Members Update – 13 January 20: Branch Meeting | PI Accounts

USS/Four Fights Branch Meeting

We are holding a Branch Meeting on Wednesday 22 January from 13:30 – 14:30 to discuss the next set of proposed strike dates. General Secretary Jo Grady sent out an email Friday, gathering members thoughts about the next steps for Four Fights, and what the next action should look like for both disputes. Members will note that our motion to HE Sector Conference was amended at the conference (there were a few amendments that set specific dates), and the proposed dates are Thursday 20th, Friday 21st, Monday 24th, Tuesday 25th, Wednesday 26th February; Monday 2nd, Tuesday 3rd, Wednesday 4th, Thursday 5th, Monday 9th, Tuesday 10th, Wednesday 11th, Thursday 12th, Friday 13th March.

We will have a guest speaker, and updates from Unison about the In-Sourcing campaign.

There is a national activists meeting on Saturday 25 January called by London Region and full details can be found here:

Vacancy on Branch Committee

Sadly, Emma Sheppard left City at the end of December for a permanent role at Coventry University, which means we have a vacancy for our Anti-Casualisation Officer post on the committee. This comes with a small amount of facility time that can be used to release you from duties or be paid as additional hours. You are eligible to hold the position if your: main employment is casualised, or you have, in the two years prior to nomination, been in casualised employment as your main employment.

Expressions of interest with a short statement of 250 words can be sent to me for co-option (deadline 31 January) at the next committee meeting (February).


We have been alerted to a new policy for Principal Investigator accounts containing funds accumulated from research projects which can be used at the Researcher’s discretion (please email for a copy). The change involves time-limits on funds and adds additional constraints to how these funds can be spent. The changes were not negotiated at the JCNB (Joint Consultative Negotiating Board) and we are challenging the 3-year limits on funds-use on equality grounds, and asking for further information on what is happening with historic funds.

If you have a PI account, please read through the new policy and your concerns to Your experience with PI accounts will strengthen our ability to challenge these changes. There may also be something in particular that we can help with in your case.

Back From the Pickets

A big and sincere thank you to our members for coming out these past 8 strike days and making this some of the most well attended strike action we have ever had.

Action Sort of Strike (ASOS) and Working to Contract

Returning to work means we move to action sort of strike. The Union has publish comprehensive guidance which can be found here: It has suggestions about what you should do if your contract does not explicitly state contracted hours or if you are hourly paid.

We will have some further guidance shortly for HPVL/GTA staff, as well as further information about revising assessments.

Some suggested text to include in your email signature is as follows:

Please note that I am currently taking Action Short of a Strike as part of the University and College Union’s (UCU) industrial action to defend our right to a fair pension, for real progress on closing the gender pay gap, and stopping the abuse of casualised contracts in Higher Education. Response times may be slower for the duration of the dispute, especially outside of normal working hours. Please support university staff by writing to university management asking them to resume negotiations with UCU immediately. *

*If most of your emails are with staff members you could include:

You can donate to our local fighting fund that supports members who have lost pay for taking strike action: UCU City LA14 Hardship Fund           Account: 20324559     Sort code: 60-83-01

As we return to work it is important to remember that there are a variety of reasons members who take strike action don’t attend pickets, but one of the results of striking alone is that some members will be feeling isolated. Please talk to one another in order to retain and extend the solidarity and collective strength of the picket-lines. But also, practically, to discuss ASOS and strategies to fight victimisation by management.

If you feel able, we encourage you to hold informal departmental or group meetings about how to manage ASOS in your area. If you would like a member of the committee to attend a local departmental meeting you have arrange please email us and we will arrange this.

If you hear of any threats of deductions, please report these immediately to us the Branch Officers.

We have strength as a collective, and it is important for us to continue this collective strength on our return.

Declaring Strike Action

If you are asked directly by your manager or HR then you should proudly declare that you took strike action and the days you took the action. We do not consider all staff emails about the pro-forma that were sent before and during the strike as requests we have to respond to. If a week has passed and you still have not been directly asked if you took strike action, we would then suggest completing the pro-forma that Mary Luckiram sent by Friday 13th December.

The university conceded to split deductions across 3 months, but there were other requests we made about deductions that we do not feel were honoured. There is therefore no incentive for us to assist management in carrying out their responsibility on this matter and see no reason for members to meet the very short deadline of the 6th December, given that we have just been on strike for 8 days, and our priorities will be managing students’ expectations, replying to their queries, and looking at what can be done about content missed for assessments. Some of us may also have urgent research or other deadlines.

Action from the pickets

For those that weren’t on the WhatsApp groups we have included a few highlights from our pickets, with special thanks to Robert Byford ( who captured some incredible pictures of our rally with the General Secretary, and students, some of which made the Financial Times.

General Secretary Jo Grady and members after lunch time rally in the rain

City UCU Pikcet Line at Gray’s Inn Place

City UCU members at Myddleton Building picket line.

City UCu members at Rhind Building picket

City UCU members at Centenary Building picket

City UCU members at Cass Business School

City UCU members at College Building picket

Health & Safety Rep Stan modelling his work place stress t-shirt

City UCU President Keith speaking at lunch time rally

Strike Information! Timeline for action and key dates

We will be holding a final pre-action Branch meeting on:

Thursday 21st November


AG22 (College Building)

Please attend if at all possible to discuss the strike and finalise preparations for the commencement of our action.


Make sure you that on Monday, 25th November, Day One of our action you join us from 7.30 am on the picket lines across City’s campus from Bunhill Row (Cass) to Northampton Square and on to Gray’s Inn Place (Law). Let’s show City’s Executive that once again CityUCU members mean business.




Before the Strike:

Read the National and CityUCU FAQs.

Meet with others in your Group or Department and work out ways to act collectively. If you identify any issues about which you have concerns or are confused let us know. It will be especially important to communicate consistently with students.

Use our slides to inform your students that you will be taking strike action, and why – click here to download the slides.. Some students won’t know what a Trade Union, or a strike is. Explain these and why we are taking action and provide personal experiences if you want, about why you are participating.

Sign up to our WhatsApp group to keep up to date with information during the strike. To join email your name and phone number to

Let us know if you want to organise a teach-out or picket line. On different days we will be focusing on the different themes that make up our claims, including casualization, the gender pay gap, workload, pay and pensions. If you have an idea about how to develop protest materials around any one of these, let us know.

Remember to turn your out of office on at the end of your last working day of the week. We’ll send some suggested wording.


During the Strike

We will have pickets at each entrance to the University (setting up from 7.30am, with pickets from 8am to 12 noon). If you work in a particular building and would like to picket that building with colleagues, let us know. Otherwise just turn up to College Building and we’ll suggest a place for you to go.

Join us for a solidarity rally most lunchtimes during the strike in Northampton Square at 12.30pm.

We plan to have lunchtime meetings 1-2pm most strikedays. We’re still locating a venue and will confirm details once we do.

The most up-to-date information on actions will be communicated via WhatsApp and in person at the picket line. We will also send update emails periodically, but obviously this is hard to do while we’re all picketing!

There will be some London-wide actions that will bring us together with members from other striking branches. More to follow on this – please keep an eye on emails, twitter, and whatsapp.


After the strike

Unless anything changes we will be participating in Action Short of a Strike (ASOS). That means working to contract and not doing voluntary work, not rescheduling, nor covering the work of colleagues.

When you are asked, please provide information about the days you have been on strike. If there are any pressures put on you with respect to participating in legally sanctioned strike action, please let us know immediately.

City UCU at the Global Climate Strike

On Friday 20th September, members of the City UCU branch joined the official activity outside Islington Town Hall, standing in solidarity with other organisations such as the local NUT and Culpeper Community Garden, as well as students and even a certain local MP. The rally was part of the much larger London march, but it was brilliant to have a (smaller) local event, and to see our members getting involved.

Two branch members holding The UCU City University London banner. The banner shows several coloured squares surrounding a representation of London and the River Thames. Sean, a man in his 30s, holding a pole supporting the City UCU banner. The banner shows several coloured squares surrounding a representation of London and the River Thames. women holding a large fabric banner suspended on poles. it is a sunny day and she is wearing sunglasses.A speaker standing in front of crowdsJeremy Corbin - locking up his bike









A big thank you to all who made it, and all who stood in solidarity.

Two ballots open 9 September 2019 for Pensions and Pay & Equality

As you may have seen in recent emails from the UCU, our newly elected General Secretary Jo Grady and our UCU branch President Keith Simpson, TWO BALLOTS ON INDUSTRIAL ACTION STARTED ON MONDAY 9 SEPTEMBER.

Click the pictures for more information on the UCU website.

It is vital that members express their opinion on these disputes. Your elected branch committee and national executive voted to urge you to vote yes to strike action, and yes to action short of a strike for both the Pay and Equality Ballot, and the USS Ballot.

As there are two simultaneous ballots, I want to describe each dispute in turn, with some reference to what they mean here for us at City, University of London.

USS Pensions

The Joint Expert Panel (set up following the last UCU industrial action protected defined benefit pensions) made seven recommendations, and remodelled the costs of them based on the new 2018 valuation USS Trustees made, confirmed contributions could return to 26% of salary, split between employers (18%) and employees (8%).

Employers, including City, are refusing to push for a full implementation of the JEP recommendations. Our management are facilitating higher employee (9.6%) and employer (21.1%) contributions unnecessarily.Schools and Professional services at City have already been asked to generate 2% more income and we know that for most departments this has meant cuts to budgets. However, City management have not challenged these added pension costs in a way that other University management representatives have done at the UUK. We need to raise the pressure on them with a credible threat of action.

In the previous industrial action on the USS pension, the union members across the country revealed faulty calculations and bad governance fed into an unwarranted proposal to undermine the basic set up of our pension. Bad governance in USS and UUK is still a problem, frustrating a solution that the employer’s own representatives on the JEP recommended in consensus with staff representatives.

We need to stand up against these choices with the credible threat of strike action.

Pay and Equality

Part of the USS pension valuation methodology assumed we were getting 4% pay rises every year, and would continue to get 4% pay rises in the future but we know that is not the reality. Last year was 2%,  2017- 18 negotiations were 1.7%, and the 2016-17 negotiations saw an offer of 1.1% revised from 0.9% after strike action. In each of these recent pay and equality negotiations, UUK have given empty promises on closing the gender pay gap, reducing precarious contract use, and alleviating at workloads.

City’s pay gap data is extensive, according City’s own Equal Pay Audit 2017/18:

  • women on average paid 18.5% less than men,
  • disabled workers paid 7.7% less than non-disabled workers,
  • and black workers paid 24.6% less than white workers

As with many institutions around the UK, initiatives and programmes are in place at City but it has not been enough. Improvements have been slow at City and inequality is persisting or even rising in particular categories or job roles.

At Professorial grades, the Gender Pay Gap at City rose from a staggering 36.3% in 2016/17 to 38.0% in 2017/18. Meanwhile City increasingly relies on casualised workers such as VLs or colleagues on fixed term contracts with many at City concerned about their precarious position and second tier employment. Our colleagues on lower grades at City are in particularly difficult situations, with real term cuts over many years on already low salaries.

City does have money, however it is committed to maintaining a surplus each year as this makes us look healthy to creditors so they we can continue to borrow money for investment projects. For example, in last July’s financial report to council showed a £7.7 million budget surplus for City.

Holding back our pay is a choice made by management at City that affects the livelihood of staff disproportionately; especially those of us already in vulnerable and unequal positions such as women, BAME, disabled and casualised colleagues.

UCU has been negotiating with employers nationally with modest demands. We have offered a compromise but by offering 1.8% rise, well below inflation, they have failed meet us halfway. They have also not made any credible commitment for action on inequality or casualization.

We need to stand up against these choices with the credible threat of strike action.

Sean Rowlands

CITY UCU Vice President and representative

City Law School Academics and the move to Open Plan

The City Law School Academic staff, around 60 people, are in the process of being moved to the basement of Myddleton Building, which is an open plan office space. The move is said to be temporary – until the new Law School building is built – but the problems are multifold. Firstly, many staff have indicated that they will not be able to carry out the work they are contracted to do in an open plan space, second: the move was decided without any staff or union consultation, third, although part of the staff have already been moved and the remainder will be moved by end of July, there isn’t as yet sufficient space to meet with students, make phone or skype calls, or work quietly, to store books and papers, the Myddleton office refit isn’t yet complete, with construction still taking place while CLS staff need to continue to work, and the fear exists among staff that the move to open plan will be replicated in the new Sebastian Street building and across the university. Finally, two CLS UCU reps, Grietje Baars and Mazen Masri, were subjected to intimidation and victimisation for speaking out against the move on behalf of their colleagues.

It is a matter of fact that for most people, tasks that require a high degree of concentration and focus, are not possible to carry out in an open plan office. This includes research and writing and many other tasks (across different roles in the university). An open plan office forces people to work from home or elsewhere and this disproportionately negatively impacts, 1) women, BAME people, and sexual minorities, who due to the gender and race pay gap tend to have lower salaries and thus are more likely to live in rented, shared accommodation and unlikely to have space to work at home; 2) people with disabilities and health (e.g. back) conditions who may find it more difficult to find an accessible workspace elsewhere, or who need special desks, chairs etc which they don’t have at home or in e.g. the British Library – and those with mental health conditions which are triggered or exacerbated by the situation not the least stress and anxiety.

It is also an ongoing practice in the City Law School that when a research & teaching employee does not produce the required 3 or 4* (world-leading) REF-able articles each year, they are directly penalised by an increase in teaching hours the following year. Retention and promotion are subject to academic output. CLS academic staff have upwards of 60 personal tutees each, in addition to the students they teach and see in office hours, LLB and LLM dissertation supervisees and PhD students. All of these require a private and safe space for meeting, mentoring and support, at scheduled times but often also on an ad hoc basis. The NSS scores for law are directly related to the personal support and individual feedback students receive from their tutors. Thus, with a lack of meeting spaces and quiet working space for writing, City stands to lose dramatically in the key rankings of the REF and NSS, which will have disastrous student recruitment and thus financial consequences. Additionally, the move is triggered by a decision to get rid of the flagship Gray’s Inn premises, which has been one of the main selling points for the CLS professional programmes, and so again is likely to have a negative impact on student numbers.

The School of Health Sciences has moved to open plan, a decision that has been described by many SHS staff as deleterious. For the reasons mentioned above in relation to CLS specifically, but also because of the experience of SHS staff, and the copious amounts of internationally published research documenting the negative effects of open plan on productivity and staff mental health and retention, it is clear that this situation is unacceptable.

As UCU Reps we have a lot of other things on our plates and other battles to fight. The open plan office issue may seem relatively minor. But with dozens of workers simply unable to do their jobs they are contracted to do, with potentially disastrous impacts on the REF and student education and experience, this is rather fundamental. Ultimately this decision is financially motivated (other suitable office spaces are available to rent locally) and part of a growing trend to treat the university as a business, where managers exploit students and staff to create a fancy-looking enterprise where real education and research are no longer thought important.

Report from #UCU2018 Congress

Many members will have heard rumours about what happened at UCU’s national Congress this year. Not least from the voluminous information on social media (e.g. the hashtag #UCU2018). And even if you missed it on social media, members will have received Sally Hunt’s email in which she provides a brief, and perhaps confusing, picture of what occurred.

Below is a report from Rachel Cohen, an outgoing member of the National Executive Committee and a member of the City UCU Executive Committee.

What is Congress?

There are three days of UCU national meetings. The first and third are Congress and involve everyone. The second day splits into Sector Conferences, one each for HE and FE (HESC and FESC). Congress focuses on internal union matters and whole-union issues, such as support for equalities. The HESC and FESC focus on action within our sector, including industrial disputes over pension and pay.

Congress is attended by delegates from most branches and regions (the number of delegates who goes is in proportion to branch size). Branches can submit motions to Congress in advance on any aspect of UCU activity. The Congress Business Committee (CBC) determines whether motions are appropriate within Congress standing orders and if they are they are scheduled on the agenda. Congress delegates then vote on these (some require a 50% majority to pass; others – typically those involving a change to rules – two-thirds). If passed they become policy. Congress is chaired by the UCU President, at UCU2018 this was Joanna de Groot (following Congress it passed to Vicky Knight).

Full information on the motions submitted to and passed by Congress is here:

What happened?

The first thing to say is that Day 2 was not disrupted and delegates debated and agreed some really important things relating to our ongoing USS dispute, imminent dispute over pay and equalities and much more. Moreover, the motions from City about increasing transparency in UCU were also passed. More on this at the end – in the section on reasons to be optimistic.

Both days 1 and 3 were, however, suspended multiple times. And, eventually, at 1.18pm on day 3 (Friday 1st July) delegates were told that Congress was over. This caused considerable dissent and the majority of Congress delegates signed a statement #ourUCU.

The main cause of the disruption were two motions, 10 and 11, submitted by the University of Exeter and Kings College London branches, and ruled onto the Congress business by CBC. These, respectively, asked Congress to ‘call for’ Sally Hunt to resign, and sought to ‘censure’ her for the ways in which she reported the 28 March branch delegate meeting in all-member emails. It was almost incredible that motion 10 (call for resignation) would pass, but possible that motion 11 might. Had they passed they would have no constitutional power within the union but would have indicated members’ dissatisfaction with aspects of the General Secretary’s representation and leadership.

Delegates were not, however, able to debate either motion, despite voting four times (by increasing majorities) for the right to do so. Instead the staff employed by UCU, who work to support the Congress, including acting as tellers, and who are represented by Unite, staged a walkout and were joined by the General Secretary and the entire Presidential Team. They argued that because the General Secretary is given a five-year contract of employment once elected (n.b. something also true of MPs) criticism of her representation of members amounts to (as Sally Hunt has argued in her email on Monday) ‘very serious disciplinary penalties on an employee of the union while denying them the due process’. It was further claimed that this threatened the livelihood and wellbeing of the union’s employed staff. Yet, the only staff-member referred to by either motion was the General Secretary, who as well as being elected is also UCU CEO and line manages all staff.

Importantly, in the General Secretary’s framing of events, no distinction is drawn between a) disciplining an employee, which might occur if, for instance, work is not completed or if there are accusations of bullying towards another staff member, and b) political discussion of the adequacy, or otherwise, of an elected officer’s representation of members. Delegates rejected this conflation and voted for an emergency late motion (L8), which reaffirmed that ‘all elected officers of UCU can be subjected to criticism by members in relation to their representation of members’ and that ‘we cannot allow motions voicing dissent with the GS not to be debated.’

Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of what happened was that delegates from Exeter and Kings, including new UCU members and first-time congress attendees, several of whom are on casualised contracts, were repeatedly pressured to withdraw motions their branches had voted on and mandated them to speak to and which had been submitted almost a month previously, according to the rules. This caused understandable, but avoidable, upset.

The Congress finally ended after the staff walked out and the Chair suspended congress for half an hour. The standing orders of Congress state (#33):

“In the event of grave disorder the Chair may suspend a session for a period not exceeding 30 minutes. Any subsequent decision to suspend Conference during the same session shall be open to challenge in accordance with Standing Order 26.”

The Chair did not, however, return and so could not be challenged. Instead a senior member of staff declared that Congress was ended and turned off all microphones and AV equipment.

At this point the majority of delegates, from across different/no factions elected a new Chair, incoming Vice-President Nita Sanghera, and collectively agreed the ‘Our UCU’ statement, below:

We UCU elected delegates voted repeatedly in line with the advice of our Congress Business Committee to hear motions criticising the General Secretary which were in order. Unfortunately, the General Secretary and a narrow majority of the National Executive Committee refused to accept the right of Congress to debate these motions.  We believe the union members have the right to hold our most senior elected officials to account. This is a basic democratic right in all trade union and representative systems (e.g., Parliament). We disagree with the walkouts and reject the notion that the motions include a threat to undermine staff terms and conditions. There is no issue with the conduct and performance of our wonderful and hardworking UCU staff members. To turn a debate about our democratic process as a union into a procedural employment dispute is to evacuate our capacity to act as a political body. We resolve to continue to conduct the campaigns and defence of our members over pay and pensions that we all agree on and also to urge a debate in all branches and union bodies to discuss democracy in our union. We also resolve to continue the motions at a recall conference and not be distracted from the campaign to defend our members’ jobs, pay and pensions.

Throughout the three days of Congress the General Secretary was present but chose not to speak to delegates about this issue, despite being explicitly asked for her perspective. The email sent on Monday 4th June was therefore the first comment from Sally Hunt. This is especially disappointing, since an all-member email prevents members from engaging in the two-way dialogue that is possible at Congress.

Was there anything to be optimistic about?

Despite the upheaval described above there were some very good things that happened at Congress.

  1. We voted to hold a Democracy Commission to review and proposed changes to our union. This is clearly timely and will hopefully avoid such things happening again.
  2. We voted for motions, including 9 and L1 from City, that will increase the transparency and accountability of decision making in our union.
  3. We voted to make our subscription rates more progressive this year and in future years, including a an amendment from City which reinforces this.
  4. We voted for a Higher Education Sector Conference with decision making powers to discuss the report from the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) on USS, when this reports (probably in September). That will put members and branches in the driving seat in determining future action. We also voted to push for greater transparency from the JEP as it does its work.
  5. In line with City amendment HE1A.2 (which also passed) we voted to rename the HE Pay Claim the HE Pay and Equality Campaign and several motions argued for a focus on casualisation, equality and workload, and to decrease pay differentials as we pursue this in the autumn. This provides UCU with a way to fight for our most precarious members, many of whom were on the picket lines this spring defending a pension scheme they are not currently paying into.
  6. Positive commitments to take collective action on pay and were voted on in FE and on the defence of workload and contracts in post-92 institutions.
  7. Finally, the upheaval at Congress produced #ourUCU, a coming together of members united in their determination to make our union more democratic and transparent. While, therefore, the struggle to assure open debate, produced chaos and upset at Congress and was distressing for many, in the long-run it may herald the start of a better and stronger union, in which the many new members who have joined are more invested and more ready to fight for the future of education.

Further reading:

There have been various other delegate reports from Congress. I especially recommend this one from Novara Media:

Or you can listen to a couple of podcasts about what happened? and where next? featuring delegates who were at Congress (inc me in the second one). Sound quality is not perfect, but you get a good sense of what went on.

To find out more about the ourUCU statement, its signatories and the ongoing fight for democracy in UCU please follow @ourUCU.

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in some background reading on how UCU works, before all of this kicked off I wrote a longer piece for ‘USSBriefs’ on UCU’s national democratic structures: A case for reform

Report from HEC meeting 27 April 2018

This report represents the personal views of Rachel Cohen, NEC member for HE, London and the East and member of CityUCU.

At the Higher Education Committee (HEC) on 27th April, members voted in favour of a report from officials which set out a series of recommendations. These will determine how the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) to investigate the USS valuation is constituted and reports. At the Joint Negotiating Committee (between UCU and UUK) later that day the January Defined Contribution proposal was taken off the table. This was a major victory, and the result of our collective action. But the preceding HEC meeting highlighted the need to democratise our union’s spaces or this is not going to be a sustainable victory.

HEC Meeting:

We received the official’s report and recommendations at the start of the meeting (11.05) and were given twenty minutes to read it. When the discussion on this began we were initially allocated 45 minutes. This was later extended to about 1.5 hours, which included a short break for lunch. It also included multiple disputes about how the discussion was structured. The Chair, Douglas Chalmers, ruled that:

  •  we could not amend *anything* in the official’s report, including recommendations, terms of reference, proposed timings, or proposed method of selecting UCU JEP members;
  • that most other motions would fall if we voted through the report even though there was no obvious reason why most were contrary to the report’s recommendations – or why there should be these ‘consequentials’;
  • that we would vote on the official’s report first. This needlessly put people in a bind. For instance, I thought most of the report and recommendations were good, but wanted to amend some parts and did not want to lose the other motions on the table. Therefore I ended up voting against it. This should not have happened.

I and other members of the HEC made formal ‘challenges to the chair’ to overturn these decisions. In all cases these challenges were lost, with a majority voting in favour of the Chair’s organisation of the meeting.

Because time was short the report was introduced by the official, everyone who had submitted a motion was given up to two minutes to propose their motion. We then went straight to vote on the report, with no opportunity to discuss or debate either the report or motions, which contained critical decisions about the JEP and UCU’s involvement in it.

Key points of contention/decision included:

1) The JEP Chair will be approved by the SWG (Superannuation Working Group) and UUK – there are already suggested names that our officials know about, but we were provided with no additional information about who they were or how these people might be selected.

2) The UCU JEP members will be selected by SWG on the basis of a person specification that was distributed. An amendment that would require that SWG shortlist candidates to ensure suitability but that UCU members (either at Congress or via e-ballot) are then given the opportunity to elect our representatives was not permitted as an amendment (based on the logic that we cannot amend reports). It was then submitted as a motion and was judged to have fallen when the report was passed. This means members will have no direct say in our JEP representatives.

3) JEP is expected to issue its first report on the 2017 valuation in Sept 2018. It will then work on more general issues around the valuation. It was not entirely clear how the first report will or will not be constrained in lieu of more general agreements on valuation.

4) A motion that I submitted that would have ensured UCU JEP members are accountable to members (see below) was ruled to have fallen. This would have required regular reports to members, provided a means by which members could contact UCU JEP members and engage with the process and would have scheduled a voting delegate meeting to review the report in September. I argued that transparency and accountability were critical and that there was nothing in this motion that was in conflict with the report, but the Chair insisted that it fell when the report passed. Other motions that called for a special meeting to discuss the ongoing dispute also fell.

5) The terms of reference for the JEP emphasise ‘Confidentiality’ – for ‘all panel meetings’ and ‘all material provided to the panel …whether from the evidence pack, expert witnesses or submitted evidence.’ This was challenged. I asked why transparency wasn’t the default with confidentiality only if and as when absolutely essential. We were told that this ‘would not work’.

6) Several motions that required negotiators or the JEP to take particular positions also fell, including one that required the HEC mandated UCU negotiators to vote in favour of the removal of DC (now achieved via the JNC), removing the proposal for cost sharing and extending the implementation deadline.

7) On equalities (an update because some people have asked about this). There was no mention of equality in the initial specification for JEP members. I submitted an amendment to correct this, but was not permitted to amend this in the meeting for the reasons discussed above. In this case, however, we were assured by the official that it would be included in the final version of the specifications. This is obviously a good thing. But the fact that this can informally be changed highlights that there was no need to prevent amendments to other aspects of the report and recommendations.

The second part of the meeting was spent discussing the pay claim and various other reports. These were less controversial. But time remained short and discussion abbreviated.

This was a thoroughly frustrating meeting. We had a rushed discussion of a critical issue in which key decisions were made without any discussion.

It is likely that the issues relating to UCU internal democracy will be central to discussions at the upcoming UCU Congress. City has submitted a motion on this (see end of previous blog post), as have other branches.

Additional Note:

My motion to HEC: ‘Holding the JEP Accountable’

HEC notes concerns about USS and UUK accountability and transparency and that similar concerns have been raised about the working processes of the JEP.

HEC resolves:
• To name and provide contact information for UCU members of the JEP;
• To provide regular (typically monthly) opportunities for branches and members to receive reports from and ask questions of UCU JEP members;
• To facilitate open calls to a wider group of interested parties, including members, inviting contributions to JEP deliberations around specific topics;
• To call on the JEP to provide an interim report by the start of September 2018, in which any agreed understandings and terms of reference are reported, key points of difference clarified and future reporting and meeting dates of JEP, JNC and USS are detailed;
• To hold a branch delegates meeting, with voting rights and HEC (or ‘National Strike Committee’) to discuss the interim report.

This motion fell because the Chair said it was incompatible with the official’s report and the latter was voted on first and agreed.

Emergency Branch Meeting – 5 April 2018

On Thursday 5 April about 60 members attended an Emergency General Meeting of City UCU. Most of the meeting was spent discussing the pensions dispute. There were a lot of questions and members raised concerns about the clarity – or lack of clarity – of the latest offer.

Members present were very clear that the unity that our branch has achieved should not be undermined. Our branch has grown in number, with about 190 new members since January. We have also grown in strength and confidence. Whatever the outcome of this vote, we will need to continue to work together to fight on pensions now and in the future, but also to fight on the issues that are impacting our everyday working lives at City: workload, casualisation, bullying, inequality and more.

A motion (copied in full below) in support of a ‘No’ vote was moved and was passed by a majority of those at the meeting. As such City UCU Branch Policy, as democratically decided is to RECOMMEND A NO VOTE in the current USS ballot for the reasons outlined in the motion. The vote on the motion was not, however, unanimous and a significant minority of members at the meeting either voted against or abstained. We recognise that this difference of opinion will persist and we strongly support ongoing comradely dialogue and discussion.

The branch vote to support a reject vote rested on the belief that UCU negotiators should return to UUK and seek improvements to the 23 March proposal taking into account the many concerns that branches have raised about its implementation and contents. And that industrial action must not be suspended while these negotiations are ongoing

For those looking for more detailed rationales on why our branch voted to recommend a No vote we recommend the collection of USSBriefs, to which our member, Claire Marris, has contributed. These include three briefs (ussbriefs6, ussbriefs11 and ussbriefs14) that detail the arguments in favour of a No vote as well as other material on the background to the dispute and that provide other perspectives.

In line with the motion we will also be calling on the national union to hold a special conference on USS before or after the May Congress. This is to enable the broader discussion and concerns of members to be voiced and to create the time and space to develop national pension policy in a democratic way.

We also very briefly discussed, and passed unanimously, a motion that we will submit to UCU Congress. This motion is an attempt to address the concerns of members about transparency in the way that our union operates nationally during a dispute.

Members have until 14:00 on Friday 13 April to vote in the ballot, and we would encourage all members to vote whatever their inclination is.

City UCU Committee

Motion in support of a NO vote – passed by a majority.

This UCU branch notes:

  1. the support and energy of our membership during the course of the fourteen days of strike action in defence of our pensions the branch delegates meeting (held on the 28th March at UCU HQ, London) on the USS dispute where last-minute evidence was tabled, on which delegates had no opportunity to consult their members;
  2. that at the conclusion of the branch delegates meeting no vote was taken on what was clearly the crucial issue the Higher Education Committee (HEC) were going to decide on afterwards – whether to send the UUK offer as it stands to a ballot or not;
  3. that according to branch delegates present at the meeting a majority of branches favoured a ‘revise and resubmit’ position rather than putting the current offer to ballot;
  4. the HEC meeting decided by a narrow majority of 10-8 to ballot members on a proposal from UUK whose wording was not the outcome of a formal negotiating process between the properly constituted UCU negotiating group on USS and UUK;
  5. that the UUK offer contains many areas of uncertainty that need to be clarified before an offer can be accepted, including:
  6. There have been no details provided by UUK about how it envisages any revised contributions and benefits will be shared between the employer and USS members.
  7. There have been no details provided by UUK about the valuation that will be used to inform the future pension scheme.  Our principle worry is shared by leading pensions experts who warn that unless this uncertainly is cleared up, the offer on the table will simply revert to the notorious ‘November valuation’ provided by USS.  If this happens, our pension would revert to being a defined contribution scheme by default and the UUK offer would be effectively nullified.
  8. We have no concrete assurances about the intent of USS and the Pensions Regulator that any mutually agreed settlement will be acceptable to them.  This is important, since any deal requires the final agreement of both.   However, since the offer was made public, USS has signaled its intention to revert to the November valuation.

This UCU branch believes:

  1. That UCU negotiators should return to UUK and seek improvements to the 23 March proposal taking into account the many concerns that branches have raised about its implementation and contents
  2. That industrial action must not be suspended while these negotiations are ongoing

This UCU branch resolves:

  1. To recommend to members to vote against the UUK proposal in the consultation
  2. To circulate this petition to members along with other materials urging a vote against the UUK proposal:
  3. To call for a Special Meeting of UCU Higher Education Sector Conference to discuss the USS dispute under Rule11.* If possible this Special Meeting would be held immediately prior to or following Congress.

Late Congress Motion: Union transparency and accountability during disputes – passed unanimously.

The USS dispute, branch delegate and HEC meetings and ballot have produced member anger around issues of transparency and accountability within UCU.

Congress resolves that:

  1. The role and purpose of Branch Delegate Meetings during a dispute should be clarified, including voting rights (per branch or weighted by membership and when and how votes can be called).
  2. During a dispute, any five HEC/FEC members may call for a reconvened meeting of HEC/FEC, within two weeks, to progress the dispute.
  3. HEC/FEC must agree contextual information accompanying national ballots of members. Ballot text will be circulated to branch officers at least 1 working day in advance of the ballot going live.
  4. A means for members/branches to contact HEC/FEC members is publicised.
  5. Information about upcoming HEC/FEC/NEC meetings and agenda items is publicised.
  6. Mechanisms for HEC/FEC to consider relevant branch motions is determined.

A reflection on today’s UCU meetings [28 March 2018].

The following is a personal reflection on the meetings that took place on 28 March at UCU HQ from Rachel Cohen.

There were two meetings at UCU HQ today. At 11am was a Branch Delegates Meeting, with delegates from most of the striking universities. This was followed by a Higher Education Committee (HEC) meeting. I, and other members of the HEC, attended the Delegates meeting, to listen to what was said, but we did not participate.

The Branch Delegates Meeting

At the start of the Branch Delegates Meeting Sally outlined the process by which UUK had arrived at the current proposal. She also distributed a printed copy of a letter from Alistair Jarvis, UUK Chief Executive, in which he said that UUK ‘are committed to maintaining a meaningful Defined Benefit pension offer at this valuation.’ And that UUK would like to ‘rebuild the trust that has been damaged’.

Some members’ concerns were covered by this letter and by oral assurances from Sally about USS trustees and the Pension Regulator’s willingness to work with UUK and UCU. But many other questions remained. These included, but were not limited to questions about how the Joint Expert Panel would be constituted; about formal equality assurances; about timing and deadlines; about decision making within the new body; about responding to local reprisals, and much more. Several delegates asked why, since we were in a position of strength, we were simply accepting what UUK offered us.

While most welcomed Sally’s clarifications, several branch delegates expressed frustration that new assurances were being given at the meeting, so that it was impossible to discuss these within branches, nor could they feed into member responses. Consequently, Branch Reports were punctuated with delegates guessing whether the concessions were sufficient to assuage their members’ concerns.

Branch reports followed the Q&A and were brief but much more varied than at the meeting two weeks ago when members almost unanimously rejected the 12 March ‘deal’. A couple of trends stood out, however:

  • Where branches had members’ meetings (many had been very large meetings) large majorities tended to vote in favour of some version of “Revise and Resubmit” – mandating our negotiators to go back to UUK with a counter-offer that built on UUK’s proposal, while adding clarification/specification. Some of these branches had voted in favour of ‘no detriment’ motions. Others had not, but were nonetheless clear that the current offer was essentially a first draft on which the employers should be pushed for further concessions.
  • Where branches had conducted e-ballots they typically got majorities ‘in favour’. But these were a little difficult to interpret because different questions were asked: some branches asked members whether they were in favour of the offer and others asked whether they were in favour of going to ballot. Several delegates pointed out that members frequently added qualitative provisos to their votes (in either direction). Only some branches included a ‘middle ground’ in e-ballots. Typically, ‘revise and resubmit’ or ‘continue negotiations and then ballot’. Where a middle option was included it seemed popular.
  • Where branches had held both e-ballots and meetings both the above trends were sometimes visible. Moreover, delegates reported that members who had voted one way in an e-ballot sometimes changed their mind after coming to a meeting and discussing the issues in more detail, suggesting the dynamic nature of the debate.

Taking all of this into account, my sense was that overall there was a small, but clear, majority of branches whose members were in favour of ongoing negotiations (at least 60%), but with considerable variation around what the primary target/minimum outcome of negotiation might be.

On several occasions a delegate suggested a vote to get a non-binding sense of this (yellow voting cards had been supplied). The chair, UCU President Joanna de Groot, rejected this suggestion, and no votes occurred. In consequence, any tallies about branch opinion – whether those made by officials or by observers like me – are speculative.


When the Delegates Meeting ended the HEC went downstairs. The meeting started late and only at 2.50pm did we receive a paper from officials that contained a recommended course of action (including going to ballot). We were given ten minutes to read this paper, alongside six motions submitted by HEC members. The meeting finally started at 3pm with a ten minute presentation of the official paper and ended an hour later. Given that there were 19 voting USS-HEC members present, alongside paid officials and other (non-voting non-USS) HEC members, the time for discussion was very limited, and debate was minimal.

The most critical decision of the meeting was taken by the Chair, UCU Vice-President Douglas Chalmers (see below for more on who chairs these meetings), when he ordered the business for discussion as follows: a) that if HEC voted to accept the official recommendations all other motions would fall (except one, which would be remitted), and b) that HEC would vote on the officials’ paper first. Some of us challenged, but were were unable to change, this decision. The Chair’s ordering of business meant that any HEC member broadly sympathetic to the officials’ paper, which included balloting members (no timeframe given), who *also* wanted to see some changes negotiated first, was unable to vote for this combination. Instead it became a binary debate: for a ballot or not. As has been communicated elsewhere, the vote on this paper was 10 for, 8 against (including me), and one HEC member abstained out of (understandable) frustration at this process.

Among the motions that were consequently ruled to have fallen were ones that I and others had submitted and that covered a range of changes to the timing, scope, language and process of what was being proposed, including one on ‘no detriment’. I was frustrated – and confused – that a motion I’d put about transparency and accountability in decision making during industrial disputes fell. A consequence of going to ballot should not be that we also fail to agree a more transparent process for future decision making. Most frustrating, however, was that we were unable to vote on a motion that, written in response to the Delegate Meeting discussion, proposed a three-week revise and resubmit process (week one to develop a counter-proposal; week two to negotiate; week three to discuss outcome with branches and reconvene HEC), after which we could potentially go to ballot. This relatively short timeline would have allowed us to retake ownership of the agenda, without delaying decision-making in an irreversible way. This was designed as a consensus motion. I believe that most members – including those who want to be balloted – would happily wait three weeks to see what else is possible.

Finally, some of us asked about, but were not able to discuss, what would be on the consultative ballot. My understanding is that it will *not* have a recommendation to accept or reject (the HEC would have to vote on this and we did not). Nonetheless meaning may be conveyed by the contextual information sent out with the ballot.

As this has emerged as an issue since, I want to state categorically that at NO point did anyone in any position suggest we suspend the action before the ballot results were known.

This HEC left me with various thoughts.

  • Pensions: We are going to have to remain vigilant and ready to take further serious action. This may be in May/June if the consultative ballot is ‘Reject’. If not it’s likely to be next year after we know more about the valuation. The assurances so far in place, whether from UUK, tPR or USS, are not strong enough and we have learnt that the only thing that makes UUK accountable is us posing a credible threat. We have done that brilliantly in this dispute, showing strength of purpose and unity.
  • The ballot: we don’t yet know exactly what will be on it, and my impression is that neither do Sally or our officials, who continue to seek ‘clarifications’ from UUK. I believe that it is unlikely that these clarifications will cover the diverse concerns raised by branch delegates.
  • Splits and disagreements: I am both hugely frustrated at the outcome and process of HEC, but also recognise that victory here, and in future disputes requires that we work together. Our USS action has been successful because we have been on the same page. Currently we are not. But, whether members accept or reject the offer, we need to continue to be able to mobilise collectively – around both national and local fights to come. In most local branches we achieve this unity-despite-disagreement, because we know – and even like – one another. It’s harder, but just as necessary, to do nationally.
  • Internal democracy: it matters who participates in our national democratic bodies (HEC, FEC, NEC, Branch Delegate Meetings, Congress), but also who chairs these. Chairs come from the Presidential Team. Therefore, it matters who we elect [we elect an FE and HE Vice-President in alternate years. Once elected this person serves a FOUR-year term: as, in order, VP; President-Elect; President; Immediate Past President, playing a key role across that period].
  • Transparency/accountability: Our new surge in members, and in members’ level of engagement, makes urgent that we develop processes that are as transparent and accountable as possible. At the last two meetings (NEC and HEC) I’ve brought motions on increasing transparency and clarity around industrial action decision making. These have now been timed out (NEC) and ruled to have fallen (HEC). Nonetheless member pressure is forcing us (UCU nationally) to act in an increasingly open way. All of us (HEC or not) should be pushing for this.
  • The collective action that I have experienced locally at City has been amazing – creative, collegial, transformative, critical and fun. I am aware that this experience is widespread and it gives me confidence that we are now readier to take on fights around marketisation, casualisation, jobs and inequality in HE. If the fight for decent Defined Benefit pensions is part of a bigger struggle it’s up to us to extend the fight, not end it.

Rachel Cohen, City UCU and HEC member for London and the East.

The above are personal reflections. Other HEC members and Branch Delegates will, of course, have left these meetings with different impressions.