HESC on Equal pay and USS: Delegates’ report

On 7 November, UCU held an HE Special Sector Conference, with the morning focused on the pay equality dispute, and the afternoon on USS.

If you aren’t sure how UCU democractic structures work, you may find it useful to read Rachel Cohen’s (City University) piece in USS briefs before reading on.

Pay and Equalities

There were 9 motions considered in the morning session, but the majority of the time was devoted to thoughtful and intense debate over motions 1, 2, 3, and 5, and a how best to move forward with the pay and equalities dispute.

The results of our Autumn ballot on pay showed incredible support for industrial action, with a national aggregate of 68.9% YES votes for strike action. Even more importantly, the percentage of members voting for strike action were consistently high across the sector. It isn’t just a few branches that wish to strike against casualisation, unsustainable workloads, and pay inequalities, it’s nearly every one of the 147 branches that were balloted.

Given this, the great majority of the delegates agreed that, without the unreasonable 50% turnout required by anti-trade union law, we would likely be on strike right now, and that therefore we must reballot on pay. Casualisation, workload, gender inequality, and generational inequality in pay are issues that are impact every single one of us.

The main debate centered around the form this reballot should take. Sheffield delegates argued on behalf of Motion 5 (passed at our EGM on the 29th of October), which calls for an aggregated re-ballot, because we believe this gives UCU the absolute best chance of beating the 50% threshold in this dispute. 8 out of 147 HE branches surpassed the threshold, but we achieved an aggregate turnout of 42%. We believe that it is better to work collectively to turn out votes from an additional 8% members in one national campaign than to conduct separate campaigns at 139 separate institutions with differing levels of resources and local activism. It is crucial to prioritise national bargaining on pay equality to support our national pay bargaining machinery. It is crucial to take collective industrial action, rather than leaving behind branches who do not make the cutoff.

As a result of this discussion, motion 5 was passed by the HESC, and in early Spring 2019, UCU will be conducting a national aggregated re-ballot on this dispute.

Important motions were also passed calling for UCU to push back against anti-trade union law (Motion 4), to coordinate with other trade unions to develop multi-year pay and equality claims (Motion 6), and to expand the National Dispute Committee to include the pay and equality dispute (Motion 8): see the full set of decisions here.


The afternoon session switched focus to USS, and started with a notable address from the Chair of the National Dispute Committee, making it clear that while things have progressed a long way there are many aspects that are far from certain and will require our attention.

The main session consisted of healthy debate over substantial motions setting out the potential path of the dispute over the next few months. Sheffield’s motion (Motion 13) calling for the 2017 valuation to be abandoned, and for negotiations to continue based on March 2018 data was passed (and USS have now announced a 2018 valuation, although still plan to push through their 2017 cost-sharing as well).

Elsewhere, it was clear that conference would have no patience with any moves to water-down the JEP proposals (Motion 1), and that employers should pay for any cost increases resulting from this dispute (Motion E1). Motions setting out the stall for a JEP Phase 2 to start as soon as possible, and another reiterating the call for the resignation of USS’s Chief Executive, also passed. There was also time to address the issue of USS’s poor ethical record with a motion which passed unanimously (Motion 17).

Though the conference was well attended, it did fall just short of a quorum, arguably due to rules on quoracy which did not adequately reflect the absence of post-92 delegates. The motions passed do not immediately become union policy, and instead are advisory on the Higher Education Committee. We very much hope, and have every right to expect, that the HEC respects the view of the conference in forming its position.

Jo Grady
Sam Marsh
Robyn Orfitelli
Mark Pendleton

HESC delegates November 2018