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London & Eastern Education Region Newsletter March 2022

Advice and help in the workplace

HAVE YOU VOTED? Use your voice, use your vote.

A number of HE institution branches in our region are now balloting members on taking industrial action. The dispute is over the imposition by HE bosses of the rejected national pay increase of just 1.5% (for most staff) for 2021-22. After a few months of simmering annoyance about imposition happening yet again, and following consultation, branch members at the University College London, City – University of London, the Royal College of Art, Kings College London and Royal Holloway (for short) called for local ballots that are running from Monday 7 March to midday on Friday 8 April 2022.

So, if you are a member of one of the branches noted don’t delay, get your vote in now. A “no” vote to strike action is far better than not voting at all – it will more accurately show the strength of feeling about taking any action than guessing if, say, there is a borderline turnout. As a member, it is your democratic right to vote in this secret ballot. But, if you don’t, you will still be affected by the outcome based on the votes of those who do. And that could mean you, along with the rest of your branch, taking part in a strike.

If you are in one of the London Branches listed above and have not received your ballot paper ring Unite on 0203 371 2046 with your details and get one sent to you. The papers will come from the independent body, CIVICA aka CES (formerly the Electoral Reform Services) that will also do the count for this ballot. The envelope sent to you will look like this pic.

But if your ballot paper is lying around unused because you’ve got out of the habit of voting, don’t think anything can be done, hope enough other members vote, haven’t decided how to vote – here is one key thing you should bear in mind:  the lack of even trying to use your own individual industrial muscle, along with other members, provides a good explanation for why the value of HE pay has continued to fall. This decline has been happening for a decade, but is now continuing in the face of record-breaking rises in inflation and a very severe cost of living increase. And, whatever you think, please, don’t fall for the government’s clumsy attempt to deflect the entire blame for this on to the recent invasion of Ukraine!

Senior management always believes they deserve meaningful pay increases. They are quite happy to assume you don’t if they don’t have to deal with any strong protest against what is happening. No one likes taking strike action, but a successful ballot allows the option of a strike in the following six months before any day is set. Management should not ignore this – it gives them the opportunity to push to restart negotiations and make them meaningful for a change. It would mark the beginning of the fightback against the minuscule increases that have shown just how little management values most of the HE workforce. Compare this to their inflated view of their own worth and the buildings they like putting up.  

It does not have to be this way. Don’t waste your vote, Vote Now!

Update on Cambridge branch campaign to stop outsourcing

As you will be aware Cambridge University Unite branch has been firmly opposing the threat to outsource the Estates Maintenance Unit (EMU) at the University with demonstrations, support from their local politicians, and press coverage, as well as serving notice on the University on 1 February for an industrial action ballot.  The ballot was not followed through then because recent reports suggested that the University no longer intended to transfer any of the EMU to private contractors and that their University employment would be preserved. Management seems now, however, to be rapidly sliding back towards their former position on the EMU, even when a joint working party has started on how maintenance work will be conducted in the future. This means the Unite campaign is continuing and, perhaps, will include serving a brand new notice for an industrial action ballot. The Cambridge branch intends to loudly fight the University’s foot-dragging on protecting directly employed staff and their lack of trustworthiness over outsourcing every step of the way.

If this is not enough to contend with, the branch is now also scrutinising the University plans over the potential loss of work, this time, for local private contractors who have been undertaking some of the maintenance work for many years. The University now wishes to place the management of much of the estate maintenance in the hands of one large contractor. While the branch believes the use of private contractors is due to insufficient internal investment in the EMU over many years, Unite is also concerned about the future of all workers that could now be affected by the University’s plans for looking after the estate. The branch believes it is likely that those firms without a contract with the University – which is many – will be swept away by the new broom contractor. This is likely to be bad news for the workers employed by these small businesses, for the local economy and community – universities are, after all, major employers.

As always, University management may expect loyalty, but has little interest in showing it themselves.

Branch and workplace elections before end of March

Even if your branch has elected new officers and reps recently, the Unite Rule Book requires that they, and all your other existing officers and reps, need to have confirmatory elections this month. These are called the Triennial Elections.

If your branch or workplace has not yet set up a branch meeting to do this, ask them when they are going to. And, why not try stepping up yourself and having a go?

This is happening in every single branch, in every sector, up and down the UK.