Pay matters - support the action

We begin this academic year still in dispute with the employers over the derisory pay offer of 1.1%. The fight is NOT over.

Many of you will still be working to contract (we hope) and certainly not more than 48 hours per week. We have managed to encourage many external examiners to give up or not take on posts across the country, which has been quite effective.

Now it is time to consider next steps in the dispute. The HEC is not giving up – no matter what you read that says this: it is absolutely not true.

UCU HEC met recently and confirmed the view that the offer is too low. A blog I read also supports this, and the iniquity of choosing a different measure for employers to raise tuition fees to that used for calculating our miserly pay rise offer: double standards rule.

UK universities employer calls for higher RPI for me and lower CPI for thee! In defence of its offer of a 1.1% inflationary pay increase, our employer rejects RPI as a statistically unsound measure of inflation (for reasons along the lines I mention here) and presses for benchmarks against other measures of inflation which have shown more modest increases.

But in its defence of an increase in tuition fees from £9,000 to £9,250, our employer claims that this is justified on grounds that it “is limited strictly to an inflationary rise of 2.8% in 2017–18”, thereby “maintaining the income that universities receive in real terms”. Astonishingly, however, here our employer endorses an RPI-based measure of inflation, even though this measure (RPIX) employs the very methodology that they reject as statistically unsound in pay negotiations!

If an RPI-based hike in tuition fees is needed to maintain income in real terms, then so is an RPI-based increase in pay. The figure of 2.8% was based upon an Office for Budgetary Responsibility forecast for RPIX in 2017–18. RPI and RPIX (=RPI minus mortgage costs) are currently running at 2.0% and 2.2% respectively, whereas CPI and CPIH (=CPI plus housing costs) are currently running at 1.0% and 1.2% respectively. Our employer is therefore offering us an increase in pay along lines of CPI. If they are unwilling to increase this offer to RPI, on grounds that RPI is a flawed measure of inflation, they will be hypocrites if they do not decrease the 2017–18 increase in tuition fees to the OBR’s forecast of a 1.7% rise in CPI for that period. The union should argue that our employer can’t have it both ways: not RPI for me and CPI for thee.

(Thanks to Michael Otsuka for the above from his blog post at


There has also been commentary on the HEC decision to ‘pause and consult’ members:

It would be easy but mistaken to see the decision taken by HEC on 14 October to pause industrial action on the 2016 pay offer while conducting an indicative ballot of HE members as a retreat. Looking at the achievements and difficulties of our pay dispute, and at the political and economic situation in which we have to go forward, HEC has chosen to move to decisions about next steps which will be informed by the judgement of the people who will actually have to implement them about what will achieve the most for us all.

Making tough choices We are proud of what members have already put into the dispute, and confident that they will give serious and intelligent consideration to the risks and possibilities of seriously sustained industrial action this autumn. There is wide agreement that we have had an unsatisfactory offer from the employers, and that there is considerable appetite for continued campaigning on the gender pay gap and on casualisation issues, but real uncertainty as to whether industrial action at this particular moment will produce positive results.

Working together As experienced activists we all understand that industrial action is a means to achieve change, not an end in itself, and that we owe it to ourselves to assess its possible dangers as well as its possible opportunities. Successful action is based on strong support and participation, and on confidence that there are reasonable prospects for the action. Since ‘the union’ is no more or less than all of us, it makes sense to involve all of us in building that support and confidence

Fighting smart and fighting strong In taking the decision to hold a consultative ballot HEC is working constructively with members by asking them to make an informed judgement about how best we can all work together to make progress in very difficult circumstances. We are not retreating, but strengthening the trust, good sense, and ability to deal with tough situations, on which the effectiveness of union campaigns always depends.

(Thanks to Douglas Chalmers, President of UCU Scotland at )


As a branch chair, HEC/NEC elected member and national HE pay negotiator, I have the chance to help your voice to be heard in UCU decision making, but only if you let me know what you want as a branch member of UCU (through your local rep). You also have the chance to vote in an electronic ballot coming very soon. Please use it.

Once the ballot results are clear, HEC will meet again to determine what the next steps in this industrial dispute will be. You will then be asked (probably) to take further action in solidarity with all members.

Our branch officers have some really good ideas and enthusiasm for action. I am sure you will enjoy joining in.

Julia Charlton



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