Academics at 54 universities vote for strikes over pay

The University and College Union held separate ballots over pensions and pay – as a result, 58 universities may experience strike action

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) at 54 universities have voted to support strike action over pay, workloads, casualisation and inequalities.

The result – along with a separate, simultaneous UCU ballot over pensions – means UCU members at 58 universities can legally hold strikes within the next six months.

The vote follows a three-week ballot of 71,000 UCU members at 141 universities across the UK. Academics at 54 university branches backed strike action, with a national turnout of 50.6%, a result the UCU general secretary described as “a clear vote of no-confidence” in vice-chancellors. Trade union laws mean only branches that voted for strikes, and where turnout exceeded 50%, can UCU now hold walkouts.

Yesterday, staff at 37 of the 68 universities that are part of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) voted to support pension strikes. Including those that backed strikes on both ballots, it means 58 universities may experience walkouts.

The list of university UCU branches that voted for strike action over pay includes some of the largest universities in the country, including UCL, Manchester, Leeds, Manchester Metropolitan, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Sheffield Hallam, Birmingham and Liverpool.

But fewer university branches than in the winter 2019-20 dispute have so far voted to back strike action. In that dispute, 60 and then 74 universities voted to support strikes. As it did in December 2019, UCU may re-ballot branches where turnout was close to the 50% threshold to increase the scale of its strikes. There were 14 branches where turnout was above 47%, including City, University of London (49.9%), Newcastle (49.9%), Oxford Brookes (49.6%) and Westminster (49.8%).

UCU said it demands: “a £2.5k pay increase for all staff; an end to race, gender and disability pay injustice; a framework to eliminate zero-hours and other casualised contracts; and meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads.” It points to its research that shows that pay has fallen 20% in real terms since 2009 – and a recent report that shows “a mental health crisis” in universities.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), which represents universities in collective national pay negotiations, has proposed a 1.5% pay increase for all staff, with a 3.6% increase for the lowest paid. UCU rejected this offer; UCEA has refused to table new proposals. UCEA has also pledged to identify ways to reduce workloads, improve pay disparity for women, ethnic minorities and those with a disability, and find new opportunities for career progression and training. But UCU says these proposals fall short.

While UCU members in these 54 institutions could technically be asked to strike against their individual institution, this would be… an unrealistic attempt to force all 146 employers to re-open the concluded 2021-22 national pay round
– Universities and Colleges Employers Association

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “This result is a clear vote of no confidence in the so-called leaders of our universities, with staff telling them in no uncertain terms that they have had enough of pay and working conditions being run into the ground.

“UCU members have yet again beaten the Tory anti-union laws. Alongside our pension ballot result, this means we have a big mandate to take strike action, at a time of our choosing.

“It is scandalous that university vice-chancellors on over-inflated salaries seem to think doing nothing on pay, casualisation and inequality is acceptable in a sector awash with money.

“We truly hope that disruption can be avoided, that is what staff and students alike all want. But this is entirely in the gift of employers who simply need to end their attacks on pensions, pay and working conditions and finally demonstrate they value their staff.”

Grady has previously told vice-chancellors to expect strikes before Christmas.

But UCEA said the union ballot had achieved a low turnout, “a clear indication that the great majority of university union members, as well as wider HE employees, understand the financial realities for their institution”. The result would be “disappointing” for the union, UCEA added.

The UCEA statement continued: “While UCU members in these 54 institutions could technically be asked to strike against their individual institution, this would be causing damage to both union members and to students in an unrealistic attempt to force all 146 employers to re-open the concluded 2021-22 national pay round and improve on an outcome that is for most of these institutions already at the very limit of what is affordable.

“For the institutions where UCU members have voted in sufficient numbers to support industrial action, it is unclear how they can possibly pursue UCU’s national pay dispute.”

Universities affected by strike action

Both disputes (33):

1. Aston University
2. Birkbeck, UoL
3. Durham University
4. Goldsmiths, UoL
5. Heriot-Watt University
6. Keele University
7. King’s College London
8. London School of Economics
9. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
10. Loughborough University
11. Open University
12. Royal Holloway, UoL
13. SOAS, UoL
14. The University of Birmingham
15. The University of Dundee
16. The University of Kent
17. The University of Leeds
18. The University of Nottingham
19. The University of Sheffield
20. The University of Stirling
21. University of Bradford
22. University of Bristol
23. University of Cambridge
24. University of Edinburgh
25. University of Essex
26. University of Glasgow
27. University of Lancaster
28. University of Liverpool
29. University of St Andrews
30. University of Sussex
31. University of York
32. Queens University Belfast
33. University of Ulster

Pay only (21):

1. Courtauld Institute of Art
2. Edinburgh Napier University
3. Glasgow School of Art
4. Greenwich University
5. Kingston University
6. Liverpool Hope University
7. Manchester Metropolitan University
8. Queen Margaret University
9. Roehampton University
10. Royal College of Art
11. Royal Northern College of Music
12. Sheffield Hallam University
13. The University of Manchester
14. The University of Northampton
15. The University of Salford
16. UAL
17. UCL
18. University of Brighton
19. University of Central Lancashire
20. University of Chester
21. University of Leicester

USS pensions only: 

1. IDS
2. Imperial College London
3. University of Bath
4. University of Reading

Read more: Do more on mental health or risk regulation, UUK president warns vice-chancellors

Image via Flickr.

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