Cambridge staff union fights for rights and recognition

The University and College Union (UCU) has initiated a campaign demanding union recognition for all staff categories at the University of Cambridge

May 09, 2021 by Peoples Dispatch
UCU Cambridge
A poster by UCU Cambridge.

On Wednesday, May 5, the University and College Union (UCU) in the UK started a campaign called “Recognition Now” to gain union recognition for all staff categories at the University of Cambridge. The union claims that of the 150 public universities in the UK, Cambridge is the only university to deny recognition to all but a small portion of its staff. It is also the only public university that does not recognize the UCU. Lack of access to recognized union membership denies the majority of employees in the university the right to organize for their demands.

According to reports, the Recognition Now campaign is a follow up to another campaign called “Justice for College Supervisors” which was launched by the UCU and the Cambridge Students’ Union in April. The campaign called for a major overhaul in the terms and conditions of college-employed hourly-paid undergraduate supervisors. The UCU and the students union initiated a petition addressed to senior tutors of the 31 Cambridge Colleges, demanding paid training, a revision of the supervision pay rate to reflect the full number of hours spent on class preparation, and employment contracts for all casual teachers who supervise undergraduates. According to a UCU Cambridge survey in 2018, 66% of college supervisors were earning far below minimum wage.

The UCU in its petition to the vice chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Stephen Toope, and the University Council said that without recognition, staff are denied the right to have their representatives sit on important decision-making committees and collectively bargain with the university. They also don’t have access to important documents that underpin policy changes which materially impact the work lives of the staff.

“It is no accident that Cambridge lags behind many other universities in the sector, offering lower than average rates of pay and subjecting staff to increased precarity through the use of casualized contracts, fixed-term contracts, and open-ended contracts that have insecurity built into them,” said the UCU.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady told Morning Star that the situation in the University of Cambridge, one of the world’s wealthiest universities with combined assets worth over £11 billion, was “outrageous”. “We are calling on the vice-chancellor to recognize all staff unions and all types of staff represented by UCU. For so many employees to have no union recognition is shameful for any institution, but for a university like Cambridge, it is nothing short of a disgrace,” Grady said.