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Day three and a very good morning to Joanna Cherry QC

Joanna Cherry QC and MP for Edinburgh South West visits the picket line #OneOfUsAllOfUs

While many of us were still in bed Joanna Cherry QC our local MP for the Edinburgh South West constituency was up and about meeting the early birds on the picket line. The university is one of the biggest local employers and we want to see it commit to the community that serves it by undertaking to tackle insecure contracts, pay erosion, work-induced stress, gender pay gaps, and poverty in retirement. You know it makes sense.

A big thank-you Joanna. It means so much that you stand with us. Solidarity. 

…and not to be upstaged, Daisy the dog still means business too #hwucupickets

When you return to work you should declare truthfully if you have taken part in strike action. It can be entered in ERP as unpaid leave. From Monday members will be working to contract on Action Short of Strike. This means that we work to the hours stipulated in our contracts. You do not have to declare to anyone that you are working ASOS, or enter it in ERP. Just don’t do all those extra hours that you have been doing for free. Our employers may have grown to expect it, and even more so during the current covid crisis, but think about whether they are demonstrating that they value your efforts.

So, if you haven’t already, join the good fight.


A cold start but warm spirits on second day of industrial action

A frosty start to day 2

Thank-you all those hardy souls who visited the picket line this morning despite the freezing weather, and thank-you too to all of you on strike at home who zoomed in from the virtual picket.

If you didn’t catch it live, you can still watch the Scotland-wide national rally at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buT2_l6PI1o. Outstanding speeches, in particular from Matt Crilly, NUS Scotland President (approx. at 26:00) and Steve Reicher (approx. at 31:00) – they are a must watch!

Tomorrow is the last strike day in 2021. Time to show our bosses that they need to agree to address deteriorating pay, inequalities, excessive workloads, and creeping casualisation

Join us at the main entrance from 8.30 – 10.30am and lets make it a big one.

Fantastic turnout on first day of industrial action

Come and show your support

Around 50 staff and students joined the picket line this morning, and other branches has similarly lively picket lines. We are striking to improve pay and working conditions for all members of staff, and also to preserve pension benefits for all members of the USS scheme.

We will be at the main entrance from 8.30 am to 10.30 on Thursday and Friday too. Please drop by and show your support.

Due to concerns over the spread new Omicron variant the strike rally planned for tomorrow outside the Scottish Parliament has been moved online. You can still show your support and solidarity by joining us for the live stream on YouTube or Facebook.

Speakers include NUS Scotland president Matt Crilly, UCU Scotland president Lena Wånggren, Independent SAGE expert and UCU member Prof Steve Reicher, plus politicians and activists straight from the picket lines.


Support for strike action from the Society of Progressive students

Members of the Student Progressive Society join the picket.

We were thrilled to have members of the Society of Progressive Students join us on the picket line today. The Society is committed to raise awareness of ongoing issues and to promote student engagement and discussion.

It is great hear that we have so much support from our students. Our working conditions are your learning conditions and together we make our universities what they are.



Students show solidarity and support the strikes

Heriot-Watt is one of 58 universities where staff, having voted overwhelming in favour of industrial action, are poised to strike over pay, pensions, and working conditions. The first of these strikes will be from Wednesday 1 December to Friday 3 December.

What is a strike?

A strike is when, as a result of unacceptable working conditions, members of a trade union collectively refuse to work. Instead, they gather outside their workplaces to protest; these gatherings are called picket-lines.

How are strikes meant to work?

Strike action is the last resort workers have when negotiating with their employers. It’s not something anyone treats lightly. Unions have to meet stringent requirements to declare a strike; meanwhile, striking workers lose their pay, often suffering significant hardship as a result. But it’s a tried and tested way of protecting and improving working conditions.

What are the strikes supposed to achieve?

  • A modest pay-rise – to match inflation and start making for up years of cuts. It has been estimated that staff pay has fallen by 20% in real terms in the last 20 years while executive pay has soared. A recent report by the Office for Students shows total remuneration for vice chancellor’s averages £269k. In the last year which they were reported, the annual accounts show that our own Principal earns in excess of £300k. A very generous increase of 27k on the year before, and more than 7 times the average salary at HWU.
  • An end to precarious employment practises, including zero hour contracts, in universities;
  • A concrete and binding plan from employers to close the gender and BME pay gaps, and to reduce workloads;
  • No rises in pension contributions.

Universities say they can’t afford to increase pay. But over the past ten years, the proportion of revenue they’ve spent on staff has fallen, while spending on flashy buildings has soared. That’s where your tuition fees are going – to university vanity projects, not to the people who teach and support you.

How will I be affected?

During the strikes, lectures, seminars, classes and demonstrations organised by your faculties may be cancelled. This will cause disruption for students, and the university will blame it on striking staff. However, they and their representative bodies, UUK and UCEA could have avoided the strike but chose not to act. Entrances to the campus will have picket lines at them. This will not prevent you from entering the campus if you want to but we would appreciate it you show solidarity and come and visit the picket.

So, why should I support the strikes?

Worsening conditions in higher education affect us all. Your teachers’ working conditions are your learning conditions. Staff don’t want to go on strike: they’d much rather be teaching, researching, providing services and support, and doing the work they love. In fact, strikes are a way of making sure they can continue doing what they do. Insecure employment, intolerable workloads, unequal pay, and uncertain futures – all these threaten the future of higher education as we know it. The union is fighting back on behalf of students and staff alike, to build a better and fairer university for everyone.

Research undertaken by the NUS in their monthly opinion tracker survey shows overwhelming support with 73% of students indicating support for the strike action.

Students have a rich history of standing shoulder to shoulder with university staff, who have seen their pensions, pay and conditions slashed in recent years, so I’m not surprised that they overwhelmingly support their campaign to secure a fairer settlement.

With vice chancellors’ average total pay rising to £269,000 per year, it is clear that UUK and UCEA can afford to resolve their dispute with UCU over staff pay, which has fallen by an average of 20% in real terms between 2009 and 2019. Staff teaching conditions are student learning conditions, and moreover many postgraduate students on casualised teaching contracts will be striking. The onus for minimising disruption for students lies with university bosses: they must come back to the table to address the clear issues in how higher education is currently run. This is why NUS have launched a petition of students calling on UUK and UCEA executives to return to the negotiation table and meet UCU’s demands.

– Larissa Kennedy NUS UK President

How can I show my support?

There are plenty of ways you can show your support.

  • Come and join us on the picket line.
  • Write to the Principal: tell Richard Williams you back your lecturers and teachers, email him at R.A.Williams@hw.ac.uk
  • Join the Union. If you are Postgraduate student you can get FREE UCU membership.
  • Stay informed. Stay informed: for regular updates on the strikes as they progress, keep an eye on our HWUCU Twitter at @UCU_HWUBranch and Facebook @UCUHWU for more information on what’s going on and how to get involved.

When staff and students unite we can make real change happen. By coming together can make a fairer future.

Have you voted yet?

You should have received your ballot envelope from UCU. It will contain two ballot forms. You should return both ballot forms.

In order for the result of the vote to count it needs to pass the 50% turnout threshold, so please vote no matter what your view is.

The Heriot-Watt University branch of UCU believes you should reject the offers made from UUK (USS) and UCEA (pay, casualisation, workload, pay gaps). Accepting the offer, or failing to vote, signals that you agree to higher workloads, pay cuts, reduced pensions benefits (in the region of 20%), casualisation, and race and gender pay gaps.

Ask yourself: is this a sector that is looking after staff interests; is this a sector that will start looking after its staff anytime soon?

Please ensure that your ballot papers are received no later than noon on Thursday 4 November if you wish for your votes to be counted. So, posted by Tuesday 2 November.

If you have not received your voting packs. Please contact the UCU at https://yoursay.ucu.org.uk/s3/USS-HE-replacement-form.

If you are not a member it is not too late to join and have your say, so why not join today?

UCU perspective on USS and pay disputes

As you will know the University and College Union (UCU represents all members of the USS pension scheme, and represents academic and related staff (grades 6-10) on wider terms and conditions of employment, such as pay. We would like to present UCU’s perspective on two current disputes – detrimental changes to USS (via UUK), and a further sub-inflationary pay offer, and failure to engage in sector-wide work on workload, pays gaps, and casualisation (via UCEA).

Those of you who are members of UCU will be aware of the two disputes and since Monday, 18 October, will have received ballot papers asking members to vote for industrial action, with the immediate aim of getting UUK and UCEA to return to the bargaining table and resolve the dispute hopefully without the need to start industrial action.

USS dispute

UCU has tried to avoid a dispute by meeting with employers throughout 2021. UCU sought compromise throughout this year, including submitting an alternative proposal to negotiations but as UUK declined to provide the necessary support to allow it to be costed on the same basis as the UUK proposal, it could not be voted on.

At a Joint Negotiating Committee meeting in August 2021 employers and the independent Chairperson of the USS decided to vote to impose heavy cuts on our pension. The cuts are based on a valuation of the USS scheme made at the end of March 2020 – a time when global economies and financial markets were in shock from the initial stages of the covid-19 pandemic. Since then the assets of USS have grown and UCU has asked for a 2021 revaluation of the scheme.

As pensions are very technical, we have created some videos that may help your understanding if you wish to delve deeper

UCU Solidarity Movement – Know Your Pension (Part 1) – YouTube
UCU Solidarity Movement – Know Your Pension (Part 2) – YouTube

Implications of the changes proposed by UUK (employer body)

The changes voted for at the August 2021 meeting, which UCU opposed, propose large cuts to your retirement income (for details see table further below).

The USS’s own projection, even with the inclusion of the uncertain defined contribution on top of the guaranteed benefits, sets the loss to one member, earning £50,000, at 18%, reducing guaranteed retirement income earned from the point of the changes by almost 1/5th.

If you look at the loss to defined benefits alone the UCU calculate the loss to the guaranteed income a member, aged 37, earning £42k would have earned over the rest of their career could be as high as 35%.

The USS model also assumes we all get a 4.35% pay rise annually (CPI+1.5%) which would be very nice if it were true.

Your employer has signalled a degree of scepticism about the recent valuation and the level of prudence used. We agree. That is why we are calling for our employer to support UCU calls for a 2021 revaluation of the scheme and to withdraw the proposed pension cuts. The value of our assets held by USS have increased by at least 14.6bn since March 2020. That is why UCU is asking employers to insist on a 2021 valuation with a level of prudence more like that used for all previous valuations before the 2020 valuations.

UCU and employers are in agreement about the need to reform USS governance and to explore options to see if a longer term solution can be reached. However, the increase in USS assets, the excessive prudence use and the effect of an indexation cap on the value of pensions are among the reasons why we believe the cuts proposed by UUK are unnecessary and will have a really detrimental effect on members’ pensions.

Pay dispute

As with USS, we believe the offer on the table from UCEA falls a long way short of what is affordable, as well as what staff deserve after working through a pandemic, a time many of us have seen higher workloads, diminishing action on equalities, and many challenges associated with the pandemic itself.

UCU’s reasons for going into dispute with UCEA over pay and wider issues are summarised as follows:

  • The employers have refused to move from the final offer they made in May of 1.5% for 2021-22.
  • This follows a 0% offer for 2020-21, after over a decade where our pay has been eroded by sub inflation pay offers. Inflation has been rising rapidly since the start of this year.
  • The Office for National Statistics reported CPIH in June at 2.4%, CPI at 2.5% and RPI at 3.9%.
  • A 1.5% increase over 2 years is in reality a steep real-terms pay cut, on top of over a decade of pay cuts.
  • Gender Pay Gap: We note that the email sent to all staff reflects on the gender pay gap (but not other pay gaps for other groups including disabled colleagues and those from racialised minorities). Heriot Watt’s own pay gap reporting shows that there are considerable pay gaps within the institution. The pay gaps at Heriot Watt are (median)  21% gender pay gap, 34% for disability and no median is shown for ethnicity. The email to all staff suggests the gender pay gap is down to occupational choices and a lack of women professors, but does not explain the institution’s own role in these gendered disparities, for example, how the work of women and men is valued by the institution. Further, there is no mention of how the university plans to address the 34% disability pay gap.  These problems are reflected across the sector and form a key aspect of the ‘four fights’ dispute. There is an urgent need for a framework which closes these gaps for all colleagues


We hope this gives you an overview of UCU’s reasons for being in dispute. We intend to have an open meeting regarding both disputes via Zoom @ 1pm on Thursday, 18th of November and we hope as many of you as possible can attend – details will follow.

In the meantime, if you have any questions or queries,  please come to the meeting or email your queries to ucu@hw.ac.uk (in confidence).

We appreciate you taking the time to understand the UCU perspective on both disputes, and if you want to join us in fighting for your pension, pay, and working conditions, you should consider joining UCU through this link: https://www.ucu.org.uk/join

Current Proposed Result
Accrual is 1/75th of annual salary below the cap. Accrual of 1/85th of annual salary below the cap At present if you worked for 25 years you would earn 1/3rd of your salary as guaranteed income every year in retirement plus a lump sum of 3 x that i.e. ~one year salary Under the new proposal you would either have to work longer to gain the same income or accept an income 12% lower.
Your pension broadly keeps up with inflation. Full indexation <5% inflation and half indexation between 5 and 10% inflation. An indexation cap of 2.5% above which your pension will not keep up with inflation If inflation goes above 2.5% your pension will not retain its buying power. The USS persona model assumes inflation will be on average 2.85% that is 0.35% above inflation every year that you will not get.
A salary cap of ~£60k, above which salary money goes into a defined contribution scheme (DC) A lower salary cap of £40k This means that if you earn above £40k more of your salary will go into a savings pot which pay a *one-off sum* retirement. Instead of the guaranteed income provided by defined benefit, you must either buy an expensive annuity or draw down income every year and hope it doesn’t run out while you still need it.

All Edinburgh UCU meeting: Building the Ballots, Preparing to Fight

We will be holding an all Edinburgh online meeting via Zoom on Wednesday October 13, 2021 from 12:30-1:30 PM. To join the meeting please use the Zoom link which has been sent to all HWUCU members by email. If you require a reminder, please contact the local branch office or a member of the branch committee.

Edinburgh, QMU, and HWU will be balloted on the 4 fights: Pay, Workloads, Casualisation, Equal pay. Edinburgh and HWU will also be balloted on the USS pension dispute. The main focus of the meeting will be the 4 fights as this is what unites all the Edinburgh branches. We will have a few speakers including at least one National pay negotiator, and UCU Scotland President, Lena Wanggren.

All members are welcome to come as are interested non-members. Come along and bring your colleagues. This is an ideal opportunity to find out about the disputes, to ask questions, and to make suggestions for actions we can take.

If BSL interpreting would be of assistance to the meeting please contact the on-campus BSL interpreting service (marion.fletcher@hw.ac.uk) directly to arrange this. Please give Marion as much notice as possible.

Growing The Powerbase

We are a strong Branch with well-attended AGMs/EGMs and an active membership and Committee but we can always use more help. To find out more about the work of our local HWUCU branch please check out the rest of this website and our Twitter feed at @UCU_HWUBranch.

If you have a few spare moments and you would like to get more involved please get in touch with one of our school or service reps, or the Membership Officer. Contacts can be found at https://heriotwatt.web.ucu.org.uk/branchcommittee/

If you are not already a member here are 5 Reasons to Join UCU. It only takes 10 minutes and subscriptions start from just £2 per month, so why not join today?

EGM to discuss outcome of HE Sector Conference and the USS dispute

There will be an on online HWU Branch members extraordinary general meeting at 12.30 on Thursday 23 September 2021 to discuss the outcome of HE Sector Conference and the USS dispute. To join the meeting please use the Zoom link which has been sent to all HWUCU members by email. If you require a reminder, please contact Juergen Munz at Juergen.Munz@hw.ac.uk.

If BSL interpreting would be of assistance to the meeting please contact the on-campus BSL interpreting service (marion.fletcher@hw.ac.uk ) directly to arrange this.

Pay and 4 fights

The annual pay bargaining has now closed without a resolution. A derisory pay rise of 1.5% has been imposed by employers without UCU agreement. No further progress has been made on pay gaps, casualisation and workload other than the usual offer for more working groups. Therefore with the USS situation at a critical point for the future of our pensions and no resolution on pay it is likely that we will be balloted on both.

The USS dispute

The UUK proposal has been voted through by the UUK JNC representatives with the Chair’s casting vote. This proposal if not revoked, will see a significant cut to our future guaranteed pension accrual *of at least 12%*, probably more like 23% once indexation is factored in.

What changes are being proposed to your pension?

In March 2020, the USS Board who oversee the Universities Superannuation Scheme, conducted a valuation of the pension scheme – a time when global financial markets were at a deep low. This valuation (the 2020 valuation) estimated that the USS scheme carried a projected deficit of between £9.4 to £14bn, with the USS trustees later arguing the deficit could even be as high as £17bn. The valuation was shared with Universities UK (UUK; the organisation that represents employers) and UCU.

Sam Marsh, one of the UCU negotiations at the JNC called for more information on the methodology used in the 2020 valuation but was denied. Marsh has since conducted his own analysis which can be found at https://medium.com/ussbriefs/how-extreme-prudence-and-misguided-risk-management-sent-the-uss-into-crisis-baf78c35d9e1

In short, he argues that 2020 valuation is overly-prudent.

What is important here is that each assumption being made by USS’ actuaries will impact on the level of cost and benefit in the scheme. The USS Board are obliged by UK pension law to choose prudent assumptions in determining future costs in a pension scheme, and more pessimistic assumptions (i.e. assumptions that are more prudent) will result in higher costs and lower asset values. The USS Board changed their valuation methodology and definition of prudence specifically for the 2020 valuation and has not yet fully and transparently disclosed the justifications for these changes, save for a brief response comparing the general changes in prudence from previous valuations.

Negotiators representing UUK also demand more transparency regarding the 2020 valuation.

In March 2021, the USS Board presented their own proposal which we have shared with members before. For reference the current contribution to the scheme is 30.7%: members (you) pay 9.6% of your salary, and employers pay 21.1%. In order to keep the current package of defined benefits in our post-retirement income, USS proposed that the lowest contribution rate they were prepared to accept was 42.1%, which would be split roughly one-third by members (you) and two-thirds by employers.

This was rejected by both UCU and UUK as being too costly.

UUK have since accepted the contentious 2020 valuation and have made their own proposal on benefit reform and cost sharing, which was accepted by USS and a new USS-UUK agreed cost sharing proposal was considered and shared with UCU.

How has UCU responded?

UCU has disagreed with the 2020 valuation, maintaining that the deficit has been exaggerated because of inaccurate technical assumptions, and that the valuation was conducted when markets were suffering from the immediate shock of the Covid-19 crisis.

Indeed, when the valuation was conducted, scheme assets were estimated to be £66.5bn, but as recently as 31 July 2021, the USS own monitoring dashboard valued the assets at £87.8bn. This represents substantial growth over the last 15 months, challenging the pessimistic and overly-prudent assumptions of the 2020 valuation.

UCU negotiators on the JNC have cited this growth in assets and have asked for USS to conduct a March 2021 valuation, but have been denied this request. The USS Board have repeatedly claimed that a 2021 valuation is not possible, and the USS Board have maintained that if a 2021 valuation was to be done the outcome would be the same.

Instead, USS accepted the UUK proposal and have supported this. The UUK proposal is focussed on cost cutting and reducing the benefits owed to members (you).

UCU negotiators through July and August proposed different ways of cutting costs and ensuring existing benefits could continue to be delivered to members. UCU negotiators also highlighted how the UUK proposal would contribute to a worsening intergenerational fairness, creating in effect a two-tiered pension scheme that reduces guaranteed defined benefits for all members enrolled in the scheme.

UCU negotiators tabled their own counter, but UUK cited procedural issues and refused to extend support to the UCU proposal and did not recognise the UCU proposal as being a formal offer at the negotiations. This, instead, ensured that the only proposal under discussion for employers and members was the UUK proposal. One of the UCU negotiators has written about this refusal to acknowledge the UCU proposal here.

In August 2021, the final JNC session to discuss the UUK proposal was held. In that meeting, the voting was split – the independent chair appointed to the JNC voted in favour of the UUK proposal. This means that we are now faced with cuts to our post-retirement, higher contribution rates, and an overall degradation to the defined benefit element of our pension.

Despite previously disagreeing with the USS Board’s very pessimistic (and despite the scheme enjoying significant asset growth since the 2020 valuation), UUK instead has signalled with their proposal that employers are not willing to support the existing levels of defined benefits. Pensions are our deferred wages, and employers by accepting the UUK proposal, are now content to cut our own entitlement to our own deferred wages. This on the back of several years of real terms pay cuts and growing casualisation across the UK Higher Education sector comes to some as a real slap in the face. Especially when some employers saw fit to cut jobs and embark on redundancy schemes when staff had over-worked to ensure universities continued to run smoothly during the pandemic. You will recall we faced those very same challenges last year.

UCU nationally has called for action on pay and pensions, with both issues being recently discussed at a specially convened conference last week (the Higher Education Special Sector Conference, held on 9 September 2021).

Further Information

We also highly recommend you watch the following short videos from the recent UCU Solidarity meeting where UCU pensions experts explain different aspect of the USS scheme in small bite size chunks.

Part 1: USS basics

Part 2: The current valuation

Part 3: Is there an alternative

Part 4 and 5 to follow shortly.

What can you do?

  • Check your membership details are correct (and consider adding your mobile phone)
  • When you get your ballot paper- vote!
  • Come along to the EGM
  • Talk to your colleagues- if they are not in UCU they need to join and fight to protect *their* pensions. They cannot keep relying on others to do the fighting for them. Since we protected the USS scheme in 2018 they have already received an additional guaranteed annual income in retirement equivalent to 1/25th of their annual salary that they would not have got had it not been for UCU members.

Finally, at the meeting we will be voting on a motion to call for a Special Scottish Conference on Covid. We hope all staff are well and safe and able to work in a way that protects their own health and that of their loved ones and community. However, we have concerns about the way that H&S is being handled at HWU and this is shared across many other institutions. If you have specific concerns or queries related to return to campus then please contact us and come along to the EGM.

Know Your Pension

In USS pension scheme? Want to know more about USS, how decisions that affect your pension are made and what you can do about it, come along on Thursday to ‘Know Your Pension’.

Information on the Key Issues in the USS Pensions Debate. All your pension questions answered in bit-sized chunks.

Meeting will be held online via Zoom at 6.30pm on Thursday 2 September. All staff welcome to attend. You don’t have to have to be a member of a union to be concerned about your pension.

Register at https://bit.ly/3jS1dZ1