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A reply to Tim Jones’ UoB Briefing on the UCU strike

On Friday 15 November, Professor Tim Jones, Provost and Vice-Principal, sent an inaccurate and misleading all-staff UoB Briefing regarding the forthcoming UCU strike days at the University of Birmingham Here is Birmingham UCU’s response to the points he made.

On the mandate for action

It is disappointing that rather than offer reconciliation or engage with the democratic demands of our members, University management have sought to paint the upcoming strike as the actions of a militant minority. This could not be further from the truth. Both academic and support staff, in UCU and UNISON, have voted this year in record numbers for action due to the continued failure to address our concerns over pay, the USS pension scheme and equality both locally and nationally. In total more than 730 members of staff have voted in favour of strike action across two unions and without action to address our demands, we will be calling on every single member to walk out. Nationally, 60 of the largest HE institutions are set to take action in the biggest ever mandate UCU has held in any dispute.

Reasons for the dispute – pay (including demands on equality, casualisation, and workload)

In his email, Tim Jones claims that ‘UCU has made four explicit demands relating to pay and employment, most of which the University has limited or no influence over’. This is both untrue and misleading. UCU deals with the national negotiators representing HE employers, UCEA, over pay, equality, casualisation, and workloads. As UCEA are a body negotiating on behalf of Universities, UoB management are in fact in a position to push for a fairer pay settlement.

But this aside, Tim Jones forgets that many of the core issues around equality, casualisation, and workloads clearly need local action within any national agreement. Moreover, our ballot was conducted on a disaggregated basis, and we expect engagement with us in local discussions. He also forgets that we are calling for a fair pay settlement and full living wage accreditation locally in solidarity with UNISON, who do negotiate pay locally and who are also taking strike action. His all-staff email appears to forget that we have two pay and equality disputes now running simultaneously and that he has yet to reach an agreement with support staff.

Reasons for the dispute – USS pensions

Tim Jones claims that the challenges facing the USS pension scheme are ‘often misunderstood.’ What he appears to misunderstand himself is that the entire USS pension ‘crisis’ is a manufactured one, created by an exaggerated deficit in the discredited 2017 valuation, overseen by the Chair of the USS Scheme – our very own Vice-Chancellor, David Eastwood. The USS board, led by Eastwood, have ignored expert advice calling for an urgent revaluation, sacked UCU appointee Professor Jane Hutton from the board, and are now being probed by The Pensions Regulator.

We strongly encourage members to read Dr Sam Marsh’s latest analysis of why we need to make a stand to protect our guaranteed pensions in light of employers’ continued attempts to ignore the findings of the Joint Expert Panel, and to make the scheme unaffordable for both members and employers.

We call on Tim Jones and UoB management as a whole to follow the example of Anthony Forster, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Essex, who on Friday publicly spoke out in favour of offering staff a better pension deal. This would be an example of the kind of brave leadership our Vice Chancellor is fond of talking about.

Working with students and strike FAQs

Following Tim Jones’ all-staff email we contacted the Guild of Students officer team who have explicitly said that they did not ‘work in conjunction’ with the University to produce the recently circulated FAQs. We also point to the deep dissatisfaction among the student population over inadequate counselling provision, insufficient hardship funds, extortionate accommodation fees and six months of non-payment / incorrect payment for student Worklink workers and staff via New Core. This comes alongside wider solidarity shown by the NUS and students locally with our calls for a fair settlement. At UoB, students are already self-organising in support of our action, through a local group ‘UoB students supporting the staff strikes’, which we encourage all PhD and student members of UCU to join: https://www.facebook.com/groups/565505877532818/

We have also collaborated with staff and students since our members meeting last week to put together our FAQs sheet (pdf) on the upcoming strikes, and are working on a similar student focused document for release later this week. The FAQs address questions over your rights, the nature of the dispute, action short of strike action, and how you can support our demands over pay, equality, and pensions so that we can ensure we all have a future to look forward to in Higher Education.

Faced with a culture of autocratic and uncaring management overseen by our Vice-Chancellor, both at the University of Birmingham and across the sector, UCU and our colleagues in UNISON have been left little choice but to walk out from 25 November to 4 December. This is not a position we wish to be in, but if there is no movement from employers we are determined that strikes at UoB will be an all-staff walk out.

Yours faithfully,

Your University of Birmingham UCU Committee

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