Industrial action update

Email sent to all staff by Professor Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor, and Jennifer Sewel, University Secretary, on Wednesday 9 November.

Dear colleagues, 

National strike action related to disputes over pensions and pay will take place in November at 150 universities across the country, including here at Leeds.

The University and College Union (UCU) is planning three days of strike action on Thursday 24, Friday 25 and Wednesday 30 November. Action short of strike (ASOS) will commence on Wednesday 23 November and continue until no later than Thursday 20 April 2023. 

We are hoping that this action can still be resolved through national-level talks, but we must plan on the basis it won’t. This is in parallel to separate industrial action balloted on by UNISON and Unite unions. 

Industrial action is always challenging for our community and is even more so in the middle of a cost of living crisis. We do understand that these are difficult times for many of our staff and students, as they are for wider society. We are taking steps to help those that need it most, in line with our values of collaboration, compassion, inclusion and integrity. 

During the strike period, our actions as a University community are guided by three underlying principles. These are to: 

  • Protect the interests of students  
  • Retain the cohesion of our community  
  • Protect the standard of Leeds degrees and other qualifications. 

It is important to stress that, while the two core issues at the heart of this dispute – nationally agreed pay rates and pensions – cannot be fixed by this University alone, we have been working constructively with our trades unions on related areas that we can address. These include issues around workload, employment terms, supporting our lowest paid staff, and fixed term contracts.

Over the past few months, we’ve supported colleagues on fixed-term contracts to move to on-going employment contracts, and, in doing so, already reduced the total number of staff on fixed-term arrangements by 23%. During the first phase of this work, we have focused on staff with more than ten years’ service, and all but a handful of these colleagues have now moved to ongoing contracts. We will soon move on to other groups of colleagues on fixed term contracts. 

We continue to pay the voluntary living wage and apply service-related salary increments. Recognising the impact on our staff community of increases in the cost of living being seen across the country, a payment of £650 was made in July 2022 to our lowest paid staff, (those in roles up to and including grade 6). 

This payment was made in addition to the 2022/23 nationally-agreed pay award, which provided for a far greater uplift for staff on the lowest pay scales of up to 7.5%.  

But we want to go further. We will be making an announcement on further cost of living support for our communities soon. 

This support aligns with our three Fairer future for all pledges: 

  • Reduce short-term contracts and boost job security 
  • Support a healthy and fulfilled staff community 
  • Create opportunity and celebrate achievements. 

On pensions, we want a scheme that is fair, sustainable and stable. The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) underwent a valuation in 2020, (with a further one due next year), and changes to the scheme were implemented from April 2022. This has helped to put the scheme on a more sustainable footing.  

Without those changes, staff would be paying much higher contributions during these difficult times. For example, from October 2022, a USS member earning £40,000 a year would have had to pay an extra £480 a year (11% of salary, up from the current level of 9.8%, rising to 12.5% in April 2023).  

USS employers would also have been faced with the prospect of severe budget cuts to find ways of paying 25.2% of salary in contributions – an increase of 3.6%, rising to 26.5% in April 2023. 

We strive to be a compassionate, caring employer. We want a vibrant, healthy and fulfilled community, in which everyone is rewarded fairly, in a sustainable way, for what they do. And we want to create an environment that enables everyone to collaborate to help deliver first class education and world-leading research.  

We will continue to keep you updated as matters progress, and we will be sharing FAQs with all staff and students shortly to help everyone prepare for the industrial action. 

With best wishes,  

Professor Simone Buitendijk 
Jennifer Sewel   
University Secretary 

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