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Industrial Action

Written by
Anna Tsekouras
Published date
20 February 2020

Pay for university staff is negotiated on a UK-wide level between the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), which is the body which represents 174 universities nationally, including UAL, and UCU, the trades union for academic staff.

The UAL branch of UCU has voted to join ongoing industrial action regarding the 2019/20 pay claim, which will include a series of strikes over four weeks beginning on Thursday 20 February.

What is UAL’s position on the concerns being raised by UCU?

We understand that as well as the pay claim, which UAL implemented in August 2019 and which constituted an above inflation uplift to salaries, UCU at a national level has raised concerns about contractual arrangements, workload and mental health as well as gender and ethnicity pay gaps.

UAL does not accept the claims that the UAL branch of UCU has made regarding these issues, and have written to them directly to tell them that. It was always UAL’s preference to keep a dialogue directly with the UAL branch of UCU, however given the serious and inaccurate nature of claims being circulated to staff, students and on social media, we feel it necessary to correct them publicly:

  • Nearly 20% real terms pay cuts since 2009.”

This is not true. The 2019/20 pay award of 1.8% exceeded inflation (1.7% CPI) and those on the lower salary scale points received increases of up to 3.65%.

Pay awards from 2010 onwards have ranged from 0.4% to 2.5% with pay growth in HE exceeding CPI, the public and private sector.  The median earnings of HE teaching professionals are also significantly higher than that of school teachers and FE teaching staff.

CPI has been the official government measure of inflation during the period to which the Union refers, therefore staff have received a real-terms pay rise against official measures.

The HE trade unions have based their real-terms calculation on the Retail Prices Index which is no longer a National Statistic and has been found to overestimate inflation. It is surprising that UCU would choose to use an indicator that has been so widely discredited and which is currently the subject of consultation focused on how it will be phased out.

  • “Unsafe workloads. Staff are being asked to work harder and longer than ever before. This impacts on mental and physical health and our ability to support our students in the way we want to.”

This is a very serious allegation. UAL takes staff workloads very seriously and we invest significantly in ensuring we support staff mental and physical health and wellbeing. We have Mental Health First Aiders, an Employee Assistance Programme and Occupational Health Service that we draw on, and have offered staff workshops on wellbeing which has been well received. We are looking to provide further remission to course leaders.

We have already taken measures to address workload concerns, for example by strengthening course teams and by employing more academics through the Academic Development Fund. Line managers also monitor and manage staff workload through 1:1 and PRA discussions.  We welcome discussions with the UCU to see how we can collectively address any concerns staff have in this area.

  • “The gender and ethnicity pay gap. The universities’ own analysis highlights that women and black and minority ethnic staff experience significant pay discrimination. At UAL it is BAME staff who are suffering this worst.”

UAL’s mean gender pay gap is low. As at March 2018 it was 7.2%; this is the 9th lowest within the UK in HEIs. Therefore, we have one of the smallest pay gaps in the sector.

In terms of the ethnicity pay gap, we have not yet undertaken any work in this area but recognise that this is likely to be an issue across the sector. We are committed to addressing this through the Race Equality Charter work UAL is undertaking.

  • “Precarious employment practices. More than 2000 of our lecturers at UAL are on insecure contracts and living with high levels of uncertainty from year to year.”

This is another serious allegation. UAL does not use zero hours contracts. Our Associate Lecturers and Visiting Practitioners make an important contribution across UAL and are highly valued. Our Deans, Programme Directors and Course Leaders consider it important to employ a specialist practitioner workforce, which keeps us at the cutting edge of academic skills and contributes significantly to the student experience.

UAL has in place a Security of Employment Agreement negotiated and agreed with UCU, to provide protection for this group of staff.  As part of this Agreement, staff can be considered for permanent status after four years’ service. As part of our work, we are looking at course team resilience. We are asking Colleges to see how they can convert HPL hours into more substantive posts.

How will UAL manage the impact of the industrial action?

UAL is committed to minimising disruption during this period, and will be working closely with staff across the Colleges to establish contingency plans to mitigate against the impact of this action on students and staff. We believe the call for industrial action is premature and the potential impact on the experience of our students cannot be underestimated.