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Home>Industrial action>Staff>Email to staff from VC 3 October 2023

Update from the Vice-Chancellor

Message to staff from the Vice-Chancellor, Charlie Jeffery, 3 October 2023.

Dear colleagues,

I'd like to add some further reflections, on both USS pensions and on pay and conditions, following the joint VC/York UCU update we shared in September about industrial action.

Apologies for the length of this email, but I appreciate that many colleagues have a keen interest in these issues.

Challenges to resolve

As the joint update made clear, we still have very significant challenges to resolve if we are to move to the stable period of industrial relations the sector desperately needs.

Here at York, we have worked through some difficult issues, have had some pretty forthright disagreements, but have also worked through them to build areas of agreement and make progress. We have demonstrated locally what can be done. I am determined to push for that same shared commitment at the national level, and know that colleagues in York UCU are as well.

Let me now set out my own thoughts on where things are nationally, and what might be possible in the coming months.

National negotiations on pay and conditions

On pay and conditions employers and unions remain in dispute about the 2023-24 pay offer (now implemented) of at least 5% and up to 8% for those on the sector's lowest grades.

That dispute on pay reflects different views on what is affordable (something we reflected on in the popular WonkHE piece, which I and the local UCU branch executive co-authored, with well over 100,000 views).

So it is very encouraging that UCEA and all Trade Unions nationally are in discussion about establishing the independently led review of sector finances that we had argued for in WonkHE.

Sustainable approach

I have high hopes for this more evidence-based approach to negotiations about affordability and how we approach pay. This could give us a strong basis to look beyond the annual, short-term and reactive negotiations, and build a sustainable approach to reversing the decline in real wages the sector has seen over the last decade.

Forming a fuller, shared understanding of the financial challenges facing the sector can also pave the way for the sector to come together to make the case to government and opposition on securing a more sustainable funding solution for the sector.

Terms of Reference

It is also encouraging that UCEA and Trade Unions have resumed negotiations around the 'terms of reference' that were drafted earlier this year. These open up scope to reform the sector pay spine which could have important and positive impacts on starting salaries and pay progression.

They also set in prospect the establishment of national frameworks for consideration of short-term and casual contracts, workload pressures, and pay gaps (the other 'fights' pursued by UCU).

I am a supporter of frameworks that will lift current standards sector-wide and am committed both to contributing to any working group set up to develop these frameworks nationally, and to working with our local unions to establish York as an exemplar.

And on other matters we will keep exploring, in dialogue with our local unions, how we can enhance our local conditions of employment. Our most recent changes to our parental leave policies are a good example.

USS Pensions

We are now in a very different position on the USS pension scheme, with lots of recent progress showing the benefits of building shared understanding and action by unions and employers.

We are currently in the middle of one of the periodic valuations of the USS scheme.

With economic circumstances putting the scheme in a stronger position, we now have the clear prospect of restoring benefits to pre-April 2022 levels, at the same time as reducing the contribution rates that both members and employers pay.

In our institutional response to the technical approach of the valuation, we have supported these changes to benefits and contributions, and called for contribution rates to be reduced before the scheduled date of April 2024, so that staff can see this difference in their take-home salary as soon as possible.

We are also encouraging national negotiators for employers and UCU to prioritise joint work to bring more stability to the scheme across valuations. This is critical to give us protection against future changes in economic circumstances.

And we support the way in which all parties - employers, UCU and USS itself - have been pressing the government and the pensions regulator not to impose tighter, over-cautious regulation in future. Again, this joint working shows what is possible where we build a shared understanding of the needs of the sector and its staff.

Encouraging signs

So, we have lots of encouraging signs on both pay and pensions. I think we all need to do all we can to keep constructive conversation going and push it to agreed conclusions - so we can focus all the more on building the conditions for a sustainable future for the sector.

I will be in touch again to reflect on any developments in what I hope will be substantial progress in the national negotiations in the coming weeks.

Best wishes


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If you're a member of staff taking part in industrial action, please contact HR if you have any questions:

Use this email address for any other enquiries: