Fresh strike ballots at 13 UK universities over pay and pensions

Step comes as employers and union debate equality, casualisation and workload, without movement on pay offer

November 26, 2019
UCU strike at Goldsmiths, University of London
Source: Eleanor Bentall

Staff at 13 institutions are to be reballoted for strike action by the University and College Union, as the dispute over pay, pensions and conditions threatens to run into the new year.

An eight-day walkout at 60 universities began on 25 November and, if no agreement is reached by 4 December, staff will begin action short of a strike, which includes working to contract, not covering for colleagues and not rescheduling cancelled lectures.

The union has said that there may be further strikes in early 2020 and has announced plans for fresh ballots at 13 universities. Most of these narrowly missed the 50 per cent turnout threshold required for strike action the first time around, or only passed it for one element of the dispute – pensions, or pay and conditions.

Further branches could be reballoted in January, UCU added.

“We have been clear from the outset that UCU members are prepared to take serious and sustained action to defend their pay and conditions, as well as their pensions,” said Jo Grady, the union’s general secretary.

“The incredible support for the strikes yesterday and today can leave no university in any doubt how serious our members are and it is now time for them to come back to negotiations with serious proposals to resolve these disputes.”

The ballots will run from 4 December to 28 January at the following institutions:

Staff at the 13 branches all voted in favour of striking first time around but missed the threshold, apart from Worcester, which only voted in favour of action short of a strike.

Most only missed the mark last time by a fraction, such as Salford, where turnout was 49.71 per cent, and UEA, where it was 49.93 per cent.

However, the union hopes that the start of strikes will have galvanised those at other institutions where turnout was less than 40 per cent, such as Portsmouth and UAL.

The announcement came as the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which leads negotiations with unions on pay, said that it had had an “informative” meeting with UCU.

“It was a helpful opportunity to hear from UCU representatives about the concerns they wished to relay on behalf of their members regarding their claims on gender and ethnicity pay gaps, casual employment arrangements and workload,” a Ucea spokesman said.

“We were clear that we would also listen to UCU’s views regarding the 2019 pay position. However, both before and during the meeting Ucea confirmed that the 147 universities are giving no collective mandate to improve further on the above-inflation final pay offer that was made in April of this year (effective from 1 August).”

Ucea said that it was seeking feedback from 147 universities it represents and would come back to the union next week “with some fresh responses on the kind of work we believe we could take forward at sector-level on the three issues. We have also indicated that we will be very willing to then arrange a further meeting to pursue what we hope would be constructive discussions at that point.”

In the new strike ballot, Kent and Imperial will be balloted on pensions only: Kent is already out on strike over pay and Imperial isn’t included in national pay negotiations. Salford and SOAS are balloting on both disputes, and the rest are balloting on the pay and equalities dispute only.

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