Imperial UCU supports workers at the RSA in their pay dispute

Charity workers at the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) are in the midst of a bitter pay dispute. Imperial UCU have passed a motion (full details in PDF below) to support the RSA union. We have sent a donation to the strike solidarity fund, and are asking Imperial UCU members to boycott any activities organised by the RSA.

Strike action continues at the RSA this month, with dates announced for the 26th – 28th February, and a demo outside the RSA Fellows’ Festival on 2nd March. Please do what you can to go along and support.

Imperial UCU motion with full list of resolutions here:

IC UCU RSA solidarity motion passed

Imperial UCU response to the Academic job titles consultation exercise

Several UCU members contacted the union with some concerns and constructive criticisms regarding the current proposals on change to Academic job titles (see here – Consultation_Background_ Academic_Staff), and asked if the union might be able to provide a response to the consultation. Following this we asked for input across the whole membership (i.e. across all job families, and also including several members of the working group and related workstreams) on whether the UCU should provide a response, and, if so, what the response should say.

Following several written responses, and following a well-attended and constructive lunchtime meeting on Thursday 15th February 2024, open to the whole membership, we produced this response, which we sent to the Provost and working group members for consideration on Monday 19th February 2024.

Academic titles consultation UCU response

Imperial Joint Trade Unions’ negotiators’ report on the 2023-24 pay negotiations

Imperial College’s three recognised trade unions are consulting their members on the latest pay offer. Herewith the unions’ pay negotiators’ report, and consultation question as posed to members from Imperial UCU:

Negotiators’ report

The Joint Trade Unions (JTU) at Imperial College have continued to seek a resolution to the current pay disputes through an Acas conciliation process.  Our key aim in these negotiations has been to obtain an increase in the College pay offer for 2023-24, with any improvement consolidated into pay scales.  We have also sought to (i) reopen discussions in relation to the Professional, Technical and Operating staff pay scales which were previously close to agreement but which was ended unilaterally in 2022, and, (ii)  reach a satisfactory resolution for members impacted by deductions for undertaking the Marking and Assessment Boycott (MAB).

The context of these negotiations is that Imperial College has seen a significant improvement in its finances for 2022-23.  Where management initially predicted a small annual loss, there has been, in fact, a comfortable surplus.

Despite this surplus, Imperial College has made it clear that any possible improvement in the pay offer would be unconsolidated, i.e. provided as a one-off payment. In contrast, for a number of reasons, we have consistently stressed the need to incorporate any offer into pay scales. In an attempt to make progress we proposed to Imperial that they consider an increase in London Weighting (currently around £3,200) which is consolidated into pay scales. We reminded Imperial that a number of London Higher Education institutions are increasing their London Weighting payments: UCL, for example, has announced an increase to £4,500 from August 2023 and there will be a further increase to £5,000 for grades 1-7 in December. Kings College, London is currently in negotiation with the recognised trades unions in relation to an offer of £4,500 in August 2023.

The JTU are of the view that given the state of Imperial College’s finances, they could easily afford to offer the same payment.

The College has maintained that any improvement for pay for 2023 -24 would need to be financed by some of the savings that are predicted from reductions in employer contributions to the USS pension scheme. These reductions will be confirmed soon. We assured the College that USS predicts that these savings will be long-term and therefore offer enough certainty to consolidate any improvement into pay scales. The College is not prepared to accept this position and is only offering a taxable £500 non-consolidated payment in December.

Management is indicating that it is prepared to enter discussions on the PTO scale but is not prepared to move on proposed deductions from salary for members who participate in the MAB.

Since College has indicated that they will not discuss the matter further, we are now consulting you on its current offer even though this has not changed since we last consulted you. We are undertaking an electronic consultative ballot between Friday 1st and Friday 15th September 2023. Management has made it clear that if members do not accept their offer and end the disputes, then the desultory offer of a £500 unconsolidated payment will be withdrawn.

While we recognise that the additional offer of £500 is a result of members’ industrial action, the negotiators note that College could easily afford a higher offer and that the current one still reflects a significant real-terms pay cut. The JTU negotiators are therefore recommending rejection of this offer. We have also come to the conclusion that, given the intransigence of management, to obtain any more concessions, we would need to undertake further sustained and effective industrial action.

 

Ballot question

The pay offer put to us by management is the same as it was when we last consulted. The union is still recommending that you vote reject. The offer is:

  • A payment equivalent to a one-off lump sum of £625 in July 2023.
  • An increase in pay of 5.5% in August 2023 with a floor of £2,500 and ceiling of £5,000.
  • A one-off payment of £500 in December 2023.

Do you accept this offer?

Yes/no

A message for students, past and present, at Imperial College London, from the UCU

Dear all,

this is a message from the Imperial College branch of the UCU to say THANK YOU to the student body of Imperial College for your support over the last few years in the battle to save our pensions. The problems started over 10 years ago, and came to head in 2018 when the union went on the first of a series of strikes over proposed cuts which would have destroyed the pension scheme. 

We are pleased to say, that after many years of strikes and negotiations, it looks like our pension benefits are set to be restored. This is conditional on events that will happen over the next few months, but the forecast is very positive. 

Two things are for sure though:  

(i) if we had settled for the management line, and not taken strike action over the last 6 years, our pensions would now be worth a lot less, and, 

(ii) the strikes would not have been anywhere near as effective without the support of the student body.

There are further fights to be won in Higher Education – our local dispute over pay continues for example – but this is significant, so our thanks for your continued support.

Regards,

Imperial College UCU

Recommendation on declaring days of MAB action

Imperial UCU MAB declaration recommendation
You don’t declare MAB until asked, and then you must declare.
Different parts of College are handling this in different ways but one eventual outcome following a declaration is that your department informs HR, who then write you a standard message informing you of the 25% pay deduction on a certain day. Note the time lag on receiving this message following declaration is variable, and seems to take at least two weeks. 
 
It seems HR are sending a standard letter from their industrial action account with a line in italics in the middle that either says (a) they have noted you want pensions contributions made up, or, (b) that have not​ been informed about this yet, so please reply if want this done. With MAB, wait till this letter arrives and then reply if needed to have the pension contributions made up.

Recommendation on declaring days of strike action

We recommend the following following days of full strike action 
The employer won’t formally know unless you declare it after the action.
You must​ inform HR after​ you have been on strike. You can email HR at industrialaction@imperial.ac.uk copying in anyone else relevant (e.g. your line manager and/or HoD) with something like:
To whom it may concern,
This is to notify you that I participated in [N] days of UCU industrial action striking on the
 
[list of dates]
I would like to make my employee’s pension contributions for the [N] days that I took strike action and I request that the College make the employer’s contributions for those [N] days. I ask for confirmation about whether this action will be taken.
Regards,  
                [your name & CID]

How does Imperial’s 2023-24 pay offer really compare with the national?

How much is Imperial’s pay offer really worth compared to UCEA’s? Less than you might expect.

Imperial College management claim that their 2023-24 pay offer is significantly better than the national pay offer from the University and College’s Employer’s Association (UCEA) 2023-24 offer to the institutes involved in national pay bargaining. Here we refute this claim.  

There is little doubt that Imperial is better off financially than the average UK university, as past surpluses confirm. In fact, it would be a source of embarrassment if we lagged behind given our deserved reputation for attracting research funding and students, a good proportion paying overseas fees. So, it is fair to ask how much more is Imperial’s 2023-24 pay offer worth compared to the UCEA offer, which, necessarily has to be affordable not just to the average UK university, but to those struggling financially.

We have used College’s figures to make a direct comparison between the two offers, applying the terms of both offers to the same distribution of staff pay at Imperial. By adding together the costs from each quantile of 250 staff, grouped in salary order, we can compare the overall cost of the two offers.

First, it is important to understand what each offer amounts to: UCEA’s gives an early payment in February and then tops that up to 5% in August. Imperial has an early payment in May, and then tops it up to the larger of 5.5% or £2500 in August.  Hence UCEA’s offer gives three months of extra payments compared to Imperial’s. To take that into account in a fair manner, we calculate the total cost of either offer from February 2023 to August 2024, when the next pay settlement is due. We also apply the terms of both offers to all staff. All UCEA members we are aware of have already started paying the February element of the offer to all staff, even though UCU nationally are in dispute over this.

In fact, the details of each offer tend to play off against each other’s – UCEA gives a smaller early payment but in February, not May, and, while Imperial is offering 0.5% more, it also has a maximum of £5000 while UCEA members are applying 5% across the board. Taking all of these effects into account, Imperial’s offer will cost it just 0.24% more than UCEA’s up to August 2024: while the Imperial offer is worth more than UCEA’s it hardly reflects the ability of Imperial to pay its staff more.

Finally, some of you may have noticed that Imperial is claiming its offer is worth on average 7.1%. That is quite a remarkable number considering the cost of the offer, according to College, is significantly less than that. In fact, that 7.1% figure has been calculated by combining the May increase as a lump sum, and then adding that to the 5.5% increase in August (plus a small error in weighting the lowest paid quantile that adds 0.1%). Apart from the error, this approach might be a valid calculation in comparing the Imperial offer to UCEA’s but it is not actually what the offer amounts to as a consolidated salary rise: it effectively inflates the 5.5% rise with a one-off payment.

Imperial’s management are trying to give the impression that their offer is worth significantly more than the 0.5% difference in the headline rate of 5.5% compared to UCEA’s 5.0%. In fact it will cost them 0.24%, slightly less than half of 0.5% more to implement compared to UCEA’s. Imperial can afford to do rather better than that.

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Full calculations can be seen in this spreadsheet: ImperialvsUCEAOffersCompWeb

Why we are on strike

We are on strike to defend our pay.

With general inflation at around 10% for the last 2 years, and augmented hikes on everyday overheads such as food, energy bills, and housing, people and companies are feeling severe financial pressure.

If organisations do not proportionally increase their workers’ wages in line with the increased cost of living, then they become effectively poorer and less able to live their lives with dignity.

Imperial College conducts pay bargaining with its local Joint Trade Union (JTU) branches. Last year management’s imposition of a 3.3% pay offer without JTU agreement was simply too much for staff to bear: a 3% pay award with inflation at over 10% is essentially a 7% pay cut. The offer felt particularly callous as we moved out of the pandemic, where the labours of staff had been absolutely extraordinary, and the subject of near-universal internal and external praise. Members of all three trade unions voted to enter a formal dispute with the College in September 2022. Sadly, this dispute has not been resolved, and the problem has only become more pronounced.

Imperial is one of the wealthiest universities in the UK and can easily afford to protect its staff pay against the steep rises in the cost of living.  In this year’s pay award cycle, the JTU put in a pay claim of 10.5% – an amount which we clearly show is affordable by the College, and is only attempting to protect the value of staff pay against the current inflation rate.

Alas, Imperial is now imposing a pay award of 5.2% for this year, which, for the second year in a row, is going to make College staff significantly poorer in real terms.

Nobody wants industrial action. But the staff at Imperial College recognise that management are simply not listening to arguments based on logic and compassion. They are role playing in one of the worst aspects of end-stage capitalism and modern business development, viz. the marketisation of higher education, where staff are treated as a cost to be managed. We are in a position where we feel the only way management will listen is by the credible, and legal, threat of withdrawing our labour via forms of strike action.

Members of all three trade unions have voted for strike action over a shared dispute, for the first time in Imperial College’s rich and varied history.

The UCU have commenced their marking and assessment boycott (MAB) and there are 5 days of strike action declared during this term.

If we do not do this, the College will continue to erode the value of pay and conditions at Imperial. And we are not just doing this for to protect our pay this year, but for the more global and fundamental purpose of protecting our university from becoming yet another business, and ensuring the profession is one that aspiring academics will still want to join. This affects us all.

You can help by emailing the President and Provost of Imperial College and asking them to pay their staff fairly.

UCU and Unite members on the picket line, May 2023