UCU faces member backlash over compulsory ‘fighting fund’ levy

Money to be taken automatically from members’ bank accounts to support UK union’s strike fund

June 26, 2020
Person counting money in hand
Source: iStock

Members of the UK’s biggest higher education union have expressed anger at the announcement of a compulsory levy for its strike fund.

In an email sent to all members of the University and College Union, general secretary Jo Grady said that £15 would automatically be taken from members’ accounts by direct debit to go towards the Fighting Fund, which supports members who take strike action and face salary deductions from their employers. 

Taking to Twitter, members expressed anger that the money would be taken directly from their bank accounts and that there was a flat rate across the board, despite staff earning vastly different salaries.

André Keil tweeted: “I am more than happy to chip in to support the UCU, the announced levy really is an own goal. It’s less about the 15 quid, but about the way it is handled. I would expect better from my union.”

Zoë Shacklock said: “As a UCU member on a permanent contract, paying the £15 levy is easy and I’m more than happy to do it – but asking precarious colleagues to pay the same rate, and announcing it the week that many will have received their last pay cheque for the foreseeable future, is insulting.”

One member tweeted: “I would happily give more than £15 to the fighting fund, but I would prefer to be asked, not told,” while another said: “I’m going to be out of a job in September (as I’m on a [short-term contract]) but I must also pay the £15 levy? That seems a little bonkers to me.”

The decision for the flat-rate levy was made by national executive committee in February 2020, after members at UK universities went on a second round of strikes in the dispute with employers over the Universities Superannuation Scheme pensions and a separate dispute over pay and working conditions.

Staff walked out for eight days at the end of 2019, and for 14 days across February and March in 2020.

In her email, Dr Grady said that “because of the unprecedented support [the Fighting Fund] provided to members over the past year in particular, the NEC has deemed that a levy of £15 per member is necessary”.

The levy will be taken from each member’s bank account in two instalments. The first instalment of £10 will be taken on 31 August, and the second instalment of £5 will be taken on 30 September, via an automatic direct debit.

Student members and those who are part of the free membership scheme will not be levied. 

Dr Grady said she was “confident that UCU has raised and saved as much money as possible in the time available”.

“We have made significant savings under various budget headings, and we have raised several hundred thousand pounds in donations. We have pursued every option available to us before triggering this levy,” Dr Grady said.

“Without implementing the levy, we will not be able to support UCU branches to take action where it is most needed.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

duh - it's a levy using members' direct debits. If you disagree with the levy, tell the bank to give you a refund...

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