Fresh strike ballots at 24 universities in pay and pensions row

Strikes threaten to spill into the new year, as little progress made in dispute

December 18, 2019
Strike placard
Source: Eleanor Bentall

Staff at 24 higher education institutions are being asked again whether they are willing to go on strike over pay and pensions, after little headway was made in the latest round of industrial action.

On 25 November, staff at 60 universities went on strike for eight days but the union and employers have failed to come to an agreement in the dispute that covers pension contributions, pay rises and working conditions.

The University and College Union has since said that universities are likely to see more industrial action in the new year and has announced that it will ballot a further 24 universities again from 7 January.

The announcement comes after UCU announced in November that it would reballot a further 12 universities. The ballots at all 36 universities will close on 28 January.

Members at the 60 initial striking universities are currently carrying out action short of a strike, which includes working to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and not making up lecture missed due to strike action. Members at these universities are already eligible to go on strike again without reballoting.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said that “this is the time for employers to demonstrate they are serious about wanting to avoid further and even more widespread disruption at our universities”.

“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,” she said.

In an earlier statement, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which represents 147 UK universities in pay negotiations, said that it had had a “constructive” meeting with UCU on 17 December and would continue to engage with the union around workload, gender and ethnicity pay gaps and casual employment. The organisation has previously said that in “relation to the above-inflation increases on pay, Ucea has no mandate whatsoever to reopen discussions”, which it reiterated.

“Ucea very much hopes that the outcomes of this dialogue on the three important areas of gender/ethnicity pay gaps, workload and casual employment, alongside all that universities are doing, will be seen by UCU members as a route to resolving the current dispute without damaging the collective bargaining arrangements,” the statement said.

However, UCU has countered that “it was impossible not to talk about pay when other elements of that dispute were so clearly linked to it”, such as tackling the ethnic minority pay gap.

Last week an expert panel published its report into the Universities Superannuation Scheme and recommended a series of changes to the way that it was run and governed. UCU said if the recommendations were implemented it had the potential to end the long-running dispute over what contributions are required from members and employers to keep USS afloat. However, USS said that governance issues were complex and that some could be addressed more readily than others.

The universities where UCU members are being reballoted from 7 January are:

Ballots are already under way at:

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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