University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt has been censured by members over her handling of UK higher education’s pensions strike, but a controversial no-confidence motion was withdrawn.
The no-confidence motion from the University of Exeter’s UCU branch, which called for “the resignation of Sally Hunt as general secretary with immediate effect”, caused uproar at the union’s congress in Manchester in June when union officials repeatedly blocked efforts to debate it.
The three-day event was eventually abandoned after a third walkout by Ms Hunt and senior UCU staff members, who claimed that the motion constituted an unacceptable breach of rules protecting employees’ dignity at work and an unconstitutional attempt to remove a democratically elected official.
At a recall congress held in Manchester on 18 October, the no-confidence motion was tabled to be debated alongside other issues that had been sidelined by the disruptions to the June event.
However, the motion, which drew attention to Ms Hunt’s handling of a Universities UK offer in late March that ultimately ended the Universities Superannuation Scheme strike, was withdrawn on the day by Mike Finn, one of the two delegates for the Exeter branch.
Delegates agreed not to discuss the motion, which claimed that Ms Hunt’s actions were representative of a “democratic deficit in the union affecting members across sectors, manifested through a continuous pattern of unilateral, undemocratic action by the national leadership”.
Ms Hunt did not attend the conference. Earlier this month, she announced that she was taking a break from the UCU after doctors warned her that the “very high” pressure of the past year risked worsening her multiple sclerosis.
The Exeter branch has not disclosed why it withdrew the motion.
However, a motion of censure in Ms Hunt, which was tabled by the branch of King’s College London, was passed in her absence.
That motion criticised Ms Hunt’s claim that “the majority of branch representatives wanted an immediate ballot of members” on the UUK offer to establish a joint expert panel to review pension valuation in exchange for ending the strike, stating that she did not have “any verifiable evidence to support this claim”.
“A member-led union requires clarity, transparency and accountability of its decision-making processes,” stated the motion, which resolved that “future branch representatives’ positions are recorded in a clear and verifiable manner”.
Emma-Jane Phillips, a UCU delegate for Northumbria University who attended the recall event, said that she “welcomed the withdrawal of the [no-confidence] motion” and called the decision “sensible”.