As announced by UCU this week, nationally we failed to reach the 50% turnout threshold in the pay and equality ballot. The turnout nationally was 41%, which was significantly higher than the previous nationally aggregated pay ballot in 2016, which achieved a 35% turnout, but slightly behind the 42% turnout in the disaggregated ballot in the Autumn term (where every branch was balloted individually). 70% of the 26,000 who voted were in favour of strike action, and 80.5% were in favour of action short of strike action.
Based on our ballot in the Autumn term we believe that both our turnout and our yes vote at the University of Birmingham were significantly higher than the national average. Unfortunately, we do not have access to the specific figures for our branch for this latest ballot.
What this means for our branch
As a committee we made good progress with our GTVO plan. We door knocked and leafleted approximately 80% of our entire membership, and for the first time ran phone banking sessions to reach the remainder of our members and to follow-up with those who had not yet voted after the initial contact. In total we reached out to approximately 95% of our members with either a personal contact, leaflet, or voicemail message. We also put up ballot posters in every large building and made significant progress with our raw membership data thanks to the hard work of our membership officers.
So despite the disappointing result nationally we are in a better position than ever before locally to mobilise for any future dispute. This is crucially important as we go into next year’s pay negotiations, in which we anticipate congress will roll forward the 2018 dispute into the 2019 claim. It is also crucially important as we continue to push the University on equality and the gender pay gap; casualisation and fixed term contracts; workload; and other issues such as the new campus in Dubai and monitoring of non-EU staff.
Once again we give a huge thank you to all those who have helped contribute to the branch during the ballot by spreading the word, knocking doors, and calling contacts.
What happens next?
The union nationally now need to take stock and consider these results very carefully. There is growing discontent at over a perceived lack of commitment from employers, including our own University of Birmingham, to implement the JEP recommendations for the USS pensions scheme, with contribution rises imminent. Abuse of casual contracts continues to grow, and the gender, ethnicity, and other equality issues remain huge concerns. Furthermore, the core 2% pay offer from employers only exacerbates overall pay inequality as pay continues to fall behind inflation for the majority, while VCs and senior management t the top continue to lavish themselves with generous pay awards. In addressing the complex issues across the sector the union will nonetheless need a clear strategy that has the full support and engagement of the majority of our members.
To this end we will be electing delegates to the national UCU congress in May to discuss the next steps for our union and have already submitted one motion on pay. In our motion, passed at our GMM on the 21.02.2019, we recommend that the rest of the sector adopt our approach to a systematic local claim on pay and pay related issues (see the joint unions report), and that any future ballots be done on a disaggregated basis so as to maximize our turnout nationally while preserving local leverage on pay related issues.
Strike action is always a very last resort. Unfortunately, for employers, the threat of strike action has to be real for them to meaningfully engage in constructive talks that are clearly for the benefit of staff and students across higher education. It is now unlikely that we will be able to force an improved pay offer or action on pay, equality, casualisation, or workload this academic year, but the union remains the loudest and clearest voice on all of these issues and we remained determined to make a difference.