Alternative Dialogue - news for Durham UCU members and supporters

Alternative Dialogue – September 2019

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w/c 9 September 2019

Need to know

Please vote – ballots open today

Please vote! The industrial action ballots on (1) USS and (2) pay, casualization, equity and workloads open today. You will receive your two ballot papers at your registered address. Please check and update your registered address at MyUCU ( In the next few weeks, DUCU will be holding meetings in Departments / sections and reps will also speak to as many members as possible. Your vote needs to be posted and arrive by 30 October to be counted.

Please check and update your details without delay

Please log into MyUCU ( as soon as possible to check and update your membership details. When UCU issues the employer with the notice of intention to ballot it has to state that it regularly asks members to inform the union of any changes to circumstances and update its central membership records. If UCU can do that, it acts as a good defence if the legitimacy of the voter pool and hence the ballot is challenged. It also helps DUCU to work and campaign more effectively. For example, at the moment we are preparing data for the Grade 10 recognition letter and if professorial members could ensure their title is correct it will save us cross checking the membership database with the web and the phone book!

DUCU’s response to the VC’s 4 September email about USS

DUCU is writing to University management pointing out a number of factual inaccuracies or misrepresentations in its recent email about USS, which must be corrected by them. The email stated ‘UUK has made an alternative without prejudice proposal that involves no benefit changes as a result of the 2018 valuation and contribution rates of 21.6% by the employers and a reduced rate of 9.1% by the members. This was on the condition that UCU agreed not to proceed with the planned ballot on industrial action on pensions. This alternative offer is currently rejected by UCU.’ Characterising 9.1% as a ‘reduced’ rate may be considered disingenuous when members are currently paying 8.8% – a figure that itself is an increase on the 8% that members were paying before the 2017 valuation. Also, at the time the email was sent (09.52 on 4 September), the offer had not been rejected, as the UCU Higher Education Committee had not yet met to discuss it.

The same email also stated ‘Subject to consultation, this conclusion to the 2018 valuation provides a holding position largely in line with the first report of the Joint Expert Panel which was set up following the strike in 2018, with strong representation from both UUK and UCU; its second report which is due in the autumn (sic). It provides a two-year window to explore new options for reforms with USS and UCU to put the scheme on a more sustainable footing for the long term.’ This does not reflect that key recommendations from the Joint Expert Panel (JEP), such as delaying ‘de-risking’ the USS portfolio of assets and smoothing contribution rates, have been entirely discarded. As DUCU has pointed out in our letters about Durham’s published responses earlier in the year, the University does not appear to have pushed to any reasonable degree for the JEP1 to be implemented. And it is unlikely that a two year exploratory window exists, given the timescales within which USS will be consulting on and completing the next valuation that will be based on financial conditions in March 2020.

We also query whether a short exchange at our Joint Consultation and Negotiating Committee (JCNC) represents the ‘on-going dialogue with our local UCU branch’ that University management would like to ‘maintain’, given that DUCU has not received any formal written response to our letters about the University’s published position on USS.

‘Independent’ financial advice about USS pensions?

University management has organised briefing sessions for staff on USS provided by Mercer, described in the recent email to staff as ‘a firm of independent pensions experts’. In fact Mercer are NOT independent. The USS actuary, who advises USS on the contested valuation, is from Mercer. DUCU questions how the advice can be classed as impartial when it is given by stakeholders in the dispute. We are writing to University management to challenge their statement that the advice is impartial and ask them to immediately correct their email to ensure that no staff member in USS is misled.

Local contact for members in the Palatine Centre needed

Do you work in the Palatine Centre? If so, please consider becoming a ‘local contact’ to help DUCU communicate more effectively with members based in the Palatine Centre. More information about being a local contact can be found here: If you are interested, please email Sarah Elton (

Personal cases

If you need to contact DUCU about representation for a personal case, please use the central email rather than emailing personal addresses. Emailing the central email not only relieves the pressure on the case workers but also ensures that the Personal Cases Coordinator can direct your issue to the most appropriate person immediately and hence reduces delay. The address is checked every day and is confidential.


The next Joint Consultation and Negotiating Committee (JCNC), the formal meeting between the trade unions and University management, is on Wednesday 16 October. If you have items for inclusion on the agenda, please contact Francis Pritchard (

Latest news

Meeting with DSU

DUCU met Kate McIntosh, the President of Durham Students’ Union (DSU), and members of DSU staff on September 6th to discuss issues that affect both unions. DUCU was very pleased to receive support from DSU over the current pensions, pay, casualization and equality campaigns and proposed action. We hope to campaign jointly on various issues throughout the year. DUCU is looking forward to continuing the very productive relationship established with DSU last year, and wishes the DSU officers and staff all best wishes for the coming academic year.


The 2019 AGM held on Monday 24 June was reasonably well attended but not quorate. Its recommendations were ratified at a second AGM held subsequently. Motions on recognition for casual and Grade 10 staff were carried, as was a motion to support local and national calls for climate action. The full list of committee members will be updated on the DUCU webpage shortly, but three new members of the Committee – Sol Gamsu, Iain Lindsey and Sara Uckelman – were elected / co-opted. Francis Pritchard and Peter Craig were re-elected as Secretary and Treasurer respectively. Sol Gamsu was elected as the third representative to UCU Congress.

Casualisation claim

DUCU and University management had a third meeting about the casualization claim on September 5th. It was again positive and progress on broad principles have been made, but no specifics on pay and hours were presented. DUCU expects to receive these before the next meeting on September 30 and will consult on them with members beforehand if humanly possible.

Solidarity with BA pilots

DUCU today sent a message of solidarity and support to Balpa, the trade union representing BA pilots in their current (and first) strike over pay and conditions. Although very well paid compared to the average UK worker, BA pilots have seen attacks on their pension scheme and broken management promises. For more information see

Events and Activities

DUCU supports Youth Climate Strike

DUCU, along with UCU Northern Region, will be supporting the Youth Strike for Climate in the Market Place in Durham on Friday 20 September between 11.00 and 14.00. A group is meeting in front of Elvet Riverside 1, New Elvet, at 10.45 to walk to the Market Place. (We are supporting the youth strike by attending, but are not on strike ourselves on that day.) Please attend at any point during the protest – look out for the DUCU and Northern region banners in the Market Place!

Rep and activist training

If you would like to attend UCU training you can find links by region via If you cannot attend training in the Northern region, you can attend elsewhere (e.g. Manchester or Leeds): just apply via the website. Please make sure to let Sarah Elton and Francis Pritchard know you are attending training so we can put you to work afterwards!