UoL UNISON strike explainer

Who are University of Leeds UNISON?

We are a trade union representing support staff. Our members at the University of Leeds work in cleaning, security, IT, the libraries, estates, disability services, catering services, admissions and so much more.

As of our last Annual General Meeting, the vast majority (92%) of our members earn below £30,000 a year. More than a third (34%) earn under £20,000.

“I have spent pretty much my whole working career at the university and every year, my rent has increased more than my wages.”

“This is about us acting as a community, to protect those most vulnerable. It is those on lowest incomes who are hit hardest.

What is our dispute about?

UNISON members are striking for fair pay. Like the rest of the UK higher education sector, our salaries have lost 33% of their value against inflation over the past 14 years. 

For the past year UNISON members have been taking industrial action to fight for the pay we deserve. This action resulted in the highest national pay offer we’ve seen in decades, but it still fell far short of inflation – yet another real-terms pay cut. 

Locally our action resulted in two cost-of-living payments, made to staff on grade 6 and below, but without a consistent pay uplift we continue to suffer as costs rise. 

Our members report that they’re using food banks, taking second jobs, and skipping meals to feed their children, all while the University recorded an operating surplus of £60 million.

“We avoid putting our heating on so we can support our elderly parents with their energy bills as they’re on medication that leaves them feeling very cold. I’m genuinely scared by how we’re going to manage this as the weather gets colder.”

“I’ve had two or more concurrent jobs for the last 25 years. I didn’t take a second job because of the current situation – I already had one! I am up for promotion to grade 7 shortly and that will be the first time I will be in a role that pays enough for me not to need a second job.”

What can resolve this dispute?

The only way we can reject these real-terms pay cuts is to go on strike. Our members did not go on strike for the first twelve years of these pay cuts, but enough is enough. On shrinking wages in a cost of living crisis, we have to draw the line.

The national pay negotiating body, Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA),  decides the annual pay offer and is responsible for our decade-plus pay degradation. Our Vice-Chancellor (VC) can argue to this board for higher pay for support staff, and like other VCs, can also meet with and negotiate with unions locally. Historically the VCs at Leeds have met with officers of all campus unions at least twice a year, but the current VC has declined to meet officers representing support staff for more than 2 years.

Our request hasn’t changed over the twelve months we’ve been on strike. Meet with us. Advocate for us. Hear us. Pay us fairly. All of this is in the University’s and the VC’s power.

We want to be in work, doing the jobs we love to support the students we believe in, but our members simply cannot afford to live on salaries from this ‘world-class’ institution.

“As a relatively new member of staff, it has been so disheartening and upsetting to witness the complete lack of interest and disregard by senior management at the University towards the issues raised by staff and the Unions on our behalf.”

“It has hit me how little this University seems to care for its most vulnerable/lowest earning staff. Fairer futures for all, or only for those we deem useful or profitable enough to deserve them?”

What can I do?

If you’re a staff member, you can join your colleagues as a UNISON member. As our membership has increased over the past year, so has our impact, our solidarity and our voice at the University.

If you’re already a UNISON member, you can tell your colleagues about our strike action and ask them to join the fight for fair pay. You can also join our strike action on the picket line or strike from home. Any way you withdraw your labour is a powerful statement to University leadership.

If you’re a student, you can let the Vice-Chancellor know that your future is more important than the University having millions in surplus. Striking is our last resort as trade union members, and this disruption to your studies and your university experience is a result of the University’s refusal to work with trade unions, despite repeated invitations. You can use your voice by emailing the Vice-Chancellor’s office at to demand a resolution to the strikes.