The University and College Union (UCU) is to ballot its members over strike action in response to an “unacceptable” 1 per cent pay offer for 2016-17.
In a letter to union members, UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said the union will open a ballot on industrial action later this week because the opening offer from universities in this year’s pay talks was an “unacceptable response” to its request for a 5 per cent pay rise.
If members backed industrial action and universities did not substantially improve their offer, the UCU would advise staff to take part in a two-day walkout, Ms Hunt said.
“I hope that the employers will respond to the strength of feeling among staff and make an offer which genuinely addresses our pay claim,” said Ms Hunt.
The strike ballot will open on 14 April and close on 4 May – raising the possibility that industrial action may occur during the summer exam season, causing maximum disruption to students.
Staff should be ready to take both strike action and action short of a strike, such as an assessment boycott, Ms Hunt said.
That was because “effective ‘action short of strike’ like a boycott of assessment or marking is likely to lead to substantial deductions in pay of up to 100 per cent by many employers and that this may lead to further strike action”, she said.
However, the move to open a strike ballot was described by the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (Ucea) as “extremely disappointing” as it came mid-way through the timetable of pay talks for 2016-17.
Two further meetings are due to take place on 28 April and 19 May, it said.
“It is extremely disappointing that after only the first of three scheduled negotiating meetings for 2016-17, UCU has lodged a dispute with the employers that flies in the face of the agreed arrangements,” said Ucea in a statement.
“Both sides have only just begun to discuss the seven elements of the trade unions’ joint claim, exploring these within the context of increasing costs, uncertainty and financial constraint in the sector,” it added.
However, it said it remained committed to the pay talks for 2016-17, saying it would “expect constructive dialogue with all five participating trade unions at the next scheduled negotiating meetings”.
“We hope and believe that UCU’s own members will not wish to support this premature and damaging move to a ballot for industrial action.”
The unexpected ballot for industrial action follows the first meeting of the two sides on 22 March, which saw unions claim that a real-terms pay increase was “clearly affordable” given the total surpluses of £1.85 billion posted by the sector in 2014-15.
Ucea claim the 1 per cent offer is 0.7 per cent above inflation and that many universities will even find this “at the limit of affordability without serious implications for job losses”.
Michael MacNeil, UCU head of bargaining, said the “disappointing” offer was “much less than universities can afford to pay” and would do little to address the real terms pay cut of 15 per cent suffered by higher education staff since 2009.
“Ucea urgently needs to review its approach and come back to the next meeting with an appropriate offer,” he said.