Industrial action update from the Chief Operating Officer

An email from Rachel Brealey, Chief Operating Officer, sent to all staff on Tuesday 31 January.

The University is facing unprecedented industrial action by all three campus trade unions over the next few weeks as part of a national dispute on pay, working conditions, and pensions. The disputes around pay and pensions are nationally negotiated. However, the University is able to take steps to improve conditions locally and significant work is already underway to address those. To summarise:   

  • Pensions are agreed nationally. We are awaiting the next valuation of the University Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme as of 31 March, which will determine next steps.   
  • Pay awards are agreed nationally. The trade unions have rejected UCEA’s 2023/4 pay offer. The offer, of between 8% and 5%, prioritises the disproportionate effect of high inflation falling on our lower paid colleagues but offers a minimum of 5% for all other members of staff. More information on the pay offer can be found on the UCEA website.  
  • Pay gaps – Through our new Equity, Diversity and Inclusion strategy we are committed to reducing pay gaps (the difference in average pay caused by the distribution of staff across different pay scales – for example by having more men in higher salary roles and more women in lower salary roles) and continuing to ensure equal pay for work of equal value. More detail on the commitments and timeline for this work will be announced in the coming months.  
  • Fixed term contracts – In the last few months we have moved over 500 staff onto ongoing contracts, reducing the total number of staff on fixed-term arrangements by 23%. We have now agreed the process and timescale for delivery for other staff on fixed term contracts, and this process will be completed by July 2023. Our approach is one of the most progressive in UK Higher Education.  
  • Cost of Living – Together we have developed a package of support for those who need help most. This comes on the back of over £40m of increased costs that the University has already absorbed, including £26m of energy costs. We have absorbed proposed rent increases in halls of residence and subsidised low-cost hot meals for students, staff and PGRs in food outlets on campus. We made two one off cost of living payments in July and December 2022 to our lowest paid staff. These payments were 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%.   
  • Workload – Work is underway to ensure that the University’s Workload Principles (10 principles which ensure fairness, transparency and open communication around the allocation of work) are implemented consistently for all academic and academic-related staff.    

Prioritising and protecting our students   

The next few weeks will be challenging for us all. We know and trust that whether or not colleagues are participating in industrial action, it is our dedication and commitment to our students that unites us.

Whilst we respect colleagues’ right to take strike action, it is our collective responsibility to protect the interests of our students, retain the cohesion of our community, protect the standard of Leeds degrees and qualifications and adhere to the requirements of registration set out by the Office for Students. Prioritising teaching and student education above all other activity will be critical to our approach.   

We will devote all of our effort as a community to ensuring the quality of our students’ learning experience and to ensure the University of Leeds remains a wonderful place to study and work.   

Rachel Brealey  
Chief Operating Officer  

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