Report of Branch Delegates Meeting at UCU, 28 March 2018.
Marian Carty, President, Goldsmiths UCU
On entering the meeting delegates signed in and were given voting cards. This was not the case at the previous meeting on 1st March; I assumed that a vote would be taken.
Sally Hunt, UCU’s general secretary, began the meeting by explaining that the UUK offer had come about as a result of pressure from the UCU via numerous telephone conversations and the strength and commitment of members to the first 14 days of industrial action. She emphasised that the second wave of strikes would go ahead regardless of the outcomes of the day’s meetings, in order to maintain the pressure on UUK.
She reiterated the points she made in her message to members sent on 23 March, which included lack of trust in UUK, that the expert panel would include ‘best actuarial professionals available and of the academic expertise within the union’. (After the meeting in informal conversation with Sally, she mentioned Denis Leech as one of the experts to be invited to join the expert panel). She insisted that this was the best and final offer (as she did with the last offer) and that ‘no detriment’ was unrealistic. Support for the process from tPR and USS Trustees still needed to be sought. Only once this process has been accepted by all parties would UCU consult branches on ending the current industrial action.
A letter had been received form Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of UUK, which was distributed to everyone in the room. Sally placed a lot of store on the content of the letter insisting that it revealed UUK’s commitment to a meaningful DB pension and a return to sharing the risk between employers and employees. With regard to recriminations as a result of taking or supporting strike action UUK were urging their members to ‘reflect and rebuild trust’. She qualified this reminding us that UUK has no mandate, however, to insist on this.
Many members welcomed these clarifications but felt that the motions discussed at their meetings were now less or not valid; this made it difficult to represent members views.
Branches had sought members’ views in a variety of ways – email, social media, e-ballots and well attended meetings and gave brief reports following a Q & A. The picture emerging was not the unanimous rejection of the previous branch briefing on 1st March.
What became apparent was, that where members were able to meet and discuss the UUK offer, they voted – as we did at Goldsmiths – to seek specific assurances prior to a ballot.
Participation in e-ballots was low and questions varied, responses by email were equally mixed. The majority of branch reports (whether from e-ballots, email correspondence or branch meetings) were not advocating that the UUK offer should be put to members in its current form
Requests for a vote were declined even though we had been given voting cards.
My own perception is that a majority (albeit small) of branches favoured ongoing negotiations with further UCU input into the offer.
After the briefing, I joined a group of delegates in an informal discussion with Sally. We were all genuinely surprised/aghast when she told us that according her a tally, written on the back of a voting card, her estimation was that the majority of branches wanted the offer to go out to a ballot of members. We all remonstrated with her for about 20 minutes before she was called to the HEC meeting.
What is somewhat shocking is that no official minutes were made and no indicative vote taken in order to guide the HEC’s later decision to move to ballot all members on UUK’s offer. Sally’s tally on the back of a voting card would determine the HEC’s verdict.