University of Birmingham's Aston Webb Great Hall

Avoiding strike action – a letter to the Vice Chancellor

The following was sent to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Birmingham on 1 October 2021:

Dear Professor Sir David Eastwood,

We are writing on behalf of all academic and related staff at the University of Birmingham regarding the potential for strike action this term.

As you know, UCU has now opted to consider a ballot for strike action following the intransigence that has been shown by the University employers regarding pensions, pay, equalities, workload, and the casualisation of staff.

Any potential strike action would clearly have a detrimental impact upon the operation of the University, including both staff and students.

We write to urge that you use your role as the Vice Chancellor of the University of Birmingham to avoid widespread sector and institutional disruption this autumn. The University of Birmingham is a large and important institution and it could easily use its influence within both UUK and UCEA to encourage both institutions to return to the negotiating table urgently and make acceptable offers.

UCU negotiators are on standby and ready to start talking so that any disruptive strike action could be avoided. All that is needed is a more reasonable approach by the University employers.


On pensions

The UUK proposals will mean a typical lecturer aged 37 would lose 35% of their guaranteed pension when they retire.

It’s clear to UCU that something is fundamentally wrong with the way USS is governed and that significant change is needed.

The Joint Expert Panel reports have been effectively ignored by USS.

University staff are appalled that these changes are being justified by the valuation of 31 March 2020, when the value of the pension scheme’s assets were crashing due to the impact of the global pandemic.

Any reasonable approach would be based on a more recent valuation from 2021.


On pay, equalities, workload, and casualisation of staff

The gender pay gap in higher education means the gender gap remains at around 15%, far greater than in the wider economy and the rest of the public sector.

The employers have made no attempt to address widespread precarious and casual employment within the sector in the form of a UK level agreement.

In our most recent survey of members on the matter, workload was the issue that staff most sought strike action over, as workload has been a massive problem for staff across the campus. Workload models were never agreed with staff at the University of Birmingham throughout the pandemic and in the Colleges of MDS, EPS, and LES workload tariffs have still not been made available to us despite our requesting this information in our formal negotiating meetings on several occasions. 

We note – and entirely endorse – that one of the claims in the national negotiations are for an agreed UK level action plan by which higher education institutions agree workload models with their local trade unions, and that these workload models should be based on the actual hours required to do the job. 

Since 2009, the cumulative loss to pay (compared to rises in RPI) is 17.6%. Last year’s pay “rise” was 0% and this year the offer is 1.5%. Inflation is currently running at 3% and all predictions are that it will rise further before the end of the year, meaning that this year again the offer is for a real terms pay cut.

This constant depletion of pay and working conditions is not good for the University and can only be guaranteed to have a detrimental impact upon the teaching and research of the institution.

We cannot help but note that the University of Birmingham made a £68 million profit (surplus) in its most recently published accounts; and has net assets of £1.2 billion.

On behalf of all academic and related staff at the University of Birmingham we urge you to do more to end this dispute and avoid any potential strike action and the disruptive impact that it is likely to have on the University’s students, staff and the teaching and research of our institution.

Regards,

David Bailey

Branch president

on behalf of the University of Birmingham branch of UCU

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