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October, 2021:

Branch negotiations on impact of COVID: excellent news

Excellent news: at our most recent review meeting this week we negotiated the lifting of this year’s pay freeze, and you will receive your pay rise and accrued back pay in either the November or the December pay packet (details to be confirmed).

Last year, you voted for a Jobs First negotiating strategy, when the University was proposing up to 500 compulsory redundancies, and you voted to accept an agreement which showed your willingness to make a sacrifice in exchange for saving those jobs. The major sacrifice in that agreement was a potential pay cut – which we have since been able to avoid – and also to a pay freeze for three years – last year, this year and next year. This was a hard decision for everyone to have to make, but the reality is that we’ve now reached a stage where there has been no personal financial sacrifice to date, and the jobs were saved. Please congratulate yourselves on showing that solidarity and standing firm in support of jobs: you should be very proud.

In return for the sacrifices made by staff, we were able to negotiate that the VR scheme should be reopened, and a number of staff did take advantage of that. Critically, though, we negotiated some key items: one is that we now have greater transparency on governance, in particular that staff can all now request to see the papers which are being distributed to Council, and which offer a massive insight into the functioning of the University. We are also now being advised of spending proposals over £10m and this is a system which is already working. And we opened up negotiations on workload: this is a wider ranging discussion which is morphing slightly into the Phase 2 negotiations, and which is ongoing work. These gains are still ours, even though we are not having to make the sacrifices that had been called for. There is a lot of work to be done on workloads, and thank you for your input on this to date.

There are still rocky steps ahead. We’ll be aiming to avoid a pay freeze next year, which still falls under the agreement. Phase 2 is identifying a target of £10m in savings and £10m in revenue increase: we’ve had assurances on a number of occasions, though, that there are no plans for any forthcoming redundancies and the management are keen to work with us to maintain that position, whatever happens. Please rest assured we will continue to negotiate and fight on your behalf.

Lastly, of course, we all know that the pay rise is derisory and that our salaries have been devalued in real terms. We are not taking part in the Four Fights ballot, only the ballot on USS: this is because the University chose not to join JNCHES this year having argued that there was a temporary local pay agreement. Most other branches, though, are taking part in the Four Fights ballot, and their solidarity will support us in due course: this is another example of all of us working together for the benefit of all. Please do what you can to support the union in its fights.


Sally Pellow

Branch President, Reading UCU

Your pension, your fight

Here we are, at the start of a new year, gingerly feeling our way back to desks and onto campus. When we left our desks in March last year, we could never have predicted it would be for nearly a year and a half. You have been wonderful. You’ve coped with a complete change in your way of working: for people who thrive on teaching, helping students, and working with other researchers, this has been hard: talking to a tiny screen is not the same as addressing a lecture theatre of faces, or working through office spaces to bounce ideas off one another. Thanks to your efforts, life continues towards a normal university year, and despite everything – Brexit, pandemic, economic downturns and spiralling rates of anxiety – we are still standing, still striving for the best, still offering a very attractive proposition to new students from all around the world.

Unfortunately, some things never change and not everyone feels that you should be rewarded. And so it is with the USS pension: despite the massive efforts undertaken by many of you in 2016, and again in 2019, we still can’t count on our pensions being safe. Many of you have paid very close attention to the debates, but for those who haven’t, here’s a quick summary.

We managed to stop UUK and USS from dispensing with our highly enviable DB (defined benefit) pension, which gives us a guaranteed income for life: they wanted to shift to a DC (defined contribution) pension which basically means investing pension money to gain the income, with the risks that that involves. Then, as now, arguments raged about the valuation of the pension scheme. Because the scheme is there to support everyone who is currently in it, for the rest of their life, the payments into the scheme have to be enough to cover projected costs. It is currently valued at £80.6bn, and it has about 460,000 members. In other words, there is an average of £175,000 per member in the fund. It owns incredibly major developments – a recently advertised one was the new ‘green’ motorway services at Rugby ( and it’s a major investor in private equity companies too. But there are regular valuations of the funds, which assess both the potential amounts which will need to be paid out in the future, and the likely overall fund value. The most recent valuation was made on 31 March 2021. All that being said, the actuaries think it’s not doing well. They don’t think there’s enough money in there to pay us all. (Have they seen how much we’re paid? Really?! They think the average current fund of £175,000 each is not enough??) They want to put up the amount that we pay in, and the amount that the universities pay in. We think they’re talking out of their hats: and that they couldn’t have picked a worse date to value the fund – and support their own arguments.

Negotiations have now reached an end, and they ain’t budging. So, with a sigh of disbelief, I’m afraid it’s time to explain to them, clearly, that this is not a situation we’re happy with. At a Special Congress for HE, and subsequently at a Special HE Committee, it was agreed that we would now ballot for strike action. Expect a ballot paper in the middle of October. Before the papers are posted out, check your address details on MyUCU, because let’s face it, there’s no point in a ballot paper sitting in a pigeon hole on campus if you’re still working entirely from home. Check, too, that you’re on the right membership level – if your membership level indicates that you aren’t employed by Reading, you can’t withdraw your labour. And if you’re not paying the right subs, you won’t qualify for the related strike pay in due course.

I’ll send out updates over the next couple of weeks: meanwhile, see how much you will lose on the current USS proposals by going to

RUCU President