Fresh strike ballots at dozens of UK universities

UCU to reballot 42 branches that narrowly missed turnout threshold

November 25, 2021
UCU strike at Goldsmiths, University of London
Source: Eleanor Bentall

Union members at 42 UK universities that narrowly missed the turnout threshold in the recent votes over strike action are to be reballoted.

The University and College Union said fresh polls would be held at institutions that got more than 40 per cent turnout in votes over pensions, pay and conditions, but fell short of the 50 per cent minimum that is required by law for industrial action to go ahead.

Twenty campuses are being reballoted on pay and working conditions, five over cuts to pensions provided by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), and 17 on both disputes. The ballots will open on 6 December and run until 14 January.

A three-day strike at 58 universities that did pass the threshold first time around is due to get under way on 1 December.

The UCU said the fresh ballots meant that as many as nearly 100 universities could face disruption in the new year if the disputes are not settled. Six of the institutions being reballoted already have a green light for action over either pensions or pay and conditions, but are holding a second poll in a bid to secure a mandate on both fronts.

“Next week, staff at dozens of campuses will be going on strike over attacks on their pensions, pay and working conditions. In the new year, staff at 42 more universities could join them for a period of sustained and escalating industrial action,” said Jo Grady, the UCU general secretary.

“There is still time to avoid this disruption, but that is in the gift of vice-chancellors, who sadly are still choosing to ignore the serious concerns of staff rather than address them.”

In the first round of ballots, union members overwhelmingly backed industrial action, but less than half of the 152 branches polled passed the 50 per cent turnout threshold: 21 on pay and conditions, 33 over pay and pensions, and four over pensions only.

The latest round of the pensions dispute focuses on Universities UK’s plan to reduce the benefits provided by the USS in a bid to stave off increases in contributions that it describes as unaffordable.

The UCU has estimated that the reforms could cut employees’ guaranteed benefits by as much as 35 per cent, costing members thousands of pounds annually in retirement, but UUK’s figures suggest that the reduction is between 10 per cent and 18 per cent.

At the heart of the pay dispute was employers’ offer of a 1.5 per cent minimum rise for 2021-22, with unions demanding a £2,500 uplift instead, as well as action on inequality, casualisation and workload issues.

Some academics raised concerns about the possible impact of a fourth round of widespread walkouts in little over three years further disrupting the education of undergraduates who have also seen their on-campus learning significantly interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said many students and staff “will be genuinely confounded by UCU’s decision to ballot again over the 2021-22 pay outcome”.

“UCU’s ongoing attempts to pick and choose HE institutions when re-balloting members is undermining the national collective pay bargaining framework they and their members value,” Mr Jethwa said. “This perplexing decision, made by their leaders, follows the recent low turnouts from their members over months of campaigning and more than six months after the final offer was made.

“These insufficient turnouts when voting for strike action provided clear indications that the great majority of HE staff accepted the balanced and fair pay outcome implemented back in August.”

Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles