Strike Ballot FAQs

Two crucial industrial action ballots opened on 9th of September. With one on pay, equality, job security, and workload, and the other on USS pensions.

The ballots will run until Wednesday 30th of October and HEC will meet to consider the results on Friday 1st of November. The ballots are disaggregated so each institution is polled separately.

 

What is industrial action?

How does industrial action work?

What are the current ballots about?

Why should I vote?

How do I vote?

Why should I notify the branch that I have voted?

Why can’t we vote online?

I want to have a ballot sent to a different address or I haven’t received my ballot.

I can’t find the envelope with my ballot, what should I do?

Who is eligible to vote?

Who is not eligible to vote?

What should I do if I relieved a ballot, but don’t think I’m eligible to vote?

When is the deadline to submit my vote?

What outcome is necessary for a strike to go ahead?

I’m not sure if I want to strike, so should I abstain?

I can’t afford to lose pay by striking.

What happens if the vote is in favour of a strike?

What work will be affected by a possible strike?

Will supervisions continue as normal?

How can I help UCU reach the ballot threshold?

What if I still have questions?

 

What is industrial action?

The best known form of industrial action is the strike, when the workers of a union collectively refuse to work. Instead, they gather together outside their workplaces, to discourage colleagues and others from going inside: these gatherings are called picket-lines. There are also other forms e.g. action short of strike: workers might refuse to work overtime, or to provide cover for absent colleagues.

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How does industrial action work?

Industrial action is the last resort we have when negotiating with employers. It is not something we treat lightly. But it’s a proven way of defending or improving working conditions—in this case, by making the university a fairer place to work.

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What are the current ballots about?

Members of the union are being balloted on two separate but related issues: one on pay and equality, and one on pensions. Both balllots should be returned in the same envelope.

 

PAY and EQUALITY: Over the past decade, wages have plummeted across the UK. But compared to national averages, pay in the higher education sector has lagged behind. Since 2009, the wages of university staff have fallen in real terms by over 20%, while at the same time workloads have increased to unprecedented levels. This year, employers are once again insisting that staff accept a below-inflation pay offer—in other words, a pay cut. UCU are demanding that pay keeps up with the cost of living. But this vote is also about the various forms of pay inequality in universities. More and more people in this sector are working on precarious, fixed-term contracts, with limited rights and uncertain futures, and sometimes without contracts altogether; meanwhile, workloads are increasing across the board, with university staff performing an average of two days’ unpaid work every week. And the effects of this fall disproportionately on female and BME staff. Across the higher education sector, the gender pay gap is 12%: here in Cambridge, it’s much worse, at around 19.6%. UCU is fighting for fair contracts and manageable workloads for all workers. It wants employers to commit to a national plan for eliminating zero-hours contracts and closing the gender pay gap, as well as similar disparities for BME staff. 

 

PENSIONS: Pensions are deferred pay, agreed by employers to support workers once they retire. This year, workers in higher education are being forced to increase the amount they contribute towards their pensions, an increase which amounts to another pay cut. This comes in the wider context of repeated attacks on university pensions: employers have tried to slash the benefits workers receive, while hiking the amount they pay. UCU are standing against this erosion of their members’ rights, and fighting to guarantee a decent pension for all.

We recommend you vote YES to Industrial Action and YES to Action Short of a Strike in both ballots, and we urge all members to participate in the ballot.

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Why should I vote?

These are crucial ballots, aiming to secure long-needed advances in staff conditions at a time of real uncertainty in the sector and to protect staff from lost pay from below inflation pay awards and increased pension contributions. We want as many members as possible to participate in the ballots and express their views. Participating in the ballot gives members a voice in union decision-making; it gives colleagues a voice (because unless we meet a 50% turnout threshold nationally, even those who are prepared to strike will be unable to do so); and it strengthens the union and its ability to advocate for staff in future.

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How do I vote?

You should have received a ballot in the post in early September, either at home or at work; the envelope looks like this. Fill out your ballot papers and return both ballots in the included envelope. It’s prepaid, so no need for a stamp. Then please email us at CUCUVoted@gmail.com to let us know that you have voted (but not what your vote is).

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Why should I notify the branch that I have voted?

This helps us keep track of how the turnout is looking in the weeks before the deadline and to most effectively target our resources during the ballot period. We will stop sending reminders to people once they have notified us.

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Why can’t we vote online?

We have no choice – voting on paper is a legal requirement. The Trade Union Act 2016 specifically and deliberately outlawed online voting in industrial disputes.

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I want to have a ballot sent to a different address or I haven’t received my ballot.

You can apply for a new ballot here.

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I can’t find the envelope with my ballot, what should I do?

You can apply for a new ballot here. If you’ve lost the envelope you can apply for a new one with the link above, or just use your own (with a stamp), posting to; Electoral Reform Services, London N81 1ER

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Who is eligible to vote?

Anyone who is employed by the university or contracted to the university, whether full-time or part-time.

This includes people with university contracts who also do some college teaching.

It also includes students (most likely doctoral students) who are contracted to teach (Standard Free membership) – even if you are on an hourly rate.

TES staff are eligible to vote as TES is an internal department of the university rather than an external agency.

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Who is not eligible to vote?

Not all UCU members are eligible to vote this time round. Those who won’t be balloted are:

  • College-only staff.
  • Students registered as Graduate Student Members. Graduate students who teach for the university should make sure they are on Standard Free membership so that they will be balloted.
  • Retired members.
  • People who will be on long-term sick leave, maternity leave, or abroad on research over the whole period of the potential industrial action (from mid Nov 2019 until the end of April 2020).
  • External agency staff – but TES staff are eligible to vote; they need to remove ‘agency’ from their records (as TES is an internal department of the University).
  • Staff registered as self-employed.
  • Cambridge Assessment staff won’t be balloted on pay, as they are on a different pay scale.

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What should I do if I relieved a ballot, but don’t think I’m eligible to vote?

If you’ve received a ballot, but think you might be ineligible to vote, it’s important you let us know. Just reply to this email, or send a message to admin@ucu.cam.ac.uk, as soon as possible, and we can remove you from the ballot register if necessary. It’s crucial that you don’t just ignore your ballot papers, as the 50% voting threshold that we have to pass is based on the number of ballot papers sent out.

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When is the deadline to submit my vote?

Completed ballot papers must be received by Wednesday 30 October. Remember to allow good time for postage – no later than Monday 28 October. Best to put your vote in the post today.

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What outcome is necessary for a strike to go ahead?

For the vote to comply with legislation:

50% of all eligible UCU members locally will have to participate in the vote. Then out of those who turn out to vote, 50% will have to vote yes to strike.

This means that every vote is important. Some recent ballots failed not because people voted against striking, but because not enough people returned their ballots. 

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I’m not sure if I want to strike, so should I abstain?

If you don’t vote, you are effectively voting to stop the rest of membership from being able to take action, because of the 50% turnout rule. Union democracy is vitally important, we need to know what the whole membership thinks, so please do use your vote. If you don’t think we should strike, vote No to industrial action (but perhaps Yes to action short of a strike?). Abstaining is not sitting on the fence. It undermines the strength of the union across the board, not only on pay, equality and casualisation, but also on pensions, and in the many local issues, disputes and negotiations on which UCU works for its members.

Remember that the higher the turnout and the higher the Yes vote in this dispute, the more worried the employers will be about a possible strike, and the more likely they will be to come up with a better offer. Paradoxically, the stronger the vote the less likely we are to actually end up on strike!

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I can’t afford to lose pay by striking.

The union has hardship funds, both nationally and locally, which can provide some financial help.

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What happens if the vote is in favour of a strike?

Once votes are counted, the law requires that employers be given two weeks’ notice of intention to strike. This means that the earliest a strike might begin would be mid November. 

Due to the trade union act, unions can call a strike up to 6 months after a ballot has taken place. This means the latest we could call a strike would be the end of April 2020.

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What work will be affected by a possible strike?

All of your contracted duties for the university. This includes lectures and other forms of teaching organised by departments. It also includes meetings, marking, responding to emails and other communications on university business.

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Will supervisions continue as normal?

This depends on whether the supervisions are organised by colleges or departments. Supervisions organised by colleges will continue as normal. If you are a university employee who also teaches in a college, the strike does not remove your obligation to your college teaching. But supervisions organised by departments, even if they are paid for by colleges, will be affected by the strike.

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How can I help UCU reach the ballot threshold?

Speak to your colleagues about the ballot and encourage them to vote or to join UCU (a ballot paper will be sent out to them).

Put up your ‘I’ve Voted’ poster from the ballot pack and wear your stickers with pride.

Don’t see posters in your department? Get in touch and we will send you some.

Volunteer to help phone other members to remind them to vote.

Remember to notify the branch that you have voted.

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What if I still have questions?

Contact us at admin@ucu.cam.ac.uk and we’ll be happy to help.

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