University of Cambridge and UCU sign recognition agreement

Long-fought campaign by members finally secures union a seat at the negotiating table

March 10, 2023
The picket line at Senate House, Cambridge
The picket line at Senate House, Cambridge

The University of Cambridge has agreed to recognise the University and College Union (UCU) after a long-fought campaign in a move that it is hoped will boost the ability of staff to secure better working conditions.

UCU’s general secretary Jo Grady signed a recognition agreement on 10 March, with university leaders set to ratify it “imminently”, the union said.

Cambridge had been an outlier in UK higher education in not officially recognising the UK’s main academic union, which meant members had no formal right to be consulted and negotiate over pay and working conditions.

It had been argued that staff were democratically represented via the university’s internal committees, a tradition that had been fiercely defended by some at the institution.

The recognition agreement means the union will now be able to conduct formal negotiations with management and its members will be given time to work on union activities.

UCU will also be given guaranteed membership in governance committees and the ability to conduct independent health and safety inspections.

All UCU bargaining groups – academic, academic-related, research and professional services staff – are covered by the agreement.

Recognition for the Cambridge branch comes amid increased tensions between the unions and university employers. Strike action affected universities including Cambridge last November and then again in February, with further walkouts planned to start next week.

UCU has argued for a higher than inflation pay rise for all staff as well as action on working conditions, casualisation and restoration of lost pensions benefits. A re-ballot of all the union’s members was taking place on whether to extend the strikes for a further six months from April.

Cambridge’s branch president Michael Abberton said it was “fantastic to be celebrating some good news…even in the context of the current national dispute”.

“It shows even after a long campaign we have the capacity to win. I hope that we can continue to build the branch and improve conditions across the entire university for all our members and staff,” he said.

Dr Grady said it was “a fantastic victory for our Cambridge members and the regional team who have worked tirelessly to get the university to recognise our union”.

“Thanks to them, our union now has a seat at the table representing staff and bargaining with the employer.”

A Cambridge spokesperson said: “The university has been actively engaged in talks with the University and College Union (UCU) in connection with its request for voluntary recognition, and also with Unite and Unison about expanding the current scope of their recognition by the university. These new recognition agreements will now go to the university for ratification.”

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