Staff at the University of Sheffield International College (USIC) which is part of and run by the private company Study Group are being balloted on whether to take strike action following a breakdown in talks with the employer after it refused to budge from a 0% pay offer. The dispute is also over holiday allowance. If staff vote in favour of taking action then strikes could begin as soon as March.
The ballot opened this week (Monday 14 February) and runs until Friday 4 March. This industrial ballot comes after an overwhelming 79% of University and College Union (UCU) members voted for strike action in a consultative ballot on a 93% turnout.
The college is owned and operated by Study Group but is closely connected to the University of Sheffield. Study Group uses University of Sheffield branding, and provides preparation courses for overseas students who want to go on and study at the university. Students from all over the world enrol to improve their English, study skills and subject specialism in readiness for their degrees. Courses at USIC cost up to £22k per year per student.
The dispute is a result of Study Group not making any cost of living pay offer for 2021 and also refusing to equalise holiday allowance for all staff. The union has asked for a 4% pay rise for 2021 and an increase of five holiday days for the student experience team. This will bring staff holiday entitlements in line across the college. Despite extensive negotiations Study Group has failed to make any offer to settle the dispute.
UCU regional official Julie Kelley said: ‘It is disappointing that Study Group has flatly refused to budge from its position of 0% on pay for 2021 or sort out the inequalities in holiday arrangements. Our demands are not unreasonable. The hard working staff employed by University of Sheffield International College deserve better and have had enough. They’ve been pushed into the position of having no other option than to ballot for industrial action as pay rates are simply not keeping up with inflation and our members are facing a cost of living crisis. When student fees can be as high as £22k a year this is all the more shocking.
‘The University of Sheffield International College needs to raise pay and equalise staff holiday allowance or this ballot will continue and the college could face strike action as soon as next month.’