Ballot for strike action – a response to the VC’s email

It is true that UCU are currently balloting their members over pay, workload, pay gaps etc. This is a national dispute across many universities and UCU are looking to force UCEA, the employers’ organisation back to negotiate a meaningful settlement to address these issues properly. The 1.5% uplift in pay from August 2021, was imposed at the end of the national disputes procedure and falls well short of what’s required to avoid another year of wage increases which fall below inflation i.e. another pay cut.

Whilst this is a national dispute, UCU have chosen to make the ballot a disaggregate one. This is a tactical response to the anti-trade union laws which stipulate that a 50% or higher turnout is required to be able to take strike action legally. By declaring separate disputes, UCU are making sure that they can threaten strike action at some universities, hoping that all branches will breach the 50% threshold, but carefully planning for a situation where some do not. The branches leading the way can then take action whilst other universities re-ballot.

This is the tactic that UNISON has used, after our branch motion and much debate and discussion, and we will continue to do so as long as it’s necessary. For 2020-21, we have a ballot mandate already and for 2021-22, we will start our ballot in December.

For the Vice-Chancellor to suggest that UCU or our union have targeted Brighton specifically is not entirely accurate. It’s a tactic that has arisen as a result of some of the most restrictive anti-trade union legislation in supposedly democratic societies.

No worker wants to take strike action, disrupt students’ education and lose pay, but most thinking workers recognise that it’s necessary to sometimes threaten that if there’s no other option. Forcing yet another year of real terms pay cuts on employees is not the neutral solution to a pay round. This would be a pay rise which matches where we expect the cost of living to go, so around 4% at current estimates, and also addresses pay injustice, imposed over previous years.

The reality is that successive governments have starved higher education of funding and the chaos of the market-based system of student recruitment has left some institutions facing significant financial pressures. University leaders can either condemn workers for sticking up for themselves and demanding an alternative to watching pay fall back every year, or they can demand that the government funds higher education sufficiently, through genuine grants, rather than loading more debt onto students and a whole generation of university leavers.

If the Vice Chancellor wants to opt for making a bid for sufficient funding for universities, we’re happy to support that, but we can’t accept a one-sided explanation of why we should accept further pay cuts, sent out via email to all staff and dressed up as a neutral piece of information, when we’ve been denied the right to use such a facility for many years. An honest approach would suggest that whilst the University of Brighton is under significant financial pressure, we understand why UCU and UNISON members will not tolerate more austerity and in some cases, significant poverty. We’d be happy to provide our side of the argument in an email to all members of staff, expressing disappointment about below inflation offers being imposed and encouraging them to think carefully about accepting worsening pay.

Our ballot over 2021-22 opens in early December and we’re currently hoping that the University will agree to our claim for a bonus for 2020-21, backed up by our live strike mandate.

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