From education to employment

Union launches reballot as it confirms strikes to go ahead this week

empty classroom

The University and College Union (UCU) has confirmed it will reballot 70,000 members to allow industrial action to continue in universities for the rest of the academic year if employers refuse to meet staff demands over pay, conditions and pensions.

The union made the announcement after confirming that strike action will go ahead this week at 150 universities on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Vice chancellors have been urged to ‘come out of hiding’ and use the sector’s‘vast wealth’ to resolve the disputes.

Under anti- trade union laws, industrial action mandates must be refreshed every six months. The union served notice to employers for thereballot earlier today [Monday 13 February] with ballot papers arriving on doorsteps from 22 February.

University staff have alreadytaken six days of strike action this academic year. After this week, staff are expected to walk out for a further 10 days.

The union is currently in talks with employer body the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) via the conciliation service Acas.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘University staff are preparing once again to vote yes in an industrial action ballot which could see the rest of the academic year impacted by strikes. That we have ended up in this place is entirely the fault of university bosses who refuse to use the sector’s over £40bn reserves to meet staff demands.

‘Staff are striking because they are sick of being denied a decent pay rise, secure employment, and proper pensions. And students are standing with us because they know that staff working conditions are their learning conditions.

‘Our union is determined to reach a negotiated settlement which allows staff to get back to work and students to continue their studies uninterrupted. But that can only happen if vice chancellors come out of hiding and use a fraction of the sector’s vast wealth to make serious, well-rounded offers to staff.’

The full list of institutions that will face strike action is available here. Members at the same institutions will be subject to the reballot.

All pickets start at 9am on each strike day unless otherwise stated. Picket locations are available here

  • There are 1,865,000 undergraduate students and 685,000 postgraduate students studying at the universities facing strike action. 
  • In the pay and working conditions dispute, UCU is in dispute with 145 institutions. The union’s demands include a meaningful pay rise to help staff deal with the cost-of-living crisis, an agreed framework to eliminate insecure employment practices such as temporary and zero-hours contracts, and action to address dangerously high workloads. UCU is also demanding action to close equality pay gaps. The gender pay gap in UK universities sits at 16%, whilst the disability pay gap is 9% and the race pay gap is up to 17%
  • Since 2009/10 staff pay has declined in value by 25% relative to RPI, due to a series of below-inflation pay awards.  
  • In the pension dispute, UCU is in dispute with 67 institutions. The union is demanding employers withdraw their cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and restore benefits to 2021 levels. Last year employer representative Universities UK (UUK) pushed through cuts that will see a typical member lose 35% of their future guaranteed retirement income. The cuts were made after a valuation of the scheme in March 2020 reported a deficit of £14bn. However, USS is now performing so well that the deficit has disappeared with the scheme now reporting a £1.8bn surplus, and data released by the trustee shows pension benefits can be restored for lower contributions and still leave the scheme in surplus.
  • Using HESA data UCU calculates that for 2021/22 the higher education sector holds £44bn in reserves and has an income of £42.4bn. 

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