Industrial action: Context and background

Goldsmiths is among a number of UK universities where industrial action is planned over the coming months as part of national disputes over pensions and pay and conditions.

Primary page content

This page is intended to set out the context and background of this national dispute which has a significant local impact at Goldsmiths for students, staff and the institute itself. 

Who is taking part in industrial action

UCU is the main union for academic staff, both at Goldsmiths and across the UK. UCU members at Goldsmiths have voted in favour of industrial action because they do not accept existing offers over pensions and pay and conditions.

Goldsmiths is one of 60 institutions where industrial action is being taken over two issues: pensions and pay and working conditions. UCU members are taking action over these issues at the same time.

What industrial action is being taken

Strike action took place on:

  • Monday 25 to Friday 29 November
  • Monday 2 to Wednesday 4 December
  • Thursday 20 and Friday 21 February (Reading Week)
  • Monday 24 to Wednesday 26 February
  • Monday 2 to Thursday 5 March
  • Monday 9 to Friday 13 March

Action short of a strike started on Monday 25 November and could continue until 29 April 2020.

Members taking action short of a strike will come to work on the usual working days but may take one or more of the following actions:

  • 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

Staff who took part in strike action will have appropriate salary deducted with this money transferred to student-facing activities.

Why industrial action is happening

UCU balloted its members for strike action on two issues: pensions and pay and conditions.


The main pension scheme for academics at Goldsmiths is called the USS.

UCU members are unhappy with the current arrangements for this scheme.

The rules of this scheme are set at a national level through discussions with higher education umbrella group Universities UK (UUK) representing universities and UCU formally representing its members who belong to the USS.

At the moment Goldsmiths makes £8.4million in employee contributions to the USS pension, with Goldsmiths employees contributing around £4million.

The rules of the scheme see contributions of 30.7% of USS members’ salary. This is split 65/35 between employer and employee – or 21.1% and 9.6%.

There is a disagreement over how the USS pension fund should be run with UCU calling for the USS Trustees – those responsible for ensuring that the USS pension fund can continue to keep paying its members – to take a more relaxed approach to risk by asking for lower contributions to the pension.

USS Trustees believe this cannot be done while ensuring that the USS pension can continue providing current levels of benefits now and in the future.

The Pensions Regulator, the official pensions watchdog with responsibility for ensuring pension schemes do not collapse and deprive pensions savers of retirement incomes, agrees with this position.

The university’s management team believe that current arrangements for pensions, which are set at a national level through collective bargaining and are not set locally, are appropriate.

The university’s management team believe existing arrangements for pensions strike the right balance between affordability, staff reward and ensuring that the same levels of pay and pension are received by future employees of Goldsmiths.

On affordability, Goldsmiths is currently making a financial loss meaning the university cannot afford higher contributions to pensions beyond levels to which the institution has already committed.

Pay and working conditions

Goldsmiths is an employer which recognises fully its duty of care towards its staff and provides pay and other benefits in line with good practice across the higher education sector.

Because the university is currently making a financial loss we cannot afford to meet union demands over pay.

The university’s senior management team believes that current arrangements for pay, which are set at a national level and are not set locally, are appropriate.

This is because existing arrangements for pensions and pay achieve the right balance between affordability for Goldsmiths, rewarding our current staff and ensuring levels of pay and pensions remain sustainable for future employees of Goldsmiths.

On working conditions, we are determined to provide the best possible experience for our staff and in turn ensure that our students receive the best learning opportunities and care.

Addressing casualisation of staff is key to this. At Goldsmiths we do not use zero-hour contracts and we will build on this by working with unions and colleagues to explore ways of providing employees with the job security they need.

Facts about pensions at Goldsmiths

  • Goldsmiths contributed £8.4million to the USS pension last year
  • Our annual contribution will rise to over £9.5 million as a result of the recent changes to the scheme
  • Goldsmiths agreed to increase contributions to the USS pension by £1.4million following the last industrial action in 2018
  • USS retirement benefits – which will not change – are worth nearly three times the national average of equivalent private sector schemes

Facts about pay at Goldsmiths

  • The median average full-time salary for Goldsmiths staff is £46,000.
  • The average pay-rise last year was £920, with lower-paid staff receiving more
  • In addition to the above pay-rise, all staff apart from SMT and Directors were last year awarded a £469 rise in London Weighting, which is intended to help manage the cost of living and working in the capital
  • Pay for staff at Goldsmiths, including rises in pay, is set on a national level and is not set by the university
  • Goldsmiths has also committed to paying at least the London Living Wage since 2011

Facts about working conditions at Goldsmiths

  • Staff get up to 35 days’ leave every year, plus Bank Holidays
  • At 3.7% our gender pay gap is among the lowest in the university sector and we are committed to bringing this to zero
  • We have no employees on zero-hours contracts
  • Some 9.7% of our academic staff are on Associate Lecturer contracts – in line with sector averages. The hourly paid Graduate Trainee Tutor role provides a valuable opportunity for our PhD students to gain professional experience.
  • All staff have the opportunity to take part in an extensive programme of wellbeing activities, access a staff assistance programme, staff discounts and onsite facilities and undertake internal or externally facilitated training