The campaign calls for recognition of all academic-related and research staffLouis Ashworth

The Cambridge branch of the University and College Union (UCU) launched a “Recognition NOW” campaign this Wednesday (13/01), in an attempt to gain trade union recognition from the University of Cambridge.

In a press release to Varsity, the Cambridge UCU claims that despite recognising local Unite and Unison trade unions, the University of Cambridge does not formally recognise Cambridge’s branch of the UCU, which makes Cambridge “the only ‘pre-92’ public university in the UK that does not recognise its local UCU branch.”

As part of the campaign, Cambridge UCU has released a petition, which had received 223 signatures at the time of publication.

It highlights that the University of Cambridge is the only public university that fails to recognise “all but a small proportion of their staff,” alongside being the only University that does not recognise the UCU. 

The University has previously offered to recognise academic staff with formal teaching roles through the union in November, an offer which the Cambridge UCU rejected as “less than half of the branch membership would be covered under such arrangements.” 

The petition highlights that this plan would have excluded both academic-related and research staff such as post-doctoral researchers and librarians, stating “all staff deserve the right to be in a recognised union.” 

It adds that the absence of representation by the UCU results in “staff [being] denied the right for their representatives to sit on important decision-making committees…[and] have access to important documents that underpin policy changes that materially impact the working lives of staff.” 

In its recent ‘Motion on Negotiating and Organising for Recognition’, Cambridge UCU notes that the University put forward an opening offer for voluntary recognition of academic staff only on 7 October 2020, and that “the University agreed to negotiate on a preliminary agreement for academic staff, and on the process by which Cambridge UCU could achieve recognition for academic-related and research staff”.

The Motion explains that this may include a poll of all academic-related and research staff in order to ascertain their willingness to be represented by Cambridge UCU. It also claims that the University only opted to recognise academic staff as it believed “the union [Cambridge UCU] had insufficient membership among academic-related and research staff to qualify for recognition”.


Mountain View

Cambridge's 3 waves of strikes in the previous 3 years

The petition also notes that the University is offering lower than average rates of pay and uses “casualised contracts fixed-term contracts, and open-ended contracts that have insecurity built into them.” 

It argues that members have all felt the impact of union non-recognition over the past year and that they consider the right to be included in decisions on health and safety to be of increased importance in the context of the pandemic.  

Branch Secretary Lorena Gazzotti commented: “Cambridge UCU is responding to our members’ demands that their union be recognised by launching a major organising and recruiting campaign across the whole of the University [...] We’ll be signing up members in every department and making sure that workers at the University know their rights to be represented and have a voice in the workplace.”

Meanwhile Cambridge UCU’s President, Michael Abberton, commented that particularly in the global context of the pandemic, recognition would benefit “all our members and the University.” 

UCU General Secretary, Jo Grady, added: “We are calling on the vice-chancellor to recognise all staff unions and all types of staff represented by UCU, not just academic colleagues. For so many employees to have no union recognition is shameful for any organisation, but for a university like Cambridge it is nothing short of a disgrace.” 

When asked about the 'Recognition NOW' campaign, a spokesperson for the University told Varsity: "Discussions between the University and UCU are ongoing."

The UCU has organised several strikes related to the matter, the most recent of these being in February 2020, which caused all faculty-based teaching to be cancelled for three weeks, lasting from February 20th to March 13th. These strikes included an occupation of Cambridge’s Old Schools building.