Accessibility statement

Information about potential industrial action

Posted on 8 November 2021

The Vice-Chancellor Charlie Jeffery emailed all students on Thursday 4 November 2021 with information about potential industrial action.

Dear students,

I’m writing to you to let you know about the potential industrial action that could take place in universities across the UK, including York.

Members of one of the national trade unions (University and College Union, known as UCU) have been voting to consider industrial action over issues of pensions, pay and conditions. We have yet to hear the results of this ballot and we expect to know more next week.

Let me be very clear, we want to avoid industrial action. I certainly don’t want you to experience further disruption in what has already been an incredibly challenging time.

I will write to you again when we know more, including when industrial action may take place if it goes ahead. In the meantime, below is an update to help answer any initial questions you may have at this stage.

What does this mean for me?

It might be that industrial action does not go ahead, but we are working hard to prepare for all possible outcomes. I really do understand that the threat of such action will be concerning, but we will do all that we can to minimise any disruption and mitigate any impact on your studies. This applies whether you are here with us in York, studying remotely or enrolled on one of our online programmes.

What plans are you putting in place for my studies?

If industrial action goes ahead, not all staff at York will choose to take part, and the number varies significantly by Department. Staff are not required to tell us in advance if they plan to take part, so it is difficult to assess the potential scale and impact on your individual studies; some students may feel more impact, but others may feel little or none at all.

What is clear is that we are determined to minimise any disruption and we will be working very closely with Departments to put in place additional activities and contingencies where we can. There is nothing you need to do at this stage and, if industrial action goes ahead, we will let you know of any alternative teaching arrangements, or changes to assessments, as soon as possible.

Whatever the outcome, all other University resources and support will remain open and available as normal. This includes student support and wellbeing services and our online resources, and our on-campus catering outlets, shops, the Library and the Sports Village for students here in York.

What is the University doing about the disputes?

There are two separate disputes and two separate ballots for industrial action. One is about pensions and the other is about pay and conditions.

On pensions, the UK-wide university scheme (called USS) faces a huge deficit. Progress has been made in the national negotiations: proposals from the universities’ representatives have averted huge potential increased contributions - from both universities and staff - to the scheme to meet the future costs, though members of the scheme would see a reduction in their future pension benefits. No alternative proposal has been formally tabled by the UCU.

The management of the University of York has no direct involvement in resolving the dispute, because discussions take place at national level between representatives of more than 340 employers, the UCU, and the USS pension scheme trustees. We know how important a good pension scheme is for our staff, which is why we’ve also been putting great pressure on the national parties to build on the common ground we know exists.

On pay and conditions, we work within national-level pay arrangements but we also work locally with our campus trade unions to make progress. We have made significant strides here in York, even during the pandemic. We are now proud to be a real Living Wage Employer and we have worked hard to improve working arrangements for Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTA), including moving from casual contracts; we now have more than 150 GTAs on fixed term contracts, which is well above comparable universities, and this has been really welcomed by our postgraduate students.

Next steps

I do not think industrial action is the answer to these disputes, especially when so many of you have faced such upheaval over the pandemic. UCU’s call for action will not change the USS pension deficit, and a lot of headway has already been made on the pensions issue which we should try to build on. There has also been very constructive progress on pay and conditions.

I, of course, respect the right of colleagues to take part in industrial action, but I will continue to press for a national resolution. I know that everyone, including staff who may feel compelled to take industrial action, will be thinking hard about students’ interests. I have stressed that we need to do all that we can to mitigate any impact for a generation whose education has already been severely disrupted.

I am sorry to have to share this news with you and will be in touch again next week with any updates when we know more.

Best wishes,