UCU calls another strike day after employers ‘impose pay offer’

Union announces plans to go ahead with walkouts across six days in March to ‘ramp up pressure’ as Acas talks near conclusion

February 28, 2023
UCU strike at Goldsmiths, University of London
Source: Eleanor Bentall

The University and College Union (UCU) has called another strike at UK universities to “maximise the pressure” on employers as talks enter their final stages.

Members are now being encouraged to walk out on 15 March, in addition to the five days of strikes that are still planned between 16 and 22 March.

The extra day replaces one of the seven that did not take place during a “pause” in the action. The union has faced criticism from its own members for calling off the strikes to ensure a “period of calm” while negotiations – facilitated by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) – took place.

Jo Grady, the UCU’s general secretary, said progress was being made “across a range of subjects” at Acas and promised members an update soon on what might be agreed.

But the union’s higher education committee decided to add an extra strike day to try to force employers to make commitments.

“The reasons we’ve added this additional date is to focus the employers’ minds as talks come to a conclusion this week and especially early next week,” Dr Grady said.

“They need to have on them the maximum amount of pressure. We believe adding this additional day, which replaces one of the five that was moved aside for the pause, is the right balance.

“We are coming out of this period now where we have put pressure on the employer, we have reduced the cost and financial impact on you of strike action, and we have made progress in several key areas on non-pay, and obviously you are aware of the massive progress we have made on pensions,” she added in a message to members.

“What we now need to do is force the employers to sign off these commitments at Acas, continue to go further than they have gone before, to recognise the depth of feeling that is out there on pay, and improve their pay offer.”

The latest move comes after the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) provoked anger among the higher education unions with its decision to proceed with implementing the first part of its pay offer, despite no agreement having been reached.

Ucea said this was necessary because the early pay award was intended to support staff struggling with the cost of living, and therefore needed to be included in wage packets as soon as possible.

Union members, however, accused the employers’ body of breaking the terms of the talks with the unilateral action.

“We need to be absolutely crystal-clear, this is not a pay offer that has been agreed with us as a union, or any of the other unions involved in the negotiations,” Dr Grady said in her update.

Staff are to receive a total pay rise of between 5 per cent and 8 per cent spread out between March and August. The UCU has also called for action on casualisation, pay gaps and workload.

Ucea’s chief executive, Raj Jethwa, said it was “disappointing” to see more strike action planned while talks were continuing.

“While this call for another strike day was a direct breach of the joint agreement, employers decided it was right to continue Acas discussions in an attempt to finalise the terms of reference of the non-pay items specified,” he added.

“Taking more strike action will not improve the sector’s finances or help to resolve the other issues which the unions are keen to discuss.

“The pay round is complete, and the pay award includes uplifts of between 8 per cent and 5 per cent with an element paid from 1 February 2023, helping staff on the lowest pay points. While the impact of recent industrial action has been low and isolated, any impact on students is disappointing, and the unions must provide their members with a realistic and fair assessment of what is achievable.”

Mr Jethwa said the union had been aware that Ucea was “communicating the pay uplift” to institutions as the dispute resolution process with regard to the pay talks had been concluded. He added that it was essential to include the first part of the uplift - worth 2 per cent or £1,000 - in the March payroll to “enable payments to staff in need of the uplift and to avoid end-of-tax year implications.”


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Reader's comments (2)

VC pay rose 25% in last 5 years while the academic salaries fell 20% in real terms since 2009. It takes far less skill to be a VC than it does to be a math or physics professor at Cambridge. VCs need replacing with collective leadership, it is 2023 and we still have an aristocratic non-collective form of leadership in universities and most corporations. Power in the hands of one person is gross and will be the big thing being cancelled 25 years from now. It is just wrong.
If UCEA think giving us a real rerms pay cut year on year is good enough they are deluded. A report in the FT yesterday said grocery inflation was at 17.1% in February - what good is 5% to anybody ? I don't really see the reinstatement of the pension benefits as a significant win - the change to benefits due to the snapshot valuation would always have been reversed when the scheme inevitably went back into surplus. I really hope UCU continue the fight for a fair pay rise and UCEA see what damage they will do to the sector going forward if they don't award one. Maybe as a goodwill gesture in the negoatiations they could end all senior leaders bonuses and align their pay rises to that of the rest of the University staff.