The University and College Union (UCU) has announced that members will take strike action for the first three days of December, a shorter walkout than the union organised on the same issues two years ago.
Members at 58 universities will partake in strikes between 1 and 3 December. Thirty-seven backed strikes on plans for the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and 54 backed strikes over pay and conditions.
The last national UCU ballot on industrial action over pensions and salaries led to 14 days of stoppages at 74 universities over four weeks of February and March 2020. This strike followed an eight-day walkout at 60 universities in November and December 2019, a sequel to a 2018 pension strike at 64 universities over USS.
UCU has promised it will “escalate its disputes next term…if employers do not make improved offers”. A further six university UCU branches can take action “short of a strike”, such as not working overtime or not marking work. Twenty-one universities in the USS pension ballot “just missed” the 50% threshold needed – and members there are to be balloted again, the union said. It hopes to increase its tally for fresh walkouts in spring.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Strikes over three consecutive days are set to hit university campuses next month unless employers get round [sic] the table and take staff concerns over pension cuts, pay and working conditions seriously.”
UCU members need to understand that any industrial action aimed at harming students is an unrealistic attempt to try to force all 146 employers to re-open the concluded 2021-22 national pay round
– Raj Jethwa, Universities and Colleges Employers Association
The group that represents universities in pay negotiations with UCU, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), said the union announcement was “disappointing”.
Raj Jethwa, UCEA chief executive, said: “The 10-day delay in the decision since UCU’s patchy ballot outcome follows three months since the base pay increases (of between 3.6% and 1.5%) were made at HEIs and six months after UCEA’s final pay offer.
“UCU members need to understand that any industrial action aimed at harming students is an unrealistic attempt to try 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. It has been 10 days since the ballot results and not one of the HEIs has indicated to UCEA any form of reconsideration.
“We note UCU’s campaign focuses on casual contracts and workload. We have made repeated offers of joint work in these areas for two years but UCU has rejected them. UCEA genuinely wishes to engage on these matters as far as we can at a national level, noting that they are ultimately for local negotiations.”
Universities UK (UUK) said its members had “put in place measures to minimise the impact on students, other staff and the wider university community and will ensure that students can continue to learn and receive support”. Earlier this month, the UUK chief executive wrote to Dr Grady, urging her to share details of the union’s alternative financial plan for USS.