UCU 'Four Fights' Ballot

The University and College Union's ‘Four Fights’ refers to four areas of concern put forward by the trade union for employers to consider in protection of working conditions and fair pay. We're continuing to keep you informed and up-to-date on the potential strike action.

In our article last week, we gave you some information about pensions and the proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme. This represents one of the two ballots that the University and College Union (UCU) is asking members to consider.

The other ballot refers to the UCU's 'Four Fights' which are four areas of concern put forward by the trade union for employers to consider in protection of working conditions and fair pay. Specifically, they are:

  • The gender, ethnicity & disability pay gaps
  • Contract casualisation
  • Workload
  • Pay

Pay Gaps

Pay gap analysis considers the difference in average pay within a workforce based on a specific parameter.  

In the UK, organisations of a certain size are required to analyse their gender pay gap and report on it annually - you can read our report for RHSU and other organisations online. There is currently no legal requirement to complete the same exercise in consideration of an ethnicity pay gap, or a disability pay gap.

The UCU is asking members to support industrial action with the aim of addressing the work required to properly monitor, understand and eradicate pay gaps related to gender, ethnicity and disability.

Contract Casualisation

The contract terms of a particular role are set by an employer and agreed by an employee when they accept an employment contract. The UCU believe that high-quality education depends on staff feeling they have secure employment contracts.

In the UK the contract terms in the education sector are varied.

  •  Just under half of universities use zero-hour contracts in some form for teaching staff. A zero-hour contract means the employer does not have to guarantee the employee will have any work and only has to pay them for the work they complete. This is a very flexible employment contract, which has its benefits but also comes without the security of knowing your future monthly earnings.
  • Over half of the research staff in higher education are on fixed-term contracts. A fixed-term contract usually has a set wage, and also has an end date. This means the post holders' continued employment depends on a number of things like securing more funding to continue the same research; finding a grant to undertake new research or finding a new role.

The UCU is asking members to vote to support industrial action with the aim of calling employers to reduce the use of more casual employment contract types.

Workload

The UCU is concerned about the increasing workload and workplace stress of its members. They completed a workload survey in 2016 which found that staff in higher education work on average 50.9 hours per week, while they are contracted on average to work 35 hours per week. Alongside this, at the time 83% of academic staff felt their workload had increased in the previous three years.

They are asking members to vote to support industrial action with the aim of encouraging universities to tackle the issue of increasing workload and hours above contracted levels.

Pay

Universities use a pay scale to define the pay due for each role. Roles go through a career grading exercise to be assigned to the appropriate place (or grade) on the pay scale. Holders of the same role are on the same grade but can be on a number of spine points within that grade. Each grade is a bit like a ladder, with each step of the ladder representing a spine point within it. The pay scale itself has an uplift applied (usually annually) to reflect the increased cost of living due to inflation. This is done through a collective agreement with recognised trade unions such as UCU. However, at times, universities and recognised trade unions are unable to form a collective agreement on pay changes.

The UCU is asking members to vote to support industrial action with the aim of increasing the spine points (these are a bit like salary points on a ladder based on the type of the role) by £2,500 each.

The Ballot

Members will vote in one ballot for these four causes together. This ballot will run alongside the ballot related to proposed changes to the USS pension scheme.