UCU calls off Newcastle strikes in error

Union mistakenly sends withdrawal notice to university amid confusion over who is and isn’t taking part in latest walkouts

September 25, 2023
Source: iStock

The University and College Union (UCU) has apologised after mistakenly calling off strikes that were due to take place at Newcastle University.

With participation in the national walkouts fragmenting, the branch at Newcastle was one of 42 opting to go ahead last week but has been prevented from doing so as a result of the error.

In a statement, the union said it had sent a withdrawal of action notice to Newcastle on 21 September but then immediately contacted the university to ask staff to “ignore the honest error”.

This, according to UCU, was refused and Newcastle allegedly “threatened legal action if the union continued to pursue the action”.

It cited correspondence received from the institution that stated: “the premise of our challenge is based on the official notice for withdrawal being clear and unambiguous” and “we will reserve all our legal rights in relation to this matter”. The university denied this represented a threat of legal action.

On 22 September, a decision was made to accept that the strikes were unable to proceed because the university “wouldn’t back down”, according to UCU.

“Whilst this was an honest mistake, we know that this is not good enough”, the statement continued. “We have emailed the branch to apologise, explain what happened, and we will also be visiting the branch to discuss the matter and to apologise in person.

“The general secretary has also launched a review to investigate this, of which the results will be shared with the branch in the first instance. We will work to ensure this never happens again.”

Strikes were due to take place at 140 universities between 25 and 29 September but branches were unusually given the option not to take part, with two-thirds deciding to call off the walkouts.

Those not participating cited frustration with the union’s strategy and fatigue after a long campaign. Others said they were focusing on the recently launched reballot, which would allow the UCU to call industrial action again from November.

A Newcastle University spokesperson said: “Following our email on Thursday 21 September, informing our community that strike action would be going ahead at Newcastle, we received a withdrawal notice from the national branch of UCU.

“We had already begun the process of informing colleagues of the change in position so they could make arrangements to contact their students, when UCU national office got back in touch to say the withdrawal notice had been issued in error.

“UCU national office informed us they would be referring the matter to their legal advisers and they subsequently confirmed late on Friday that the withdrawal would stand.

“The university did have concerns about the legal merits of withdrawing a withdrawal and shared those with UCU, including reserving our legal rights, but at no point did the university threaten to take legal action if the strikes went ahead. We have said many times that we remain committed to working with UCU and to addressing the issues around workload, pay equality and casualisation for all colleagues. This continues to be the case.

“The university recognises that the error was not as a result of any action at a local level and therefore we will be meeting with the local UCU branch committee today (Monday).”


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