11 quick thoughts on UoL information about strikes

My employer has updated their information in advance of a huge round of strikes from three on campus unions (having already seen some of the longest and best supported strikes of any UK university in 2022.

Here’s what they aren’t saying

1) They note that negotiations are being handled by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA). They don’t, however, note what they have asked UCEA to do. UCEA negotiates after consulting with Universities and one presumes that the University of Leeds will have provided feedback on how it would like UCEA to negotiate

2) They talk about the pay offer that has been made for 2023/24. They don’t note that the current strikes are about the pay offer made for the 2022/23 year – which is 3% when inflation is 10%. This isn’t enough to cover the rise in my mortgage payments, let alone energy/food (and I’m one of the lucky ones to have a mortgage – I know plenty of colleagues who are trapped renting because they can’t save enough to get a mortgage).

3) They say that the cost of living crisis cannot be solved by the University alone. They don’t say that part of the reason we are in this situation is below-inflation pay rises – supported by this University – for over a decade.

4) They don’t say that this University has seen some of the longest and biggest strikes of any University in the country. They don’t say that the VC has refused to meet with Unions. They don’t mention that cost of living payments have been made without speaking to Unions.

5) They don’t say anything about their previous commitment to review the grade structure, and how this fits onto the nationally agreed pay scale – something other Universities have already done.

6) They say that last year some staff saw pay rises of 7.5%. They don’t say that this was because without a pay rise of this level, staff on the lowest grades would fall below the living wage.

7) They don’t say that we’re struggling to retain staff at lower grades because the salary isn’t enough to live on.

8) They don’t say that some staff are using food banks.

9) They don’t say that hourly paid workers in some areas of the University weren’t offered cost of living payments until they complained. They don’t say that some staff in London were initially told they had to collect vouchers in Leeds.

10) And most importantly, they don’t note that – across the University – people are regularly saying that they no longer have faith in the University. It is common knowledge that trust is at an all time low – I’m regularly in meetings about new initiatives where people reference the lack of trust. Colleagues who have worked here for years tell me that they feel abandoned by the University, and that they will no longer go above and beyond to keep things working.

11) Oh, and they don’t mention that there is significant student support for the strikes, with the Students’ Union explicitly supporting striking staff.

People – from cleaners to lecturers, security staff to administrators – from across the University – feel like their worries and concerns are being ignored. We’re about to see the biggest strikes that I’ve ever seen at this University. Surely now is the time to say “there’s more we can do. We don’t want to see these strikes” – rather than pretending that everything is fine. Because the more trust the University loses, the harder it is to get it back again.

I wrote this as a twitter thread after receiving the standard “isn’t it a shame that staff are striking” email, and wanting to fill in some of the gaps. Shortly after I wrote it, someone pointed out that the University – in response to upcoming strike days that will close schools and leave parents needing to provide childcare – is not allowing staff to use carers leave (a type of leave available to staff who need to undertaking caring responsibilities for reasons outside their control, including a breakdown in normal caring arrangements). This move – which doesn’t have any justification – feels petty. Many managers had already told staff they could use carers leave – feeling that an employer who values compassion would want to support staff. Colleagues’ I’ve spoken to are angry and upset at how the University is handling this situation, especially given how thinly spread staff goodwill is already. The bit that makes me most frustrated is that this will have the greatest impact on staff on lower grades, who can’t afford last minute childcare and won’t be able to work from home (for example, cleaners and catering staff). It’s also most likely to impact women, who often end up with the greatest burden of childcare. For a University seeking to embed equality, diversion and inclusion this decision feels regressive – a bit like setting climate targets that involve a reduction in car use and then building new roads…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s