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    Oliver de Peyer said:

    I think unionisation has a great deal to offer in terms of improving postdoctoral pay & conditions. Moreover, I would argue that RSAs are a distraction from really helping postdocs. This isn’t empire building; it is a fact. Practically the entire postdoctoral community of Britain are in workplaces that formally recognise unions.

    RSAs are toothless by comparison to unions. What’s the difference between a union and a RSA?: Direct negotiation on all matters of pay, conditions and science policy, an army of trained reps and full time officials, unlimited free legal support, and a fighting funds of tens of millions of pounds.

    That’s not to say we shouldn’t have local postdoc association or RSAs; there are lots of things we do like organise the seminars and social events that aren’t appropriate for a union. Other things like careers advice maybe could be done in tandem. If you want to know more, why not search for my name and "postdoctoral" for the letter I had published in Nature on the subject.

    Postdocs in a lot of other countries are crying out for union recognition for the very reasons of formal negotiation recognition and protection that we already have in the U.K. The entire Californian university postdoc community recently unionised itself, for instance, and this was largely done as I recall to secure a better pay offer.

    You get more done for postdocs, and their pay, inside a union than outside.

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    Christopher Thomson said:


    In the UK RSAs and UKRSA are as you imply not part of a Union, however many RSAs and UKRSA have links with and work with the UCU. I agree that RSAs are not in a strong position to negotiate on pay and (formal) conditions with their institutions, and indeed UKRSA would suggest that local RSAs approach their local UCU branch if this was high on their agenda.

    RSAs are well placed to organise events and engage with research policy at  institutions, and in this respect they are not toothless. In the UK the research concordat requires  institutions to engage with research staff, to ensure they offer career development opportunities, and by the end of the year most research universities will have been awarded the HR Excellence in Research badge, indicating that the institution has an action plan to implement the research concordat principles. Why does this matter? Well in a few years time institutions will be reviewed to ensure they are following that plan, and amongst the UK review team is a member of research staff – if your university won’t listen and says they will in their plan, there is a real chance they will loose the badge, prestige, and perhaps the ability to attract top researchers… That said the emphasis remains on RSAs and members of research staff to take action and engage with the initiative.

    Remember you can be both a member of an RSA and a Union and draw on their experience and services as you see fit.

    One last question, you argue "I would argue that RSAs are a distraction from really helping postdocs", what is it that postdocs most need?

    If you argue this is pay negotiations, longer or indefinite contracts, and other contractual issues, being active within union is certainly the best way forward. However if it is peer support, career development, network building, then both the unions and RSAs provide complementary opportunities.