Grady accepts bumper UCU pay hike to pay libel fees

General secretary uses annual fighting fund donation to pay damages

General secretary uses annual fighting fund donation to pay damages

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University and College Union boss Jo Grady has accepted a near-£18,000 salary hike to help her pay damages in a libel case.

The rise in 2022/23 equates to 16 per cent, which breaks the general secretary’s 2019 manifesto pledge to never take a salary boost above the national offer in FE.

UCU denied this was a pay increase because Grady accepted – for the first time – the full pay she was entitled to, instead of donating a planned portion to the union’s fighting fund as she would normally. The donations are not detailed in the union’s accounts.

But the revelation is also problematic for Grady as just last week she lambasted cabinet minister Michelle Donelan for using money from her employer – the taxpayer – to pay damages after losing a libel claim, and called for her resignation.

A UCU branch at Grady’s former employer, the University of Sheffield, this week passed a motion to call for an investigation into the finances of the general secretary, including Grady’s “considerable” salary increase.

A UCU spokesperson said: “This line of questioning is frankly embarrassing. Whilst thousands of college lecturers are paid far less than teachers doing the same job, the media are sadly doing the bosses bidding by bizarrely attempting to spin a union official donating tens of thousands of pounds to her members as a negative.

“If this level of scrutiny was applied to the actions of government and bosses then it would greatly assist in building a fairer sector for everyone that works in it.”

In a statement to members issued last week, just days after Grady was narrowly re-elected as UCU general secretary, it was revealed that she was paid a £127,690 basic salary in 2022/23.

This is 16.3 per cent more than the £109,762 salary paid in 2021/22, as stated in the union’s accounts.

UCU claimed this technically wasn’t the huge pay bump it appears to be as Grady donates a portion of her salary each year, which is not shown in their accounts, to a fund which supports members involved in disputes, including strike pay.

Her donations are not published, but Grady claims to have given tens of thousands to the fighting fund since she was first elected in 2019.

Instead of donating what she planned to in 2022/23, she accepted the larger than usual salary to pay damages and legal costs, understood to be around £22,000, to trade union activist and author Paul Embery following a Twitter row in which she accused him of “bullying women” and being “pathetic” to settle a libel claim.

The near-£18,000 increase in Grady’s salary from 2021/22 also continues a trend of the general secretary breaking a manifesto pledge from her 2019 campaign not to accept pay rises higher than the most recent pay recommendation for colleges.

Her manifesto said: “If elected, I will ensure that any increase in my salary is no higher than the most recent national pay offer in further education — the sector where our union has made least progress in protecting or improving our members’ wages.”

The Association of Colleges pay recommendation for FE staff was one per cent between 2019/20 and 2021/22 before being upped to 2.5 per cent in 2022/23. Grady’s salary rose 2.5 per cent in 2020/21 to £104,841 and 4.7 per cent the year after (see table), and appears to rocket by 16.3 per cent in 2022/23.

UCU declined to comment on Grady’s salary in 2023/24.

Defending her pay, Grady said: “After years of tireless campaigning by UCU, English further education workers have now received their biggest recommended pay uplift in over a decade.

“Meanwhile, during my tenure tens of thousands of pounds of my full entitled pay package has been donated to UCU’s fighting fund. I have also refused to take any of the pay spine salary increases I am entitled to.”

The general secretary’s salary scales are agreed by UCU’s national executive committee. The additional London weighting (currently £4,278) is negotiated with the union’s recognised staff unions.

UCU bosses have recently been accused by staff union Unite of “prioritising the pay of senior management” and are currently embroiled in a pay dispute with staff. 

“Clearly our employer’s priority during the cost-of-living crisis is to bolster senior manager pay at the expense of lower-paid staff,” Unite said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, in January.

Grady has hit out at large college principal salaries during her tenure as UCU general secretary.

She told college bosses last year to “reign in their own salaries” to support the staff who keep colleges running but receive below-inflation pay rises.

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One comment

  1. JustSaying

    The libellous actions of the General Secretary was previously represented by the UCU as a “private matter”. This was presumably given as excuse not to consider the behaviour of the General Secretary as something which brought the organisation into disrepute. Now the UCU leadership presumably think it is not a private matter, and they should now be associated with funding the consequences of it! We are only left to assume they must have set a uniquely high bar that must be exceeded by all at the UCU before any action is thought to bring them into disrepute?