Email to students 5 February 2020
This is an important message about industrial action and I would urge you to read it carefully.
The University and College Union (UCU) has announced 14 days of strike action to take place over a period of four weeks starting 20 February.
Like many other universities, the University of York saw majorities for industrial action late last year on two separate issues: USS pensions; and pay and conditions. In the last weeks there have been constructive discussions between employers and UCU on both issues, with considerable progress made.
With that progress being made it is extremely disappointing that we now face the prospect of further industrial action.
On the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions dispute, the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) set up by Universities UK (UUK) and the UCU published its second report in December. The JEP report highlights a number of important recommendations that have underpinned the subsequent tripartite discussions that have taken place between UUK, UCU and USS and which have been facilitated by Joanne Segars, the Chair of the JEP. Reports from these meetings have been very positive and a decision has been taken to continue them during February and March.
On the pay and conditions dispute, there has also been considerable progress in productive talks between representatives of the five trade unions representing staff across institutions and representatives of Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA are the employers' body for the pay and conditions dispute). These talks have not focused on pay. Even after UCU re-balloting some institutions, less than half of the 147 institutions covered by the collective pay bargaining have a mandate for industrial action on pay and conditions. However, talks on conditions have led to proposals by UCEA to establish - for the first time - a national framework to address important employment issues in universities including casual staffing, gender and other pay gaps, and workload. I believe that this unprecedented move by UCEA demonstrates a real determination across the sector to address the concerns about employment conditions that have been raised nationally by trades unions.
I am fully committed to getting a resolution to these issues around working conditions not only at sector level, but also in forging ahead with developing our own response and solutions to these issues in York. To help make this happen, colleagues from our trades unions, and from our Human Resources directorate, have already established a joint working group at the University of York to tackle gender pay issues, and have also embarked on discussions to explore how we can work collaboratively to understand, and address, any concerns about casual staffing at York.
Against this background of real progress in discussions on USS pensions following the second JEP report, and real progress nationally and locally on conditions of employment, the call for further industrial action by UCU is regrettable and, I believe, premature. The priority should be further discussion and negotiation, not strikes. I am extremely concerned about the impact this second phase of industrial action will have on the education and wellbeing of our students as well as the broader reputational damage that further strike action will cause the sector.
When I spoke with colleagues on picket lines in December, many urged me to do what I could to influence UUK and UCEA. I have done so at senior level in UUK, UCEA and USS with a view to helping build a basis for the resolution of the disputes. I have urged UCU representatives at York to do the same in UCU nationally.
I will continue to urge all national parties involved to work hard to resolve this dispute and hope local UCU representatives will do the same. I, and the University's Executive Board, will continue to work closely and constructively with the Trade Unions at a local level. We will also be reforming the Academic Contingency Group chaired by John Robinson to prepare as best we can for any forthcoming industrial action in order to mitigate where possible the very negative impact on our students.
We will continue to post updates on our Industrial Action information page.
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