Ballot for industrial action

Email sent to all colleagues on Monday 18 October with a copy of the communication being issued to students, 'Ballot for industrial action – your questions answered'.

Dear colleagues,

Today, Monday 18 October, the University and College Union (UCU) has opened a ballot with its members about strike and other industrial action. We’re communicating to students about this and have included a copy of the message to them below. 

This autumn, there will be a statutory, national consultation with all USS pension members, eligible staff and their representatives. This is an opportunity for affected colleagues to have their say on proposed changes to USS. Changes to the scheme will not be settled until that consultation process concludes.  

We’re also planning some information sessions for staff to join and hear from an independent pensions expert about the proposals. These sessions will take place before the UCU ballot closes, so that you can find out more before deciding whether to vote. We’ll publish details of these soon. 

University employers, including Leeds, remain committed to working with the USS Trustee and UCU to explore sustainable solutions to the issues currently faced by the USS pension scheme. They support a review of the scheme’s governance, and they support exploring the possibility of a move towards Conditional Indexing – an option that pegs a part of annual pension provision to the performance of scheme funds. We understand that this is something almost all stakeholders consider a potentially sustainable option for the future. 

Resources to help you understand the proposed scheme changes 

Copy of the message being sent to all students today 

Ballot for industrial action – your questions answered 

Dear students, 

During the next three weeks, some members of staff at the University of Leeds will be voting to decide whether they want to take industrial action over one of the staff pension schemes (USS) and elements of staff pay, terms and conditions.  

The vote (or ballot) is being organised by one of the trade unions representing staff in the higher education sector, the University and College Union (UCU), and opens today (Monday 18 October).  

While it’s possible industrial action may not go ahead, we wanted to answer some key questions now, and reassure you that we’re doing everything we can to reduce any potential impact on you.  

What is industrial action?  

Industrial action can be in the form of a strike (where staff members don’t work at all) or ‘action short of a strike’ (where staff members work, but in a more limited way than usual). Any strike action is likely to be a number of short disruptions; action short of a strike would be continuous. Both are legal. 

Will there be industrial action at the University of Leeds?  

We don’t yet know; it will depend on the outcome of the UCU ballot.   

Just because there is a ballot, it doesn’t necessarily mean there will be a strike or other industrial action.  

There needs to be a ‘mandate’ to take industrial action, secured through a ballot of trade union members. How this works is set out in UK law.   

To achieve a mandate, more than half of eligible union members must vote – in other words, a turnout of more than 50% is needed – and, in addition, 50% or more of those who do vote must vote ‘yes’ to industrial action for it to go ahead.  

Even if there is a mandate for industrial action, it’s down to each member to decide whether they’ll take part, and some may choose not to. Many University staff will be working as normal. 

If there is a strike or other industrial action, when will it be? 

This would be up to UCU, which is expected to make a decision on Monday 8 November.  

Trade unions must provide notice of intended industrial action, so any action is unlikely to start before the second half of November.  

Mandates are valid for six months, so action could start later.  

If there is a strike or other industrial action, how will it affect me?  

If there is a strike or other action, we’ll do everything we can to minimise the impact on your education and experience. As you may know or have seen for yourself, we’ve kept the University open throughout previous strikes, most recently in 2019-20.  

How will I find out if there’s any impact on my course? 

Your school will keep you informed of anything that affects you, via email or through Minerva. You can also keep up to date with general updates by following the University and LUU on social media and checking for any emails we send you. 

What is the University doing to avoid a strike?  

The issues at the heart of the ballot are national issues, affecting many universities. We want to see them resolved as soon as possible, but some of the issues are beyond our control.  

USS pension  

Every UK employer must provide a workplace pension by law, to help employees prepare for their retirement. Every month, a percentage of the employee’s salary is paid into a pension scheme and the employer and the Government make a contribution too. The scheme is managed by an external provider – in the University’s case, the Universities Superannuation Scheme Limited, or USS. 

There are currently concerns about the future of USS pensions relating to the affordability of the current scheme for members and employers – around how much needs to be paid in by employees and how much they will get back when they retire.  

USS is one of the largest pension schemes in the country, with more than 340 institutions enrolled in it. This means that issues can only be resolved at a national level.   

The concern about the future of the USS pension is about how affordable the scheme is for both members and employers. 

The indications are that almost all stakeholders (employers, USS and trade unions) accept that some reform of the USS pension scheme is needed to ensure it is fair, affordable and sustainable.  

The dispute that has led to the ballot for industrial action is about proposed changes to pension benefits to keep the scheme affordable while discussions continue to find a sustainable long-term solution. 

Staff who are members of the USS pension scheme (not all staff are) will be able to have their say on the proposed changes to the pensions as part of an official consultation by USS, which opens in November. This is a different process to the UCU ballot for industrial action, described above. 

The UCU ballot has been arranged before the consultation takes place. This is the decision of UCU.  

Other issues (UCU calls them ‘four fights’)  

Some of these issues can only be resolved at a national level, or require national action plans. But some of them can be improved at a University level. In fact, we have committed to staff about some of these things through our Fairer Future for All pledges:  

  • we will reduce short-term contracts and boost job security   
  • we will support a healthy and fulfilled staff community; and   
  • we will create opportunity and celebrate achievements.  

Whatever the outcome of the ballot, we’ll ensure you’re kept up to date and that any impact on your university experience is kept to a minimum.  

The student communications team 

If you have a question, please email us at and we’ll factor all questions into further communications.  

Leeds University Union really wants to hear from you about what a strike would mean to you, what you want to know about and how you’ve been affected in the past. You can message them on Instagram or email your Union Affairs Officer Aysha Burton.  

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