The University and College Union, Unison and Unite – the three largest trade unions in higher education – announced on 16 October that their members working in the sector will walk out later this month unless employers improve their 1 per cent final pay offer.
The strike – which the unions claimed would bring universities to a “standstill” - will be the first national industrial action since 2006 and the first time that all three unions have gone on strike together.
It follows recent ballots by all three unions, in which a majority of members who voted backed strike action.
Sixty-two per cent of votes cast in the UCU ballot called for strike action, while 64 per cent of Unite and 54 per cent of Unison members, who voted, backed the action.
“Staff have suffered year-on-year cuts in the value of their pay,” said Michael MacNeil, head of higher education at the UCU.
“Quite simply, enough is enough,” he added, saying universities and colleges should “come to the negotiating table to resolve this dispute”.
The strike follows anger at the latest pay offer of 1 per cent, which comes after three successive years of below-inflation rises that the unions say equate to a pay cut of 13 per cent in real terms since October 2008.
“Our members are upset and angry – this measly 1 per cent offer is simply not good enough,” said Jon Richards, head of higher education at Unison.
“The work of support staff is essential for the smooth running of universities and they play a vital role supporting students, but many are struggling to survive on low pay,” he added.
Mike McCartney, Unite national officer for education, said his union members were fed up with “poverty pay increases”.
“They have suffered a 13 per cent real terms pay cut since 2008 and have been left with no option but to fight for what’s fair,” Mr McCartney said.
“There is still time for the employers to step back from the brink in this dispute. We urge them to get back around the negotiating table with the three unions to resolve it once and for all.”
A Universities and Colleges Employers Association spokesman said employers understood that the 1 per cent pay offer was “frustrating to these trade unions”.
But it disputed whether the strike action had widespread support among university staff, pointing out that only “5 per cent of the workforce” had voted for strike action.
“Our higher education institutions tell us that the vast majority of their staff understand the reality of the current environment and would not want to take action that could harm their institutions and their students,” he said.