please do send these to office@uea.ac.uk and we can make these available on the website for other members to read.
  • If you are interested in helping fellow members by becoming a caseworker, then please contact office@uea.ac.uk as we are currently in the process of organising some additional training with officials from regional headquarters.

The committee wishes to ensure that UCU@UEA continues to meet the needs of its members and focuses its efforts on issues that have a material impact on the lives of colleagues.  We hope that you are able to contribute to the events above and encourage you to participate in whatever way you are able.

Yours,

Ben Jones (Chair, UEA UCU)

Acclaimed author cancels university appearance over pensions row

Prize-winning author Jon McGregor has pulled out of an appearance at the University of East Anglia due to the ongoing dispute over pensions.

 

The author was due to appear at the UEA Spring Literary Festival on Wednesday (7 March), but has said that he will not cross the picket line. Instead, he will headline an evening of readings at the Students’ Union in support of striking staff.

 

The ‘Writers for the Strike’ event will run from 5 – 7pm on Wednesday and will feature readings from leading authors including Sarah Perry and Megan Bradbury, as well as inputs from staff and students. It forms part of the ‘Alternative University’ – a programme of teach-ins and discussions organised by members of the University and College Union (UCU) taking strike action.

 

Author Jon McGregor said: ‘Although I had been very much looking forward to reading at the UEA Spring 2018 Literary Festival, I will not be able to do so while strike action in defence of university staff pensions is ongoing. I fully support the UCU action, and – in common with a number of university vice-chancellors, government ministers, and the opinion pages of the Financial Times – call on Universities UK to return to meaningful negotiations immediately to avoid any further disruption not just to students but to the role universities have to play in the wider cultural life.

‘I have never crossed a picket line in my life, and am not about to start now. Instead, I will be joining staff, students, and writers for an evening of readings and discussion as part of the Alternative University being put on by the Student Union.’

 

The pension dispute centres on proposals to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) – a move which UCU says would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up.

 

In the recent strike ballot UCU members overwhelmingly backed industrial action. Locally, 87% of UCU members at UEA who voted backed strike action on a turnout of 66%.

 

UCU UEA branch spokesperson Ben Little said: ‘We really appreciate the support of all the writers and students who are making Wednesday’s ‘Writers for the Strike’ event possible. Strike action is always a last resort, but the threat to our pensions is so serious we have been left with no choice. We hope the university will seek to minimise any further disruption to students by ensuring that Universities UK commits to proper negotiations to resolve this dispute.’

 

UCU@UEA USS Strike 2018

UEA branch voted overwhelmingly – and on a record turn-out – to take strike action to defend the DB pension.

While there is debate over the financial implications of this, there is no evidence that maintaining a DB scheme is impossible. We believe that negotiations should resume to look at ways of managing the scheme.

The proposed change from UUK will disproportionately affect those at the start of their careers, or those intending to enter the profession in the future. We do not believe it is right that those colleagues should have worse work benefits than those later in their career; this would not be an act of solidarity, and is contrary to the communal ethos that underpins a university.

It is in this spirit that 1,000 professors – likely to be relatively unaffected by these changes – signed a letter to the Times Higher stating, “we want to stand shoulder to shoulder with all our colleagues, and especially the next generation, to defend our profession”. Similarly, we reject the current proposal on the grounds of its abandonment of early career staff, which will damage those colleagues as individuals, and the profession more broadly.

The planned strike days are as follows:

Week one – Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days);
Week two – Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days);
Week three – Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days);
Week four – Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)

There are strike FAQs here https://www.ucu.org.uk/uss-action-faqs

If you support the defence of pensions, and want to take strike action, it’s not too late to join UCU – https://www.ucu.org.uk/join

University pensions

UCU is opposed to the proposed change to the pension scheme and is balloting its members – more information here

UCU@UEA asked local MP Clive Lewis for his support and here is his statement:

“I echo the concerns voiced by Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner in her statement on the USS pension scheme changes which have been proposed, which would leave staff at older universities – such as University of East Anglia – significantly worse off in retirement.
UEA is one of Norfolk’s jewels – boosting the county both economically and culturally, so its future as a top-class university brings the region positive benefits.
UK Higher Education is world class, and UEA is competing on a world stage, increasingly successfully. But it’s vital that it retains its staff who are crucial in building that reputation.
I also know that the students in my constituency are caught in the middle of the dispute, and support the NUS joint statement with the staff union UCU saying that students benefit from a university sector where staff are properly paid and know they will receive a fair pension in retirement.”

Brexit: Our letter to candidates and press release

UCU seeks support for EU staff from Norwich general election candidates

 

The UCU branch at UEA recently asked all the general election candidates in Norwich North and Norwich South to sign up to a pledge to try to get the next government to grant existing EU nationals the right to remain in the UK.

UCU@UEA wrote to all the candidates on Friday 3 June, asking for replies by 6 June.

 

The branch issued a press release to local media, describing the challenge. The release was copied to the UEA press office, the SU, the UEA student paper/website ‘Concrete’ and to campus unions.
The story was published on the website of the Eastern Daily Press: http://www.edp24.co.uk/news/education/university-staff-call-on-norwich-election-candidates-to-eu-workers-rights-pledge-1-5045876

 

The effort was part of a campaign ‘Our universities are international – let’s keep them that way’, which UCU is running at UEA. This is linked to UCU’s national efforts on this theme: https://www.ucu.org.uk/we-are-international

group of international staff

 

By 1.30 on Tuesday 6 June, we had received supportive responses from all candidates except the two Conservatives, who had still not replied.

 

Norwich North

Green Candidate             Adrian Holmes                  Support

Tory Candidate                 Chloe Smith                        No reply

Labour Candidate            Chris Jones                         Support

Lib Dem Candidate          Hugh Lanham                    Support

Pirate Party Candidate   Liam Matthews                 Support

 

Norwich South
Green candidate              Richard Bearman              Support
Labour Candidate            Clive Lewis                          Support

Tory candidate                  Lana Hempsall                    No reply

Lib Dem candidate           James Wright                     Support

 

Support the campaign at UEA!

 

UCU@UEA is considering ideas for further activity in support of our EU colleagues. If you would like to join this campaign and offer ideas and support, write to us. We will send you  a pack of posters and stickers, a copy of UCU’s Post-Brexit guide and ideas for what you can do. Write to:

ucu.office@uea.ac.uk