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Campaigns

HE BILL SNEAKING THROUGH

With the snap election just called, you might have thought that the current government’s Higher Education and Universities Bill was going to be delayed, but it looks as though they’re going to try to push it through next week before Parliament is prorogued. On 6 March the House of Lords voted for amendments to two of the most controversial features of the Government’s HE Bill: (1) the intention to link TEF to the ability to raise tuition fees, and (2) allowing new private providers degree-awarding powers without four years of validation by a university or approval by a quality assurance body. This was a rare instance of good news for our sector, and was the result of intense lobbying: from UCU, but also from concerned academics, students, parents, and others worried by the ramifications of these ill-conceived proposals.

 

With the final reading of the Bill looming, we cannot let up on the campaign now: the Lords were receptive to individuals raising their concerns, and when it returns to the House of Commons, we need to put pressure on our local MPs–especially for those of us who live in a constituency with a Conservative MP–to agree to these amendments. With the election foremost on MPs’ minds, they’ll be particularly likely to be attentive to their constituents’ concerns, especially where a university is so integral to the economic and cultural life of the area.

 

Make no mistake: the HE Bill as it currently stands is an existential threat to academic life in this country. And it is UCU that is fighting it: the representative bodies of university leaders, GuildHE and UUK, sent out a joint letter on 2 March ‘signalling [their] strong support’ for the Bill, so we cannot rely on our employers to defend British Universities.

 

Why go to conference?

Sitting in a windowless hall during a debate on the amendment of a motion, I wondered this.

And realised – it’s democracy in action, which isn’t always as exciting as it sounds!

UEA UCU President at conference

UEA UCU President Amanda Williams speaking to a motion

Like everything, there are good and bad bits.

Procedure, policy, rule changes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But also networking, inspirational stories, different experiences.

 

Sheila Coleman

 

I’ve come back fortified by solidarity, and reminded of everything a union achieves, not just pay, but much, much more: improved, fairer working conditions and rights, highlighting the issues faced by those on casual contracts, or because of colour, gender, sexuality, or disability.

 

 

 

 

The incoming Trade Union Act means all members need to engage, not just the activists.

 

It’s our union, our voice, our vote.UCU mug your union your voice your vote

Message re strike action at UEA

As you will no doubt have seen, the UCU Higher Education Committee has announced strike action for 25-26 May, as part of the current pay campaign.  It also marks the start of working to contract.

 

This is after negotiations with the University and College Employers’ Association stalled, and members were balloted on both strike action and action short of a strike. Strike action was passed with 65.4% of the vote.

 

Strike action is always a last resort, and never taken lightly. Unfortunately, the Employers’ increased pay offer, from 1% to 1.1%, fell well short of the claim UCU had submitted, of 5%. It also falls short of the reported 3% pay increase that vice-chancellors and principals have enjoyed this year.

The headline figure of 5% may well seem rather high; however, it is part of a broader strategy to recoup some of the 14.5% real terms pay decrease the sector has experienced since 2009, due to sub-inflationary pay settlements since then. At a time when the HE sector is running a £1.85bn surplus, it seems only fair to recompense employees for their restraint on pay claims going seven years.

 

We should also recognise that whilst living costs in Norwich are comparatively low, UCU is bargaining at a national level, and people elsewhere in the country have been hit by a housing crisis that increases the cost of living well beyond the headline figures for inflation (CPI or RPI). Furthermore, any additional money we earn will go back into the local economy: if UEA, as a major employer in the region, takes leadership on this issue, the economic benefits will be felt throughout the community.

 

In his letter to staff, the Vice-Chancellor flags up individual points on the salary spine where staff will obtain pay increases over 1.1%. What UCU is attempting to secure is a good deal for all colleagues. Similarly, the VC notes incremental pay scales and discretionary awards, but incremental pay rises are not received by a substantial proportion of staff, whilst discretionary awards are, of course, discretionary, and as such hardly the basis for a national pay settlement. The VC also addresses the question of global competition and the student experience. We agree that this pay campaign is about Britain’s competitiveness in a global market: how can British Universities continue to attract the best academics from across the globe, and therefore provide the best education for our students, and the best reputation for our institutions, if continually eroding the pay and conditions of the profession nationally?

We strongly encourage all colleagues to participate in the action, and to stand in solidarity with those colleagues across the country for whom a 1.1% pay increase would simply exacerbate the cost of living crisis they have been subjected to since 2009. We will be organising picket lines, and will be delighted to have you join us.

We should also like to remind you that you are not obliged to tell your line manager that you are participating in strike action until after the action has started, and only if asked.

We too regret the fact that this strike action is going ahead, but if this is what is needed to obtain an adequate pay offer for our members, then we will have no choice but to take part in it, and hope that it brings about an equitable settlement as soon as possible.

You can find out more at the national website https://www.ucu.org.uk/he2016 , contact the branch office at ucu.office@uea.ac.uk or follow us on Twitter @UEA_UCU.

 

 

Living wage at UEA

Congratulations to Unison & UEASU for the campaign to bring the living wage to UEA employees, which has been agreed by UEA’s executive team.
http://www.ueastudent.com/articles/uea-living-wage-campaign-success

Post script – unfortunately this only lasted a few weeks – the national rate went up in November, the UEA rate didn’t

 

The next 5 years

Being in a trade union is about coming together collectively to fight for workers’ rights.  Those who have followed the election campaign will know that it’s likely that unions are going to lose some of the hard-won rights and it’s going to be a lot harder to campaign and support our members.

Please think about what you can do to help UCU@UEA.

Strength in numbers – recruit a friend
Be public about your membership – mugs etc available from the office
Let the committee know what’s going on
Write something for the newsletter
Interested in negotiating, supporting colleagues in cases, admin? Get in touch!
 

Many of us are feeling angry, depressed, useless after the election result.  A brilliant call to action comes from Laurie Penny: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/05/dont-give-angry-population-hard-govern-depressed-population-easy

 

This blog post is inspiring:

http://classonline.org.uk/blog/item/five-ways-to-deal-with-a-full-blown-conservative-government

This group was set up after tuition fees were hiked up in the last government.  Many of you talented people could help out: http://www.arts-emergency.org/

And please, look after yourselves.  Academics have one of the highest workloads of any job & it’s exhausting.  Make time for you, whether you are academic or otherwise (written by ALC member at the weekend!). http://blobolobolob.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/looking-after-yourself-as-radical.html

Outside work there are campaign organisations that the trade unions support which you can get involved in:

People’s Assembly

38 Degrees