Thank you to UCU for a wide-ranging discussion last week about the issues included in the current UCU disputes against the University of Essex, where ballots for industrial action are currently underway. UNISON and Unite also attended, as many of the issues also affect their members.

We met to understand Essex UCU’s position on the national issues involved in the two disputes, about USS pensions and pay, and to discuss further the issues where we believe that more progress can be made working together locally. These are: equality pay gaps, decasualisation and workload.

Several next steps have come out of the meeting:

  1. We will share further information about the UUK consultation response with UCU, to show how their earlier feedback fed into the final response from Essex to UUK.
  2. UCU will be invited to a meeting to provide feedback from their members to contribute directly to the discussions about how we can address racism at Essex.
  3. We will draw up and consult on guidelines about the types of cases where fixed term or casual work might be appropriate and where we are committed to avoiding casualisation.
  4. The follow-up meeting about the recent joint workload survey has been booked for Monday 1 November so we can work with all three trade unions on areas for action.

To be clear, we recognise the tension between the dispute issues on which we can make progress with Essex UCU and those where we cannot. The national pay bargaining processes are negotiated within the financial parameters for all the institutions participating, of which Essex is only one, although we continue to support local pay increases through promotions and the annual review process.

Similarly, Essex cannot independently secure a change to the USS pensions benefits or contributions, although we have previously made our position on the value of defined benefit pension benefits clear and continue to press for a review of USS’s governance. We would also encourage members and eligible members of USS to participate in the statutory consultation on benefit reform that starts today.

Essex is already committed to working with UCU and the other trade unions on many of the dispute issues and will continue to do so regardless of the ballot outcome. If there is industrial action, we will work to mitigate the impact of this on our students wherever possible; this has been a difficult year for both staff and students and navigating the pandemic continues to challenge us all.