UCU staff back strike action over cuts to campaign team

Union says it is ‘committed to resolving this issue as a matter of urgency’ as Unite urges it to continue funding for postgraduate rights role

September 26, 2023
UCU rally in London
Source: Tom Williams

The University and College Union (UCU) has been urged to “practise what it preaches” after its staff voted to strike in support of two colleagues who have seen their hours reduced because of cutbacks.

A ballot held by the Unite union – which represents the UCU’s internal staff – saw 71 per cent of members back taking strike action, on a 76 per cent turnout.

The dispute centres on the union’s “postgraduate researchers as staff” campaign, which aims to secure better working conditions for PhD students and to tackle precarious employment practices in higher education.

Two staff members were employed to work on the campaign as part of a full-time equivalent job share, but the UCU has cut their hours by 40 per cent, saying it does not have the resources to continue funding the position on its previous terms.

Unite said the two employees had been given 22-month contracts, two months short of the 24 needed to gain full employment rights, something that was “contrary to UCU’s own national policy on fixed-term employment”.

A statement from Unite said: “UCU staff have voted overwhelmingly for strike action because they will not stand by while their colleagues’ hours are slashed and the provision for UCU’s most precarious members is gutted.

“This dispute is about job security and livelihoods – whether our colleagues can afford to pay the bills and put food on the table.”

The dispute was “also about trade union values”, the statement added: “Our members have declared that they are prepared to stand up for fellow workers facing an unjustified pay cut.

“In so doing, UCU staff are demonstrating the core values of the trade union movement: solidarity and collectivity.

“These are the values that have made the movement such a force for good for so many people over so many years. And these are the values that UCU staff are upholding with this vote today.”

Unite called on UCU management to begin negotiations to settle the dispute before strikes were necessary. It said only a “small additional cost” was needed to reverse the cuts.

“If talks do not resolve the dispute, then we stand ready to strike. To avoid action, UCU now needs to practise – as an employer – what it preaches as a union,” Unite said.

The UCU is currently holding five days’ worth of strikes affecting 34 universities as part of its long-running dispute with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) over pay and working conditions in the sector. It is also reballoting members on whether to extend this action into 2024.

A UCU spokesperson said: “UCU staff do an incredible job for our members, and in return they rightly receive some of the best terms and conditions in the whole trade union movement.

“We are extremely regretful to find ourselves in this position and are committed to resolving this issue as a matter of urgency. On this basis, we have contacted Acas and are willing to immediately enter into mediated discussions without preconditions.”


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