From education to employment

UCU announces eight days of strikes starting this month at 60 UK universities

Deal agreed to end long-running dispute at Bradford College

Sixty UK universities* will be hit with eight days of strike action from Monday 25 November to Wednesday 4 December, the University and College Union (UCU) announced today (Tuesday).

  • UCU members at 60 UK universities will walk out from Monday 25 November – Wednesday 4 December
  • Two disputes are on pensions and pay and working conditions
  • Union says universities can be in no doubt about strength of feeling amongst staff

Last week UCU members backed strike action in two separate legal disputes, one on pensions and one on pay and working conditions. Overall, 79% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions. In the ballot on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads, 74% of members polled backed strike action.

The union said universities had to respond positively and quickly if they wanted to avoid disruption this year. The disputes centre on changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and universities’ failure to make improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.

The overall turnout in the USS ballot was 53% and on pay and conditions it was 49%. The union disaggregated the ballots so branches who secured a 50% turnout can take action in this first wave. The union’s higher education committee has now set out the timetable for the action.

As well as eight strike days from 25 November to Wednesday 4 December, union members will begin “action short of a strike” when they return to work. This involves things like working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.

Jo Grady 100x100UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

‘The first wave of strikes will hit universities later this month unless the employers start talking to us seriously about how they are going to deal with rising pension costs and declining pay and conditions.

‘Any general election candidate would be over the moon with a result along the lines of what we achieved last week. Universities can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on these issues and we will be consulting branches whose desire to strike was frustrated by anti-union laws about reballoting.’

david hughes 100 x100David Hughes, CEO, Aoc, said:

“Decisions regarding pay never come easily. Staff are the backbone of our institutions – transforming the lives of millions each year. We have been consistently clear that colleges want to do much better on pay but have been stymied as the cuts of over 30% have put colleges under severe financial stress. We agree that college staff deserve better and will continue to campaign with Trade Unions, students and stakeholders to push the government for additional investment so that they can be properly rewarded.  

“The recent announcement from the Chancellor was for an injection of funding in the academic year 2020-21 of £400m. That was a welcome start to redress the decade of cuts and our calculation is that a little less than half of that will end up with colleges next academic year.  We expect colleges to have funding allocations for 2020-21 by the end of March 2020. As soon as that happens, we have promised to accelerate a pay recommendation for the following academic year. To do so any sooner would be reckless given the financial stress colleges find themselves facing.   

“We continue to work with our partners and unions to keep pushing for long-term funding in order to put college pay back where it should be.”

Commenting on UCU’s announcement of eight days of strike action from 25 November 2019, a Universities UK spokesperson said:

“We are hopeful that the dispute can be resolved without industrial action; but plans are in place to ensure that any potential disruption to students and staff is minimised. The resolution to the 2018 USS valuation is both fair and reasonable, with the additional costs of maintaining the current level of benefits shared 65:35 by employers and scheme members.

“It’s important to note that the number of UCU members who voted for strike action over pensions accounts for less than 10% of the active membership of USS. Out of those who voted in the pensions ballot, 1 in 5 members were against taking industrial action, and the vast majority of branches only reached the turnout threshold of 50% because of the numbers of members voting no.

“We are committed to ensuring USS remains one of the very best pension schemes in the country, and hope that UCU will now join us to consider governance reforms and alternative options for future valuations, which deliver a shared set of principles, increased transparency and a sustainable scheme.”

USS is one of the largest private pension schemes in the UK and is the principal scheme for academic and comparable staff in UK universities and other higher education and research institutions. Universities UK represents the views of 340 higher education employers on USS. As well as 340 employer organisations, USS has c.200,000 active scheme members

On 22 August 2019 the USS Joint Negotiating Committee decided to conclude the 2018 USS valuation with a total contribution rate of 30.7% of salary, with a member rate of 9.6% of salary, and an employer rate of 21.1%. On 27 August 2019 UUK formally offered to pay an additional 0.5%, further reducing the member rate to 9.1% of salary for two years, if UCU agreed to withdraw the planned ballot for strike action on pensions

Only 1 in 10 defined benefit schemes open to new members in 2006 are still open as of 2018. Since 2012, the average defined benefit total contribution rate has increased by 25%. The average USS pension payment in retirement is nearly three times the national average: £19,000 per annum as opposed to £7,000 per annum

Last year, university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action. UCU said it was frustrated that members had to be balloted again, but that universities’ refusal to deal with their concerns had left them with no choice.

Last month, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner called on both sides to get round the table for urgent talks. She said she fully supported UCU members fighting for fair pay and decent pensions and called on both sides to work together to find solutions to the disputes.

Universities affected by strike action from Monday 25 November

Both disputes (43):

Aston University

Bangor University

Cardiff University

University of Durham

Heriot-Watt University

Loughborough University

Newcastle University

The Open University

The University of Aberdeen

The University of Bath

The University of Dundee

The University of Leeds

The University of Manchester

The University of Sheffield

University of Nottingham

The University of Stirling

University College London

The University of Birmingham

The University of Bradford

The University of Bristol

The University of Cambridge

The University of Edinburgh

The University of Exeter

The University of Essex

The University of Glasgow

The University of Lancaster

The University of Leicester

City University

Goldsmiths College

Queen Mary University of London

Royal Holloway

The University of Reading

The University of Southampton

The University of St Andrews

Courtauld Institute of Art

The University of Strathclyde

The University of Wales

The University of Warwick

The University of York

The University of Liverpool

The University of Sussex

The University of Ulster

Queen’s University Belfast

Pay and conditions dispute only (14):

Bishop Grosseteste University

Bournemouth University

Edge Hill University

Glasgow Caledonian University

Glasgow School of Art

Liverpool Hope University

Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts

Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

St Mary’s University College, Belfast

Roehampton University

Sheffield Hallam University

The University of Brighton

The University of Kent

The University of Oxford

USS pensions dispute only (3):

Scottish Association of Marine Science

The University of East Anglia

Institute for Development Studies

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