What is this strike about?: A Q&A primer for talking to students and colleagues

*A PDF version is available here for printing and distribution.

This is a two-ballot campaign, but the issues are united: it is a strike about dignity and equality. It is a strike about casualisation; about the pay gap for women, BMEs, and gay, lesbian, and queer staff; and it is a strike about whether we will be able to grow old with dignity. These issues are all connected, but we are going to talk a bit about the two ballots separately.

Pensions


We were just on strike about pensions just less than two years ago? Why are we doing out again?
When we agreed to end the strike of 2018, it was because of a commitment from UUK and USS that they were willing to disregard their previous valuation and set up a Joint Expert Panel (JEP) to carry out a new valuation. The problem with the old valuation process is that it led to conflict every three years in line with the valuation cycle; UCU argued and continues to argue that a fairer process, based on more reasonable assumptions will allow us to defend our pension benefits and move us away from these cyclical clashes.

The JEP’s report largely validated UCU’s position and made a number of recommendations. However, the USS has refused to accept the recommendations and valuations of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP), and instead scheduled massive contribution increases clearly violating our own ‘no detriment’ position. Our contributions will rise to 9.6% of salary from October 2019, and 11% of salary from October 2021.

Ok, but it’s only a couple percentage points. Won’t we lose that money anyways in the strike?
It’s true that it’s only a couple of percentage points now (though a couple of percentage points that will, over your career, take a big bite out of your salary), but this strike is really about defending the valuation process we were promised during the last strike in order to secure the future of our pension fund.

The last year has shown that the USS cannot be trusted and that when push comes to shove, our employers, UUK, aren’t willing to fight them. We were told that USS would accept the JEP’s valuation and this hasn’t happened. USS have shown that they will only accept valuations that work for them. If we don’t pressure UUK to stand up to UUK and if we don’t force USS to make good on their word, they will demand more increases every year until our pension is no longer sustainable.

Moreover, we have already lost so much. UCU commissioned a study that compared the situation members are in now to if the Scheme had continued in its pre-2011 state and found that for the average UCU member, your pension will cost 40k more, and will give you 200k less. We need to draw a line in the sand now.

I thought we struck to save our defined benefit pensions. Are they safe now?
Not really. Whilst they aren’t explicitly coming for our DB pensions this time, this is another way to destroy our pension. By making our pensions unaffordable, more and more people will drop out and then defined benefit  could then be at risk. Pensions need to be affordable for members to be sustainable.

Moreover, without valuation methodology which we can support, the chances of VCs pushing for de-risking (i.e. moving to defined contributions) at future valuation cycles are necessarily higher.

But if USS says our pensions aren’t sustainable, don’t we risk losing our pensions anyways?
Our pensions are sustainable. The myth of unsustainable pensions comes from USS treating our pensions as if the HE sector is a company like Carillion. But the HE sector is nothing like Carillion. It is far larger and far more stable.

Ok, I get why we’d want to take action  against USS. But that’s not the way which industrial action works. We’re striking against Warwick and Warwick’s position on pensions has been pretty good.
We need a ballot, paradoxically, to support Warwick’s position. Employers across the country are losing faith in the USS, and some (like our own) are starting to raise their voice, but neither their voice nor ours is being listened to. If we don’t push back now, USS will tighten their grip, and will almost assuredly ignore the second report of the JEP, employers will start planning to mitigate against the USS valuation, and this will pose enormous problems and instabilities for our pension.

If we didn’t win last time, how are we going to win this time?
We won the battle last time: we stopped them from eliminating our defined benefit pensions. Now we need to finish what we started by ensuring that USS does what they promised they’d do and listen to the JEP’s valuation.

Pay & Equality


In a time of rising unemployment, should we be grateful to be receiving a pay rise of 1.8%?
The employer’s 2% pay offer is below inflation and that means that it is a pay cut. Since 2009 average pay in HE has dropped in real terms by 17.8% (Retail Price Index) or 11.8% (Consumer Price Index). This in a context in which Warwick currently makes a surplus of £40-50 million a year. The University, and the sector can afford our demands.

But aren’t there more pressing concerns, such as the gender and race pay gap and casualisation?
Absolutely, but these concerns are intimately connected. This Pay Cut Disproportionately Affects Women, Ethnic Minorities, and Casualised Staff. At the same time as University’s are promoting diversity and equality programs to increase the number of women and BME staff, in real terms they are cutting our salaries, and increasingly casualising our workforce.

Gendered Pay Gap: According to The Boar, Warwick had the second worst Gender Pay gap of the Russell Group as of 2016 and more recent figures from the government are just as damning. Women’s mean hourly rate is 26.5% lower than men’s, which means that women earn 74p for every £1 that men earn. And women’s mean bonus pay is 58.4% lower than men’s.

BME Pay Gap: The situation is no better when it comes to race. According to the BBC, ethnic minority academics at Warwick are paid an average 25% less than their white colleagues. And there are only 26 black women professors in the UK and  a persistent culture of racism and bullying.

If the university sector is serious about closing the gender and racial pay gap and changing its culture, it needs to stop degrading the conditions of the very staff its ostensibly attracting.

How does casualisation fit into a ballot about pay? And what is casualisation?
‘Casualisation’ is the process through which employers whittle away the protections, rights, and security of their employees, by moving away from employing people on a full-time and permanent basis to using hourly-paid work, zero-hours contracts, temporary workers contracts, and other similar kinds of contracts. Casualised contracts mean that all staff – both permanent and casualised – feel more precarious and less able to stand up for their rights. And this means our employers can erode our pay and working conditions. A fair wage is only possible if we stamp out casualised contracts. 

But is casualisation that widespread?
The use of casualised contracts is soaring. According to HESA, as of 2016-7, 50.9% of academic staff are on insecure contracts. At Warwick it’s even worse, with two thirds, or 66.5%, of staff on fixed-term or hourly-paid contracts. Moreover, Warwick made national news in 2015 when they tried to innovate a whole new system for “in-sourcing” called Teach Higher in which the university tried to create a wholly-owned subsidiary to hire and manage hourly paid staff, thus denying those staff any employee rights. It was only a mass mobilisation by students and staff that stopped this from happening. It was also this resistance that led to the creation of the current payroll system, Sessional Teaching Payroll or STP.

But hasn’t Warwick committed to ending casualised contracts?Sort of. Because of the great work of our anti-casualisation reps and Warwick Anti-Casualisation, the University has agreed to try and introduce employmentcontracts for PhD students currently engaged via STP for the coming year . The details have yet to be finalised and the broad direction of travel has yet to be finalised.

Sounds good, right?
In principle. However, the devil is in details. While the University claims to be ending casualised work, it’s practices suggest that it is committed to upholding a two-tiered workforce. The University has refused to look at the current STP framework as part of the process of contractual change, including the issues of workload and pay, a matter of negotiation, instead offering only “consultation.” preferring to simply ‘consult’ with the union and with STP employed staff with no promises of taking their suggestions into account.

Moreover, the University has also refused to address the key issues of workload and pay for casualised staff. According to the UCU’s recent report on casualisation, 60% of casualised staff work well beyond their hours, but the University has refused to open up the STP framework for discussion and thus to address the problem of unpaid labour. The formal change to permanent contracts is welcome, but without a commitment to ending workload increases and unpaid labour, it doesn’t actually address the problem of casualisation.

Press Release – Friday 11th March 2016 Warwick Assembly

University of Warwick assembly passes motions to condemn Higher Education Green Paper and to do no more than the absolute ‘minimum legal obligation’ to satisfy Prevent

Today a democratic Assembly called by staff at the University of Warwick passed two motions, one condemning Jo Johnson’s Higher Education Green Paper and the second requiring the University do no more than the absolute legal minimum to satisfy the Home Office’s Prevent program.

Green Paper

Speaking for the first motion, Dr. Laura Schwartz, Assistant Professor in Modern British History, stated that “this Green Paper is potentially the death knell of public higher education in this country”, directly threatening the University’s core educational mission.

The ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’ (TEF), colloquially described as the ‘Tuition Escalation Framework’, had been torn apart by Warwick’s own consultation submission as being potentially “damaging to the international reputation of our universities”.

Complaints included the possibility of academic rigor being sacrificed in order to promote higher student satisfaction and the burdening of students with unsustainable levels of debt thanks to rising tuition. Dr. Schwartz highlighted that opposition to the Green Paper has been widespread, including the Vice Chancellors at Cambridge, Oxford and other Russell Group institutions.

Prevent

The second motion targeted the Government’s Prevent program which requires University staff to report students they believed to be at risk of ‘radicalisation’, an instruction that has already led to the disproportionate and discriminatory targeting of Muslim and Black and Minority staff and students.

The motion under vote called on the Vice Chancellor to conduct meaningful consultation on prevent, in advance of its April 2016 submission to HEFCE. Experts on counter-terror legislation, policy and practice, voiced their discontent at the insidious nature of the confused prevent policy which had the potential to stifle academic freedom, while contradicting requirements under both the Human Rights and Education Acts.

The Assembly noted the widespread opposition to the policy on campus, with hundreds of University staff and students having signed an open letter to the Vice Chancellor in just over three weeks. The Assembly resolved to make sure that the University did no more than the absolute minimum to satisfy the requirements of Prevent.

As Dr. Jusine Mercer, Associate Professor in the Centre for Education Studies, noted: “The Prevent strategy… damages our community by fostering an environment of surveillance, paranoia and racism. It encourages the continual monitoring of both staff and students. It destroys the trust needed for a safe and supportive learning environment.”

The mood in the Assembly was overwhelmingly supportive of both motions with members of staff from across the university noting the ways in which the changes threaten the University’s public mission, and undermine academic freedom.

The Assembly at Warwick fits into a larger pattern of mobilization against the Green Paper and Prevent occurring at higher education institutions around the country.

Staff coming leaving the assembly were greeted by students who had gathered in solidarity. Both claim that the successful assembly is an important step in support for further action locally and nationally. Warwick for Free Education spokesperson, Hope Worsdale commented that “students are delighted by the outcome of the Assembly, and will continue in their actions alongside staff, to campaign for a free and progressive education system.”

Further information and background on the Green Paper:

Further information and background on Prevent

Professor Jane Hutton appointed as UCU-nominated USS Director

We are delighted that UCU has nominated Jane Hutton, Professor of Statistics, as its USS Director. Jane spoke alongside Professor Dennis Leech at the University Assembly on Pensions in April 2015, and she clearly knows her stuff. Even more importantly, she is relentless in challenging the inaccurate and misleading information peddled by other so-called experts. We’ve always known there is no-one better able to hold the other USS Directors to account. It’s nice to know that UCU has come to the same conclusion.

More information about Jane:

University Staff Page
USS Discussions

 

The Defeat of TeachHigher through Serendipity and Strategic Alliances

The Defeat of TeachHigher through Serendipity and Strategic Alliances

by Warwick UCU Branch Committee

On 2 June 2015, management at the University of Warwick announced that “ongoing scrutiny of TeachHigher has become a distraction and TeachHigher should be disbanded”. Warwick UCU members greeted the announcement with a mixture of joy and disbelief. TeachHigher was set up as an employment agency, in all but name, to try to ameliorate the obvious problems being generated by the university’s extensive use of casualised teachers and researchers. It was disbanded before it had recruited a single worker, and the campaign against it offers some useful lessons about what it takes to persuade university management to do the right thing.

In 2013/14, the University of Warwick directly employed 2,130 academic staff on open-ended or fixed-term contracts. They also used the services of a further 2,725 “atypical” academic members of staff. None of these people had a contract of employment and many had no formal specification of what, exactly, they were being paid to do. Because these arrangements were decided by individual Heads of Department, there were huge inconsistencies and inequalities. The University argued that TeachHigher would address these deficiencies by developing “a fair, transparent and consistent approach” to the recruitment and remuneration of casual staff. Although Warwick UCU was supportive of this broader aim, we organised against TeachHigher for two reasons. Firstly, the Temporary Worker Agreement initially posted on the TeachHigher website threatened to worsen most people’s working conditions, not least by giving the university the right to dismiss them at any time without giving a reason. Secondly, we were worried that, in the longer term, TeachHigher would institutionalise the casualisation of academic work, and thereby facilitate a sector-wide expansion of this type of exploitative contract. We were particularly concerned that Warwick Employment Group, a commercial off-shoot of the University of Warwick, was intending to sell TeachHigher to other universities as a franchise, akin to Unitemps, their existing employment agency.

In Spring 2015,Warwick UCU began to organize against TeachHigher both on campus and around the country. The campaign sought to raise awareness about the negative effects TeachHigher would have on workers nationwide, and to mobilize resistance against its imminent introduction at Warwick. It was greatly helped by two instances of fortuitous timing. Firstly, the 2015 UCU Congress took place a few weeks into the campaign. This meant Congress could pass a motion opposing TeachHigher and that our two Warwick delegates could distribute flyers about an up-coming demonstration and garner support from other UCU branches up and down the country. Secondly, a University of Warwick Open Day was scheduled for two months after the start of the campaign. This gave us just enough time to work with other groups to organise a demonstration for the same day. Shortly before both events were due to take place, management decided to disband TeachHigher. The thought of an unknown number of demonstrators coming face-to-face with prospective students and their parents probably played a part in this decision. The threat of negative publicity can be a powerful lever and it was used to full advantage in this instance.

As well as capitalising on pre-existing events, we also built a wide range of strategic alliances, within and beyond the university. We worked with sessional teaching staff and full-time colleagues as well as student groups to organize across campus. As a result of this work, the Student Union passed a motion opposing TeachHigher, as did a number of academic departments. In one department, 68 people (including several professors) signed an Open Letter to the Head of Department and the Head of Administration protesting at the lack of consultation. In another department, 22 of the 23 Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) signed a letter saying they would boycott TeachHigher in the coming academic year. Some of the GTAs were UCU members; some were part of a self-organising collective called the Hourly-paid Group; some had a foot in both camps, as they put it. Solidarity doesn’t get any stronger than this.

Beyond our own institution, we worked with other groups committed to tackling casualisation, including FACE (Fighting Against Casualisation in Education). We enlisted the support of neighbouring UCU branches who publicised the demonstration and pledged to send delegates. We also drew upon the expertise of staff in the UCU Regional and National Offices. For instance, Michael MacNeil, UCU’s National Head of Bargaining and Negotiations, wrote to the VC saying it was “an issue of national importance for the whole union”. We worked with UCU’s press officers and grassroots activists to orchestrate maximum media coverage, which included articles in outlets from Times Higher Education to Vice.

We deliberately used evidence and detailed argument with just a sprinkling of speculation. Throughout, we offered two concrete alternatives, one deliberately more ambitious than the other. This gave management the opportunity to meet us half-way by agreeing to the first of our requests (“halt the pilot and engage in meaningful discussion”) but not the second (“Place hourly-paid staff on fractional contracts that give them the same pay, conditions and rights as those on open-ended contracts”).

Because of our organisational efforts and the solidarity we received from groups across the country, Teach Higher was disbanded in June. In August, we started what promises to be a series of meetings between local and regional UCU representatives, on the one hand, and the University Registrar and the Director of HR, on the other. We have also been invited to join the User Group which will provide feedback on the pilot being trialled in seven departments during 2015/16. Of course, there is still a long way to go to ensure all workers on campus receive decent wages and fair treatment but, at least, both sides are now taking steps in the right direction.

This article was submitted to UCU Head Office for inclusion in an anti-casualisation magazine to be published this year.

More information on Sessional Teaching Project (Warwick University HR)

What does Warwick UCU do?

The University and College Union (UCU) is the trades union in the UK which works for professionals in higher and further education, including lecturers, researchers, and academic-related staff such as librarians, administrators and computing professionals.

For latest information, see our News page.

Warwick UCU is the local branch of the University and College Union, and we provide advice and support to members employed at the University of Warwick. We negotiate with the University on behalf of our members, for example on conditions of service. We also offer individual support for members in relation to difficulties encountered as part of their employment by Warwick — see our page on personal casework.

We are run by a committee, and welcome new committee members.Email our administrator if you would like to volunteer!

If you would like to join, click here to find out more about membership, including whether or not you are eligible to join.

We also have a page of useful links to web sites containing employment related help and information which we think are really useful for our members.