Industrial action

Information on industrial action at Goldsmiths.

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Industrial action including strike action is taking place at 150 universities across the UK this academic year, as part of a national dispute over pay and working conditions and pensions. This includes at Goldsmiths. 

Members of the University and College Union (UCU), the largest staff trade union in higher education, voted in favour of industrial action in Autumn 2022 and have a legal mandate to take action across the sector until April 2023. 

Guidance for students 

Strike action

Strike action was held at Goldsmiths on 24, 25 and 30 November. UCU have suggested that further strike action will take place in Spring term, with details yet to be announced. 

Action short of a strike

Alongside strike action, UCU members are also taking part in action short of a strike (ASOS) which started on Wednesday 23 November and will run for the length of this period of industrial action. 

Members of UCU taking action short of a strike will work on their usual working days but may take one or more of the following actions during the ASOS period:

  • working to contract
  • not covering for absent colleagues
  • not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action
  • not sharing materials relating to lectures or classes cancelled as a result of strike action
  • not undertaking any voluntary activities

This action does not currently include a marking and assessment boycott, although UCU say they will consider taking this form of industrial action on a national basis later this academic year. 

Student support 

Your academic department is the best place to find out about alternative learning provision following disruption caused by industrial action. 

Industrial action can be challenging for students – wellbeing support is available from Goldsmiths

Complaints   

  • UCU has a legal right to take industrial action under the current mandate until April 2023, and has strongly committed to further action during this time unless an agreement can be reached nationally. Given this, Goldsmiths is not planning to consider complaints related to this period of industrial action until the mandate has concluded in Spring, to allow us to fairly take into account all and any impact on students which may occur. We will keep this position under review. 
  • If you wish to send a message to senior staff at Goldsmiths please email wardensoffice (@gold.ac.uk)

 

Goldsmiths’ position on the issues

This is a national dispute between UCU and the sector as a whole rather than individual universities. However, the position of individual institutions is important.

Goldsmiths believe our staff deserve the best pay and pensions we can afford and the best working conditions we can provide. Unlike some other universities, we have never been a wealthy institution and we invest any surplus in supporting the student experience, teaching and the creation of new knowledge.

Unfortunately, the pandemic and central government cuts put considerable extra pressure on our finances leaving us with a reported deficit of £12.7m. We had to make some difficult decisions to put us back onto a stable financial footing, to help guarantee our future and to make £9m in ongoing savings by the end of financial year 2022-23.

Our plan is working: we have made £6 million in savings so far with a further £3m to make this academic year. This financial position fundamentally informs our ability to meet requests made over pay and pensions.

Locally, the College is committed to working with our recognised staff unions, Goldsmiths UCU and Goldsmiths UNISON, to find a shared way forward on industrial relations issues. This follows extensive work on both sides which led to an agreement in summer 2022 which concluded local industrial action with a range of commitments from the College and staff unions.

We are also asking Goldsmiths staff to consider the impact industrial action can have on our students, their learning and their time at Goldsmiths. 

Nationally, we urge Universities UK and UCEA, who represent our sector on pensions and pay, to work with UCU to reach an agreement and prevent further disruption.

Employment facts about Goldsmiths

  • Average mean salary for a full-time, permanent Goldsmiths employee: £47,262, above the average London wage based on Office for National Statistics data
  • The College contributes £12 million a year to staff pensions, including to a defined benefit scheme still open to new members
  • Up to 28 annual days’ leave every year, plus six closure days as well as Bank Holidays
  • Three-quarters of our academic staff are permanent
  • We do not use zero-hours contracts
  • Part of national pay agreements
  • At 4.2% our median gender pay gap is well below the sector average of 16.2% and we are working towards pay equality
  • Our median ethnicity pay gap is 16.4%. We recognise this is not good enough and are putting in place actions to directly address this and the underlying issues behind such inequality
  • Goldsmiths has committed to paying at least the London Living Wage since 2011
  • The College responded to student and staff campaigns by bringing cleaning and security colleagues in-house
  • We provide free confidential, 24/7 access to a Staff Assistance Programme, Staff Counsellor and also offer a wide range of wellbeing support
  • We are working on a number of initiatives to support staff and students with the current cost of living crisis, including putting an additional £100k in the student hardship fund

Pay

Goldsmiths spent some £90.4 million on staff costs in academic year 2020-21, the latest year for which audited accounts are available. This £90.4 million accounts for 72% of our overall income and is by far our biggest outgoing.

Of this, the main contributions are accounted for with £66.1 million on salaries with £12.1 million on employer pension contributions and £6.4 million on social security costs.

Every year universities use what is called collective bargaining to help decide how much pay rises will be across the sector.

Collective bargaining is a way to make sure pay rises are equal across higher education. It sees a group called UCEA represent universities in negotiations with UCU over levels of pay.

This year, lower-paid staff will receive a 9% pay-rise with the remainder getting a 3% pay-rise.

Financial volatility including high inflation has led to UCU rejecting this pay offer. Despite the best efforts of both sides a compromise has not been reached as yet, leading to UCU balloting its members for industrial action over pay.

Pensions

Goldsmiths invested £12.1 million to staff pensions in the last year, with £10 million of this in contributions to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) which is the main pension scheme in the UK university sector.

The USS is the largest private pension scheme in the UK, meaning it is not like the pension for state school teachers which is guaranteed by public money.

Instead, the USS relies on a multi-billion pound funding pot to ensure that the pensions promises made to members of the scheme can be paid now and in the future.

Recent financial volatility means there have been concerns over the levels of funding for the scheme, with a financial health check showing a shortfall of £14billion between the level of funding and the pensions commitments made to members.

As a result of this, changes were made to the scheme to ensure it remained sustainable. Unfortunately, in exchange for helping secure the future of the scheme the changes mean that members now receive lower benefits than before.

The valuable defined benefit element has been kept – defined benefit pensions are considered the gold-standard of retirement savings with a guaranteed income. The USS is one of the few pensions schemes in the UK to have a defined benefit element which is still open to new members joining the scheme.

Recent movement in global and national finances, including higher interest rates, has seen the funding position of the scheme improve. This has led to calls to reverse the recent changes but there are still concerns over how ongoing financial instability could further impact the scheme.

Goldsmiths has always said that the door should be left open to reversing the changes, should the funding position improve on a sustained basis. See our USS consultation response 21 May 2021 (PDF).

Decisions over the USS pension are made on a sector-wide basis, as with pay, with Universities UK representing universities in discussions with UCU.

Working conditions

Goldsmiths has a clear set of values with social and racial justice and equity key to us as an institution and for our community of students and staff. We work hard to put these values into action as an employer.

We do not use zero-hour contracts and the number of academic staff who have permanent contracts is above figures released nationally by UCU. In addition to this, we offer generous general working terms especially when compared to private sector allowance – with significant annual leave allowance and we are a London Living Wage employer.

We recognise that gender and ethnicity pay disparities are not good enough and we are working hard to address these issues.


Published 25 October 2022

Last updated 30 November 2022