University of Leeds UNISON Staff Strike Alongside UCU
University of Leeds staff who are members of UNISON are planning industrial action alongside the well documented UCU strikes.
Confirmed striking days include Monday February 28th, Tuesday 1st March and Wednesday 2nd March with picket lines placed at all University pedestrian entrances but are mainly focused on the Parkinson steps.
Speaking to UNISON branch representative, Nick Allen, highlighted to The Gryphon the significance of the strikes for the local branch.
UNISON is dedicating its priority mandate to the below-inflation pay rise staff received this year, marking 12 years of such at the University of Leeds.
Nick notes “we have fallen behind where we were, relative to inflation by around 17% in the last 10 years. It is not a 1.5% “rise”, as it currently stands it is at least a 6% fall, in the last year alone.
Some of the staff that students see daily around campus are really struggling to make ends meet.”
This blanket, 1.5% pay rise was imposed upon by Universities UK (UUK), a national negotiating body, of which Leeds (a substantial member of The Russell Group) plays an influential role in.
Nick states that the University could implement change on the not agreed upon settlement by “applying pressure on their colleagues on UUK to rethink their pay policy, negotiating an uplift in the settlement currently standing at 1.5% of original pay.”
Another feasible way the University could help buffer the impact of this year, a particularly harsh one for an average employee with an expected 54% rise in energy costs and an increased inflation of 7.5% in living costs, is to provide “a one-off payment to all staff.”
Nick goes on to mention that this request is reasonable given the “substantial savings that have been made by the reduced cost of running the estate over the last two years and a government coverage of 80% of some staff wages during lockdown.”
Despite this, costs have mounted for staff members who have worked from home without supplementation from the University for financial addons in “heating, lighting and internet, which the University has repeatedly refused to reimburse.”
Striking alongside the UCU on each day of its planned action, UNISON supports the mandates of UCU, however they differ on the issues they wish to prioritise to best suit their members interests.
On the subject of USS Pension Schemes that shifted dramatically in 2018, “[UNISON] do not have negotiating rights for the USS Pension Scheme and although we have some members in the scheme, so we must defer to UCU thoughts/answers on the question of USS pension scheme development, except to say that we support UCU’s stance that there are serious questions to be asked about the assumptions and valuations attached to the scheme.”
On the possible disruption and impact of students on and off campus, Nick stated “whilst there may be some disruption, the decision to strike is not a step that we take lightly but when management has pushed you to such a parlous financial position and have not listened for 10 years, then this is the only option that remains available to us.”
During industrial action it can be common for students to feel cut adrift from the action, but there are effective ways for students to pledge support to the union movement.
Nick suggests, “Visit picket lines, talk to staff and find out what life is like working in a University; join in the Student Day of Action on March 2nd; discuss the matters both unions are raising with their fellow students”.
He added, “I’m sure students don’t pay their fees, comfortable in the knowledge that universities hold down wages, such that some Higher Education staff need to use food banks, some are claiming benefits while working, some have to choose between heating and eating, many are suffering mental health issues because of the difficulties they are facing.”
Given the reactions of the University of Leeds previously to industrial action, UNISON are still hopeful that this year, plans will be set in place to make crucial changes to the payment of employees.
“We are always hopeful that the University wishes to be able to demonstrate concrete progress on its pledge of “Fairer Futures For All” and that it is not just a nice-sounding slogan.”
A University spokesperson said: “Whilst the University cannot support the industrial action, which is a result of a national and not a local dispute, we know that our colleagues are uniformly committed to our students’ education and experience, and do not enter into any such action lightly.
“Commitments to improve some of the issues at the heart of this dispute are already firmly part of our strategic plans, as demonstrated by our Fairer Future For All pledges. We are continuing to engage with our staff on these pledges.
“Our priorities throughout this time are to protect the interests of students, including minimising any disruption to them; retain the cohesion of our community; and protect the standard of Leeds degrees.
“More information for students about industrial action and what the University is doing to address the issues raised by the unions on our student FAQs page.”