This is a collection of the most frequently asked questions about unions, UCU, and Imperial College London. If you have more questions that you would like to see answered here, then let us know.

Union Fundamentals

Why should I join a union?

Unions are a collective of workers who come together to make the case for better pay and conditions at their workplace. Unions have been responsible for the defining of the week work and the end of child labour. They also negotiate on behalf of the workers for improvements such as the annual pay rise you receive.


What does UCU do?

On a national level, UCU represents 120,000 members in the post-16 education sectors of higher and further education, making the case to employers for better pay and conditions. UCU has four national campaigns on: pay, high workload, casualisation of work, and ethnicity and disability pay gaps. Find out more about the current campaign UCU Rising on the UCU website.

At a local level at Imperial, the UCU branch negotiates with the College over pay and local working conditions, including health and safety issues. UCU also provides legal assistance to members on matters such as employment rights, personal injury, and police enquiries, and immigration employment advice. More information can be found on the UCU website.


How are things decided in UCU?

Imperial UCU has regular all-members’ meetings which discuss and make policy on local issues. These meetings also take decisions on national issues and send motions to UCU’s Annual Congress and sector conferences, for which we elect delegates. We also elect representatives to Branch Delegate Meetings. These are consultative meetings which discuss industrial action informing the decisions of the Higher Education Committee.

The meetings take place on Zoom with meeting links circulated via email. Hybrid formats may be supported in the future. A list of upcoming meeting dates can be found on the Imperial UCU website.


Is UCU only for lecturers?

Imperial UCU members come from all over the College, from all job families. We are technicians, teaching staff, communicators, lecturers, disability advisors, research associates. There are representatives from departments in all four faculties, and central services. Postgraduate students are welcome to join UCU, and there is no membership fee for PhD students if you are teaching or on another work contract with the College.


Will Union membership count against me if I’m on my probation?

The right to union membership is protected by law and it is illegal to discriminate or victimise against people on the basis of union membership. If you feel that is happening, you can contact the Imperial union office.


Is UCU affiliated with a political party?

Some trade unions use their political funds to support a particular political party, usually Labour.

However, UCU operates a fund which expressly does not contribute to any political party. All our political fund income is used to promote the interests of UCU members, campaigning and lobbying irrespective of party political affiliation. This means membership of UCU does NOT of itself entitle you to a vote in, for example, a political party leadership election.


Is UCU affiliated with other unions?

UCU is affiliated to the Trades Union Congress, which represents and organises most of Britain’s trade unions. We may mount joint campaigns with other unions on a formal or informal basis – for example, with the other main education union, the National Education Union. At Imperial, we work with the other main campus trade unions, Unison and Unite the Union. Imperial Unite has recently been participating in joint strike action with UCU over pay.


What do I have to do if I join UCU?

You are not obliged to actively undertake any activities, but we would hope you would get involved to help shape the branch to best serve its members. This could include:

  • Attending Imperial UCU All-Members Meetings.
  • Voting in any ballots whether around taking industrial action or electing representatives. These are legally required to be postal ballots. If you are a member you can check your mailing address details on the UCU website.
  • Joining the Branch the Committee to help advise or organise around any issues you feel passionate about. This could be casualisation, equality, pay, or any other workplace issue. Please get in touch with the Imperial Branch Committee.
  • Taking part in industrial action. This can range in activities including strikes to marking and assessing boycotts. Any industrial taken by the branch is only done after a ballot of all members with a legal requirement of a 50% turnout.


How much does it cost?

In short it is according to your income. If you are a PhD student on a casual contract with Imperial such as a Graduate Teaching Assistant then it is free to join.

National UCU subscription rates for UCU members to 31 August 2023
Employment income band (excluding London Weighting) Including political fund (per month) Excluding political fund (per month)
£60,000 & above (F0) £27.79 £27.51
£40,000 – £59,999 (F1) £24.41 £24.17
£30,000 – £39,999 (F2) £21.42 £21.21
£22,000 – £29,999 (F3) £17.77 £17.60
£15,000 – £21,999 (F4) £10.59 £10.49
£5,000 – £14,999 (F5) £4.61 £4.57
Below £5,000 (F6) £1.00 £0.99


The full details are available on the UCU website.


Unions at Imperial

How is the UCU related to the students’ union?

There is no formal relationship between Imperial UCU and Imperial College Union, the students’ union. The student body votes on whether it supports industrial action by Imperial UCU, for example in February 2023 Imperial College Union Council voted by 84.8% to continue to support industrial action and by 60.6% to support a marking and assessment boycott (MAB) starting in April 2023. Felix, the student newspaper reported on the vote.


How do I join a union?

You can join any of the trade unions with Imperial College London branches online. The details for each are on the Imperial website.

You can join the UCU via their website.


Which union do I join?

Imperial has three unions that all staff can join – UCU, Unite, and Unison. The contact details for each are on the Imperial website and by law are promoted to all eligible members when they start employment at the College. You may want to look into the policies, positions and benefits of each union to see which best suits you.