Message from the Vice-Chancellor | Ballot for industrial action

Read the all staff email from Vice-Chancellor, Professor Simone Buitendijk, sent to all colleagues on Monday 18 October.

Dear colleagues, 

Today, University and College Union (UCU) has opened a ballot of its members about strike and other industrial action.  

I’m writing to you to explain both my position on the issues involved and how our University strategy will not only address some of the pressures our community has faced – and which are at the heart of the proposed strike – but will improve lives and build a fairer future for all.  

Our focus on community, culture and impact through our 10-year strategy will be trailblazing – both in delivering research-informed solutions for global challenges and research-led education that sees our students and colleagues work in partnership.  

The strategy recognises that we need a happy, healthy and thriving community to do all of this, so it also addresses the needs of staff – prioritising collaboration over competition and setting out ways for us all to achieve our potential and be the best we can be.   

We’ve pledged to reduce short-term contracts. We’ve pledged to create opportunity and celebrate achievements. And we’ve pledged to support you to be healthy and fulfilled.     

The strategy will provide much-needed clarity and focus. It will help address some of the pressures we have been facing as a community because – done right – it will stop us driving ourselves too hard by seeking to do too much.     

So, as we now face the possibility of industrial action again – and in the context of what we are already doing at the University to support our staff – I ask colleagues who are considering going on strike to ask themselves: ‘Will this deliver the impact I seek?’  

I know you are tired and I know the pandemic has taken its toll. I see it, and I know you feel it. I can’t thank you all enough for your work during these difficult circumstances. But I don’t believe strike action is the answer.  

And I know we all care deeply about our students, and that the last thing we all want is to disrupt their education further, particularly following such a difficult year and a half.  

The fact is the dispute over USS is a national one that cannot be solved by the University of Leeds alone. And, as I’ve set out, we are already taking action locally to address concerns about workload and casualisation – issues that are within our gift to tackle.  

So, before colleagues opt to cast a vote, I’d urge you to stop and consider two things. First, the impact industrial action will have on our community, which has already been through an exceptionally turbulent period since March 2020. Second, that dealing with the fallout of industrial action will divert our attention from dealing with some of the very issues that are the subject of this dispute, and which we are pledging to address. 

Earlier this year, I held sessions for all staff and schools about the possibility of strike action, which were attended by hundreds of colleagues. I am going to continue listening, and I encourage you to attend one of the upcoming all-staff events to put your questions to me directly. We will be saying more about these very soon. 

As I wrote in my most recent Inside Track, I know everything isn’t perfect. But if we keep returning to that question of ‘What is our university here for?’, and pull together as one community, I am convinced we can be an amazing group of colleagues and peers, who will achieve great things together.  

Our Internal communications team will shortly be sending a follow-up email, which will include more information about the ballot UCU is holding and a copy of the communications we are sharing with students. 

Best wishes,   

Professor Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor  

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