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2022 Virtual Higher Education Conference
1 January 2022


The Higher Education Sector has reached what appears to be a crisis point regarding balloting for strike action over pay.

Neither aggregate nor disaggregate balloting appears to be effective when considering the returns from industrial action ballots in Higher Education.

It is important to note that we failed to win ballots under an aggregated model, but conference also notes that, under the current disaggregated strategy, fewer than 10 branches were able to return a 50% turnout in recent ballots.

Higher Education in UNISON needs to seriously consider why our members are not engaging in ballots for industrial action on pay.

Reflecting on past union organised industrial action on pay, in 2018 UCU held a 14-day strike in 61 institutions followed by a bigger one in 2019/20. The 2019/2020 action lasted 22 days in 74 institutions. Unfortunately, this surge of activity did not result in any gains for HE workers.

Higher Education in UNISON needs to learn from this and our recent industrial action ballots on pay. It would appear there is a need to pause and take stock.

The recent move from Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA) to review New JNCHES (New Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff), and the noises from members of the UCEA Board, make it apparent that the employers intend to press their advantage and attack central, national pay bargaining. We, alongside our sister HE trades unions, have the power to stop this but only if we maximise our strengths and minimise our weaknesses.

The unfair Trade Union Act of 2016 has resulted in a scramble to produce spreadsheets of confirmed/unconfirmed voters. However, a successful ballot, whether it be aggregate or disaggregate, does not always result in effective action. There is no gain in members striking if the majority of workers cross the picket line and continue to work or it is not for a cause that member’s feel will be successful.

We need to build locally, members and activists on the ground need to be given resources and training to organise properly. We need to make our branches stronger by recruiting more members. Dispute after dispute will end in failure without the full buy in of Higher Education workers. There needs to be joint work nationally and regionally to succeed in empowering our members and recruiting new members

Conference calls on the SGE to:

1)Consider the resources needed to train activists in recruitment, campaigning, and leadership over issues such as pay and other local issues in Higher Education.

2)Research the issues that are a priority for Higher Education members, including what they would be prepared to take industrial action on and what motivates them or not to vote in industrial action ballots, in a member survey concentrating on these issues only.

3)Formulate a plan that will help HE members engage with the issues around pay so that they will be confident to vote in an industrial action ballot. If it is a disaggregate ballot, then for the SGE to make it clear to members what this means and what the plan will be for balloting.

4)Allow the SGE the freedom to discuss the most appropriate forms of balloting which will lead to the greatest success with the Industrial Action Committee based on UNISON’s current rule book.

5)Formulate a plan to establish greater emphasis on recruiting in Higher Education both at national and regional level, with an emphasis on recruiting at branch level and being inclusive to all groups of staff.

6)Hold workshops and other activities to inform this review in the HE Branch Seminar with the aim of having a relentless focus on getting our strategy right, effective, and fit for purpose.

Northern Region/Aberystwyth University