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Four Fights and USS disputes… where now?

Published: 1st June, 2020

Last week we invited all members of Leicester UCU to give their views on the present situation in the Four Fights and USS disputes. These views informed discussions of the union’s Higher Education Committee, which met on 27 May to try to agree where next. 

There are four parts to this communication. First, we repeat the summary we sent last week, which we hope provided context to the questions we were asking. There follows a summary of the results. Next come a report of two branch delegate meetings held on 26 May, into which we fed these results. Finally there’s a summary of business conducted at the following day’s meeting of the higher education committee and its aftermath.

Where we are…

In the Four Fights dispute (gender pay gap, casualisastion, workloads and pay) UCU has received a formal offer from employers. As the general secretary explains, this offer is a revised version of the offer which employers originally tabled in January this year. The offer is here. UCU’s Four Fights negotiators now wish to consult branches – see their statement. We need to decide how to proceed, specifically whether to accept the offer and, if not, then how to continue the dispute. UCU has produced this briefing.

In the USS dispute, there is no formal offer from employers. However, employers’ and UCU negotiators have agreed a joint statement and, as with the Four Fights dispute, UCU’s negotiators now wish to consult the wider membership. This briefing summarises the present state of the USS dispute and the process for consulting branches. A two-line summary is that our negotiators believe that employers have not yet conceded enough on members’ contribution rates in the present period, but that ‘our industrial dispute has nevertheless resulted in significant progress on many of the structural issues that have in the past threatened the viability of the Scheme, and will continue to do so if unaddressed’.

What next…

As things stand, UCU’s higher education committee (HEC), which has overseen strategy, has resolved that branches should be reballoted with a view to taking further industrial action in both disputes. These ballots would start at the end of June (or as soon as practically possible thereafter) and end in September. But HEC has also invited input from the wider membership, via two branch delegates’ meetings, one for each dispute, on May 26. Each branch sends one delegate to these meetings. This delegate is supposed to represent the opinions of members in their branch. HEC met the next day, May 27, with the aim of deciding whether to accept the employers’ Four Fights offer and, if not, whether to reballot for further industrial action. 

Your Views

More than 150 members completed the survey, approximately one sixth of the total branch membership.

… on Four Fights…

On the employers’ offer itself, 32% thought this was satisfactory, 38% thought it was unsatisfactory, 30% were unsure.

Of those who thought the offer unsatisfactory, 23% would be prepared to take further industrial action in the present period (i.e. balloting, if possible, between June and September), 60% were not prepared for this, with the remainder not sure.

Of these members not happy with the present offer, a considerably higher proportion (39%) would be prepared to take further industrial action later on (later this year or next year) to support UCU claims on equalities and against casualisation; 27% would not; a third were unsure.

… on USS…

10% of members are satisfied with the situation we are now in and believe we should announce the dispute over; 

24% are not satisfied, but think it’s the best we can hope for (and therefore that we should announce the dispute over); 

49% are not satisfied with the situation we are now in but are relatively confident in our negotiators and believe they should be given more time to seek further concessions from employers. They believe we should not call off our dispute and need to retain the option to take industrial action at some point in the future;

11% are happy neither with the situation, nor with our negotiators’ progress to date; they believe that we need to ballot for further industrial action in the present period – between June and September, if possible;

The remaining 6% of members were unsure.

The Branch Delegates’ Meetings

We fed these views into the two branch delegates’ meetings. These were somewhat frustrating for two reasons. First, a mass Microsoft Teams meeting (with up to 120 delegates) is never going to be the best format for a strategic discussion – but it’s currently the best option we have. Second – and more avoidable – the questions asked of delegates were not necessarily the same as those we asked of our members – and we only received them on the morning of the meetings. Nevertheless we did our best to map the results of own consultations onto a set of questions that were not necessarily the same. 

Four Fights

In summary, a clear majority view recommended that the UCEA offer is put to members in a consultation, where the guidance given to members is to Reject the offer, as per the majority position regarding the offer.

In the event that the offer is rejected, the clear majority view was for a ballot to be held at a later time determined by a Higher Education Sector Conference. In the event the offer is accepted, there is a clear majority view that the principles guiding implementation should be set at a Higher Education Sector Conference.

Branches voted by an overwhelming majority not to reballot for industrial action at the end of June (or as soon as practically possible thereafter), as per the timetable decided on by HEC at its meeting on 24 April.

More detailed results are available here.

USS Pension Dispute

A clear majority view recommended that UCU pauses the USS dispute (i.e. that UCU should not settle/end the dispute at this time). A comfortable majority recommended that the pause phase should be followed by a ballot which should be determined by a Higher Education Sector Conference. There was also a clear majority view that any decision on whether or not to settle (end) the USS dispute should be taken by a Higher Education Sector Conference.

The discussion at branch briefings and the BDM noted that it is likely that UCU will need to consider configuring a new dispute in light of the output(s) of the 2020 valuation and any subsequent proposals we determine to be deleterious. Options for such a ballot include ‘rolling together’ the grounds of the current (2019/20) dispute with potential new grounds.

As with the Four Fights dispute branches voted by an overwhelming majority not to reballot for industrial action at the end of June (or as soon as practically possible thereafter), as per the timetable decided on by HEC at its meeting on 24 April.

Again, the detailed results are available here.

Higher Education Committee – and the way forward

One would hope that, although branch delegate meetings are only advisory in nature, the higher education committee would give serious consideration to those meetings’ recommendations. In the event, this did not happen. HEC only gave some consideration to the outcomes of the delegate meetings. The way the HEC’s meeting was structured meant the first part debated and voted on various other (mostly non-dispute) items of business. But the second part ran out of time to discuss branches’ positions in any detail and plot a way forward in each dispute.

One consequence of this is that a previous HEC decision to reballot branches for industrial action at the end of June was not discussed or reconsidered. It therefore has not been rescinded and still stands. Both delegate meetings voted by an overwhelming majority against a June reballot, but at present the union has no authority to do anything other than proceed with the reballots as mandated by the April meeting of the HEC. Clearly, this is not an ideal position for the union to be placed in.

In order to seek resolve this unhappy situation and reconcile UCU policy to the clear wishes of members (as expressed at the branch delegates’ meetings), the union’s senior officers (including the general secretary, the president and chair of HEC) have scheduled a special meeting of HEC – this will take place on June 8. This meeting will – hopefully – hold a full discussion of the positions taken by branches at the delegate meetings and how to respond to them.


We hope this helps explain the current situation with regards to our two disputes, gives a sense where we stand as a branch and how that compares to the national picture.  If there are any questions, please email and join our next LUCU Q&A on Tuesday 9 June 2020 from 1:30–2:30pm. The work on the two disputes as well as on the university’s staged reopening and our anti-casualisation and precarity action continues, and we ask for your continued support and for compassionate communication as so many of our members and officers are working to ensure the safety and rights of our members in difficult and rapidly shifting circumstances.

As always, if you have ideas, are able to offer some of your time or skills, or want to know more – please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We are the strength of our membership!