UCU announces eight days of strikes, starting late November

Staff will walk out at 60 universities starting from 25 November

November 5, 2019
Source: iStock

The University and College Union has announced eight consecutive days of strike action at 60 universities in late November, following last week’s ballot in favour of a walkout.  

The union said that its higher education committee has decided the strikes will take place from Monday 25 November to Wednesday 4 December.

This year members were balloted on action over two issues. In the ballot over changes to pensions in the Universities Superannuation Scheme for pre-92 universities, 79 per cent of those who voted backed strike action. Then in a ballot on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads across all universities, 74 per cent of voters backed strike action.

There is a 50 per cent threshold required for strike action. The overall turnout in the pensions ballot was 54 per cent, while the pay ballot only reached 49 per cent.

However, UCU disaggregated the ballots, so the branches that did reach or exceed the threshold will now go on strike.

Last year staff at 65 institutions walked out for 14 days in opposition to planned USS pensions changes.

After the strike action, UCU members will begin “action short of a strike” when they return to work. This involves action such as working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action, the union said.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said that the first wave of strikes will hit universities later this month “unless the employers start talking to us seriously about how they are going to deal with rising pension costs and declining pay and conditions.”

“Any general election candidate would be over the moon with a result along the lines of what we achieved last week,” she said. “Universities can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on these issues and we will be consulting branches whose desire to strike was frustrated by anti-union laws about reballoting.”

In response to the announcement, a Universities UK spokesman said he was “hopeful that the dispute can be resolved without industrial action” but that plans are in place to ensure that any potential disruption to students and staff is minimised.

“The resolution to the 2018 USS valuation is both fair and reasonable, with the additional costs of maintaining the current level of benefits shared 65:35 by employers and scheme members,” he said.

“It’s important to note that the number of UCU members who voted for strike action over pensions accounts for less than 10 per cent of the active membership of USS. Out of those who voted in the pensions ballot, one in five members were against taking industrial action, and the vast majority of branches only reached the turnout threshold of 50 per cent because of the numbers of members voting no.

“We are committed to ensuring USS remains one of the very best pension schemes in the country, and hope that UCU will now join us to consider governance reforms and alternative options for future valuations, which deliver a shared set of principles, increased transparency and a sustainable scheme.”

A spokesman for Universities & Colleges Employers Association said “having achieved strike votes in only 57 of the 147 HE institutions where it balloted, we are dismayed to see UCU’s decision to ask its members to take such extensive and damaging strike action over its national pay demands. This is after UCU has failed to secure its members’ support in the large majority (90) of HE institutions where it also balloted following a big campaign over nearly two months. The other four trade unions also balloted over the final pay outcome and failed to achieve sufficient support from their members. Action of this kind will be damaging to students, lose UCU members money and risk undermining the collective bargaining arrangements.”

“It is completely unrealistic in the collective pay arrangements for UCU to attempt to force all 147 employers to re-open the concluded 2019-20 national pay round," UCea said. 

“The outcome was already at the very limit of what is affordable and the ballots confirm that the vast majority of employees in these institutions understand the challenging context. The 25,398 UCU members who voted to support strike action over pay represent just 7.8 per cent of the 325,000 employees covered by the national pay arrangements. Against a difficult backdrop employers have ensured that they have now all received an above inflation pay uplift at the minimum and many a much larger pay increase.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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