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Zero Hours Hell and today’s Private Members’ Bill

November 21, 2014

UCU Anti-Casualisation

This Private Members’ Bill gets its second reading in the House of Commons *today* – Friday 21st November (probably about 1pm)… Have you asked your MP to make sure s/he is there yet? There is still time to do it here! You can also join us in putting pressure on MPs by tweeting on #ZeroHoursContracts, copy in @ucuanti_cas and you can also find your MP on Twitter here.

This isn’t a “perfect” Bill (it doesn’t abolish them or anything) but it would be a significant step if it got through. It is arguably the first serious attempt at a definition of a Zero Hours Contract. Even if it does not get through (sadly I’m guessing it’s unlikely but *hope*) calling attention to it helps keep the injustice that comes part and parcel with this exploitative form of employment in public view. It helps underline the point that…

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Message to students – assessment boycott postponed

November 20, 2014

Dear Student,

The trade union which represents your lecturers and academic-related staff, the UCU, has today announced that our assessment boycott is now postponed until 15 January, when the matter will be reviewed. This postponement of the boycott will allow space for a series of discussions to take place between UCU negotiators and representatives of the universities affected by our pensions dispute.

We hope that these meetings are constructive. We hope that the final meeting on 15 January results in a settlement that is fair to all pension scheme members – who, you should remember, could lose up to 27% from their pensions if our employers’ original proposals are allowed to stand.

In the meantime, we remain in dispute with our employers over this issue. Our industrial action is postponed, not abandoned, and we will have no choice but to resume it in January if agreement cannot be reached. We will do so reluctantly, because none of us take the impact that this will have on your studies lightly. We will do so in the face of great pressure and even bullying from our employers, who have merely suspended and not withdrawn the threat of punitive pay deductions of up to 100% – that is to say they will expect all our teaching and research to be delivered for free. If we have to resume action, we will do so because we are defending our own future and the future of the profession for the benefit of current and future students.

The quality of education that Leeds can deliver to you and to the students who follow in your footsteps depends in a very direct way upon our ability to attract the best and brightest to a career in academia and to keep them here. We cannot do this if an academic career is made far less attractive by large reductions in the quality of retirement provision.

These are uncertain and difficult times, for both students and lecturers. We would like to thank you for your patience and your support. We will always do our best to keep you fully informed of progress in this dispute. You can find out the latest national news at You may also find it helpful to read this Leeds UCU blog and follow us on Twitter ( and Facebook (

Thanks for reading

Open letter to senior staff at the University of Bradford

November 18, 2014

Yesterday we sent this letter to senior staff at the University of Bradford. It was signed by officers and committee members from the UCU branches at Leeds, Hull, Sheffield, and York. If you agree, add a comment at the bottom of the page.

An open letter to senior staff at the University of Bradford

from colleagues at the Universities of Hull, Leeds, Sheffield and York (and beyond).

Dear Colleagues,

We are writing to communicate our sorrow and indignation at the treatment of University of Bradford staff by its management, in relation to the current dispute over detriment to future pension provision. As members of neighbouring scholarly communities, with significant academic relationships with staff at Bradford, we are saddened to see you university’s management apply what we believe currently to be the worst and most punitive approach in the sector to legitimate and legal protest. The attitude of your management to this protest is to do its utmost to quash access to that protest, through threat and fear. This race to the bottom on the national stage is a matter of shame not just for the University, but for its partners and stakeholders in the Bradford and broader West Yorkshire community, and we copy this letter to many such individuals and organisations.

We understand a University’s duty to protect students from the consequences of its own actions and attitudes, as in this case, but to do so by threatening staff by removing their salaries altogether for taking part in a protest that would see them boycotting a part of their work that represents in most cases no more than 5% of workload is beyond punitive, we believe it is bullying. To add to that the threat of removing the death in service benefits of their pension scheme unless they declare they are taking such protest is shocking. In doing so, your management wields its assault not only on its staff, but on their families, their spouses, their children. To then go as far as suggest that they will apply a sanction that we understand no other employer, in any sector, has applied since 1959 (joining members of staff to potential litigation) clearly articulates that this is not only an all-time low in employer-employee relationships at the University of Bradford, but that the University is leading the way nationally in dragging industrial relations back to the 19th century. Some of this behaviour may even represent a violation of workers’ human rights. You may support the University in these ambitions, but we would appeal to the common sense and decency that ordinarily resides in such institutions of liberal humanism.

We are concerned to know if this threatening and bullying behaviour makes students, their parents, and the wider Bradford community proud of the institution at the heart of the city and its vibrant business, commercial and creative industries. We are certainly disheartened, and beyond shocked. As your colleagues, as your neighbours (quite literally in many cases), we believe most firmly that an attack on one is an attack on all of us and we would support a call for grey-listing of the University of Bradford, and call on our union to instigate national strikes in support of colleagues suffering the bullying attitudes of managements which bring such valuable institutions into disrepute. Blinkered and short-sighted managers should recognise that in lighting a injurious flame to scorch the good-will of the people who bring the university its rewards and reputation, they ignite regional and national fires of vexation and solidarity. We request that University management remove the pernicious and vindictive elements of its response to legitimate protest, including the disproportionate 100% pay dock, and enter into discussions with union officials, local, regional and national, to find an effective and collegial way of improving industrial relations, to the benefit of staff and students everywhere.


Mark Taylor-Batty, President, UCU, University of Leeds

Colin Hendrie, Vice-president, UCU, University of Leeds

Jeremy Toner – Treasurer, UCU, University of Leeds

Vicky Blake, Recruitment and Membership secretary, UCU, University of Leeds

Neil Maughan, Health and Safety, UCU, University of Leeds

Lesley McGorrigan, Campaigns Secretary, UCU, University of Leeds

Ann Blair, Past president, UCU, University of Leeds

Stephen French, committee member, UCU, University of Leeds

Elwyn Isaac, committee member, UCU, University of Leeds

Ben Plumton, committee member, UCU, University of Leeds

Stephen Lax, committee member, UCU, University of Leeds

Brendon Nicholls, committee member, UCU, University of Leeds

Malcolm Povey, committee member, UCU, University of Leeds

Paul Steenson, committee member, UCU, University of Leeds

Mark Walkley, committee member, UCU, University of Leeds

Andrew West, committee member, UCU, University of Leeds

Keith Butler – President, UCU, University of Hull

Linda Clements – Vice President and Pensions Officer, UCU, University of Hull

Paul Chin – Vice President, UCU, University of Hull

Helen MacCarthy – Branch Secretary, UCU, University of Hull

Mike Lammiman – Membership Secretary and Campaigns Officer, UCU, University of Hull

John Warden – Anti-Casualisation Officer, UCU, University of Hull

Jean Kellie – committee Member, UCU, University of Hull

David Pennie – committee Member, UCU, University of Hull

Geoffrey Wall – President, UCU, University of York

Joanna De Groot – Vice-President, UCU, University of York

James Cussens – Honorary Secretary, UCU, University of York

Jon Fanning – Treasurer, UCU, University of York

Stephen Minta – ordinary member, UCU, University of York

Chris Copland – ordinary member, UCU, University of York

Kevin McManus – ordinary member, UCU, University of York

Robin Jervis – ordinary member, UCU, University of York

Craig Brandist – President, UCU, University of Sheffield

Pablo Stern – Treasurer,  UCU, University of Sheffield

Gillian Brown – committee member, UCU, University of Sheffield

Boycott FAQs

November 10, 2014

Read the Boycott FAQs here

Students support academic boycott

November 6, 2014

The following letter appears in The Independent (scroll to bottom of linked page)

Students support academic boycott

From today, academic staff at 69 UK higher education institutions are set to begin a marking boycott; the next step in ongoing industrial action by the University and College Union. The proposed changes to pensions that have led to this action will cost university staff thousands of pounds a year in lost benefits and create inequality between institutions.

Since 2009, average academic pay has fallen by 14.5 per cent, while vice-chancellor salaries increased by 5.1 per cent in the past year alone. The average gender pay gap in higher education is 17 per cent, and 53 per cent of universities employ staff on zero-hours contracts.

Students are angry that this boycott is happening. But our anger is aimed squarely at university managements and Universities UK, who oversee lucrative salary increases for vice-chancellors while leaving staff out in the cold.

Any draconian response from universities – such as the legally dubious threat of withdrawing the full salary for those partaking in a boycott – will be met with discontent from students and staff, who are united  on this issue.

Piers Telemacque
Vice President Society and Citizenship, NUS UK

Gordon Maloney
President, NUS Scotland

Malia Bouattia
National Black Students’ Officer, NUS UK

Shelly Asquith
President, SU Arts

Michael Segalov
Communications Officer, University of Sussex Students’ Union

Areeb Ullah
Vice President Education (Arts & Sciences) Kings College London Students’ Union

Susuana Antubam
National Women’s Officer, NUS UK

Fran Cowling
NUS LGBT National Officer

Harriet Pugh
Education Officer, University of Manchester Students’ Union

Bruce Galliver
President, Bath Spa Students’ Union

Lyndsay Burtonshaw
Activities Officer, University of Sussex Students’ Union

Yael Shafritz
President, University of Sheffield Students’ Union

Rosie Dammers
Wellbeing Officer, Manchester Students Union

Luke Jones
Group President, University of Wales Trinity Saint David Students’ Union

Joe O’Neill
Lancaster University Students’ Union, Vice President (Education)

Alice Phillips
Equality, Liberation & Access Officer, University of Bristol Students’ Union

Tom Phipps
Student Living Officer, University of Bristol Students’ Union

Alyx Murray-Jackman
Sport & Student Development Officer, University of Bristol Students’ Union

Holly Staynor
Welfare Officer, Union of UEA Students

Alex Bradbrook
Undergraduate Academic Experience Officer, University of Bristol Students’ Union

Sidonie Bertrand-Shelton
Co-President, Welfare & Diversity, Royal Holloway Students’ Union

Emma Peagam
President Education & Campaigns, Royal Holloway Students’ Union

Hannah Roberts
Education Officer, SUArts

Conor McGurran
Campaigns and Citizenship Officer, University of Manchester Students’ Union

Abraham Baldry
Presient, University of Sussex Students’ Union

Candic Armah
President, Brighton University Students’ Union

Howard Littler
President, Goldsmiths Students’ Union

Mostafa Rajaai
Culture and Diversity Officer, SUArts

Chris Jarvis
Union of UEA Students Campaigns and Democracy Officer

Rianna Gargiulo
Welfare Officer, University of Sussex Students’ Union

Bethan Hunt
Education Officer, University of Sussex Students’ Union

Dash Sekhar
Vice President Academic Affairs, Edinburgh University Students’ Association 

Malaka Mohammed
Education Officer, University of Sheffield Students’ Union

Sebastian Bruhn
Community & Welfare Officer, LSE Students’ Union

Dario Celaschi
NUS London Trans* Officer & NUS NEC

Rianne Gordon
University of Westminster Students’ Union Vice President of Harrow

Sorana Vieru
Postgraduate Officer (Education & Welfare), University of Bristol Students’ Union

Emma Cook, President
Leeds College of Art Students’ Union

Dan Goss
Environment & Ethics Officer, University of Warwick Students’ Union

Alasdair Clark
Vice President Education and Representation, Fife College Students’ Association

Hannah Sketchley
Democracy & Communications Officer, UCL Students’ Union

Georgie Robertson
SOAS Students’ Union Co-President Welfare & Campaigns

Sayed Alkadiri
NUS London Black Students Officer

Hajera Begum
Black and Minority Ethnic Students Officer, UCL Students’ Union

Omar Raii
External Affairs & Campaigns Officer, UCL Students’ Union

Saffron Rose
Vice President Education at Leeds Beckett University Students’ Union

Rob Henthorn
President for Education, Aberdeen University Students’ Association

Annie Tidbury
Women’s Officer, UCL Students’ Union

Marianna Ceccotti
Postgraduate Student’s Officer, UCL Students’ Union

David Suber
SOAS Students’ Union Co-President, Democracy & Education

Rachel O’Brien
Community Action Officer, University of Birmingham Guild of Students

Christopher Jarrold
Ethical and Environmental Officer, University of Birmingham Guild of Students

Tom King
LGBTQ Officer, SOAS Students’ Union

Dan Greenberg
Operations Officer, University of Sussex Students’ Union

Kabir Joshi
SOAS Students’ Union Co-President, Activities & Events

Professionalism and difficult decisions: the boycott of assessment

November 4, 2014

As we are about to embark on an indefinite period of Action Short of a Strike, involving a boycott of assessment, we need to ready ourselves for some unjust criticism that is parked and ready to be mobilised against us.

There will also be some reasonable and challenging questions, not least from our students, and we have an obligation to address these openly and professionally. But in this blog posting, we want to address the issue of such dignified professionalism, because one of the easiest and cheapest, unthinking assaults on our boycott will be the accusation that it conflicts with our professionalism. Let’s address that from the outset.

As Academic and Academic-Related staff, we are the ones who develop close professional relationships with our students. We introduce them to a scholarly community, we support them, we foster their development, we facilitate their learning and give them platforms to discover who they are as people, as intellectuals and as practitioners in a range of career trajectories, and to meet their highest ambitions and objectives. We often maintain close contact with many, become friends even. University management, for the most part, are not involved in this experience on a day-to-day basis. Theirs is a world of bottom-lines and streamlined procedures, in which students often factor as an income stream, a ‘customer base’, a set of performance metrics.

We don’t recall seeing any University managers on the streets of London protesting the introduction of some of the highest public HE fees in the world. But we were there, we protested, we were kettled, we argued the cause, we fought for generations of students we were yet to meet.

IMG_0747.JPGSo now, we have some difficult decisions to make. Some more difficult than others, as some assessment tasks will be much more recoverable than others. They will argue that to risk interruption to student progression is unprofessional. Let’s talk about professionalism and difficult decisions, but first, let’s remember the real order of things.

The University is ‘contracted’ to offer the student the education experience she or he is paying the university a high premium for. In order to deliver that experience, the institution employs us, and remunerates us for applying our labour. If they downgrade that remuneration, or deteriorate our conditions of employment, we have a legal and moral right to withdraw our labour, partially or wholly, in protest at that behaviour. That protest is a symptom of our professional regard for our work. That leaves still the contract between the University and the student – the student’s complaint is with the institution for causing those circumstances. Is it professional to cause a problem and unprofessional to protest it?

We often hear of how competent a senior manager is because she or he has demonstrated an ability to make ‘difficult decisions’. Making people redundant it such a ‘difficult decision’; failing to properly respond to bullying in order not to undermine your managers is such another ‘difficult decision’; inflating your expenses on your balance sheet in order to justify an economies exercise and lose hundreds of staff as a consequence is another such ‘difficult decision’; deciding to approve a radical package of pensions benefits changes that will impact on tens of thousands of families and doing so without any care to consult with or communicate that decision to those people is yet another ‘difficult decision’. We are told to admire the ability to steer an institution through such ‘difficult decisions’, that this is a sign of true professionalism. Such people should be hired, given bonuses, we should aspire to be more like them.

And yet, when it comes to our difficult decisions, decisions that will have far less damaging impact on individuals and families, we will be told that we are being unprofessional.

Hold steady, hold firm. You have the right to do this. It is right to do this. It is professional to care about your colleagues, about future colleagues, about the future of Higher Education and the people who will staff it and, ultimately, the students who will benefit from it. Your participation in the democratic, collectivist community that is your union is a symptom of your professionalism. We have the right to protect our futures and our families’ futures and this boycott is the only measure we have at our disposal that will have the impact needed to re-align our fortunes away from the damage that has been decided that we should tolerate. In doing so with dignity and with resolve, you are being utterly professional.

This is a national debate

November 3, 2014

Bury_your_head_in_the_sandSenior managers at Leeds and elsewhere have agreed a mantra to trot out on the current USS dispute. “This is a national issue and we should wait and see what results from negotiations.”

It’s a simple ruse, but not a particularly impressive one. It seems to suggest our university has no agency to influence the discussions and negotiations. They wash their hands of them, as though if blood gets spilled, they have nothing to do with it.

But it simply isn’t true. We’ve seen our University pension officer’s response on behalf of our University to the UUK proposals: fewer than 200 words and a shrugged non-committal “support the general direction” gesture that seems to indicate that either our leaders haven’t bothered reading the detail, or don’t care to. They know they will be advantaged by the outcome even if they don’t get involved in discussing the detail. There has been no working party set up here, like at The University of Oxford. No arrangement to discuss the details in Senate, as elsewhere. Just let it happen.

But it is clearly not true that Universities cannot influence the direction of UUK and the EPF here. The University of Oxford criticised the misleading illustrations of the impact of the proposals, and The University of Warwick made plain that they were concerned about the impact on recruitment of wealthy universities having a poorer pension scheme than the less wealthy universities. Oxford also expresses a concern that the employers contributions are not going up enough and that, in their case, it is likely there will be a net decrease in employer pension contributions. Showing some leadership in this matter, they say that this ‘is neither desirable nor politically possible, and we would like to explore ways in which we can keep our overall institutional contribution steady and preserve better benefits for our own members, and pay our fair share towards reducing the deficit’.

The University of Cambridge has recently entered the fray stating that it is concerned that the calculations of the deficit may have used assumptions that are ‘overly prudent’. The words are well chosen; last year, the Pensions Regulator warned against ‘overly prudent’ assumptions. We might read the application of the most pessimistic calculations of liabilities against the most optimistic calculation of wage increases to be an example of this. Cambridge also express a belief that de-risking should be applied more slowly and be carefully monitored. The University of Essex has also recently added its voice, arguing that the proposals go too far too quickly.

Why does the University of Leeds feel it can’t have a voice in these important matters? Why did our University make no detailed mention of any aspect of the proposals in its response to UUK?

When we asked senior managers at Leeds directly if they agreed with us that our staff should have illustrations that give a clear indication of what the impact of the proposals would be, by including standard career paths and promotion, we got no reply. When we point out that there is a real concern about the impact on recruitment of downgrading the pension, we get no response. When we ask why the University is supporting a policy of de-risking that squeezes the gap between the asset base of the scheme and its liabilities we get responses about the magic alchemy that actuaries do and that mere mortals are not worthy of even trying to understand. When we point out that the mortality assumptions seem actually to be the same as 2011, not increased, they shrug the point off. When we point out that USS investments have grown faster than the FTSE, and have beaten their own set targets since the last deficit, they change the subject.  They point to the increase in their employer contributions from 16% to 18% but conveniently ignore the fact that the proposals are to reduce their contributions over the £50k threshold to 12%. The overall increase in contributions, therefore, is likely not to go much over 17%. They argue that they need to factor in NI contributions, perhaps forgetting that they now pay pensions through salary sacrifice. In other words, other leading Universities seem very much in word and deed to have taken this matter seriously. Here at Leeds, it is smoke and mirrors.

We would like to see real discussion and debate at the University of Leeds, and would like to see the University establish a working party to look properly at the details of the proposals, the historical tendencies that put us where we are, and the consequences of the investments strategy and the relationship between the construction of the ‘recovery plan’ and the Pensions Regulator’s guidelines.

You can download the Cambridge response to the UUK proposals here: usscambridgeuuk
You can download the Oxford response to the UUK proposals here: ussoxforduuk
You can download the Warwick response to the UUK proposals here: usswarwickuuk

You can download the Leeds response to the UUK proposals here: ussleedsuuk