Members of the University and College Union (UCU) have backed strike action amid rows over pensions, pay and working conditions, but a ballot of UNISON and Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS) members did not have sufficient turnout.
UCU, which represents around 120,000 university employees, ran two concurrent ballots on industrial action; the first on changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), and the second on pay, casualisation, equality and workloads.
In response to the first ballot, 53% of eligible USS members voted and nearly eight in 10 backed industrial action.
However, only 41 of the 69 branches polled crossed the legal 50% turnout threshold, with four yet to release their results. Staff employed at post-1992 universities are mostly members of the Teachers’ Pension Scheme and were not part of the ballot.
UCU branches at the universities of Durham, Newcastle, Manchester, Nottingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Leicester, Glasgow and Warwick are among the ones to back industrial action over pensions, but the branches at Brunel, Keele, Swansea, Kent and Hull failed to cross the minimum turnout threshold.
If strikes over the USS go ahead, UCU estimates nearly one million students would be impacted.
Just short of half of UCU members voted in the second ballot on pay and working conditions, but 54 branches have crossed the legal threshold which paves the way for walkouts that would affect 1.1m students.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “The results can only be interpreted as clear support for strike action over pensions, pay and working conditions. The ballots reflect just how unhappy and angry staff are at the state of higher education in the UK.
“It is incredibly frustrating that we had to ballot members again, but universities only have themselves to blame after failing to address falling real-terms pay and for refusing to deal with casualisation, workloads and the rising cost of USS pensions.
“Universities now have to come back to us prepared to work seriously to address these problems. If they choose to ignore this message from their staff, then strike action looks inevitable.”
If they choose to ignore this message from their staff, then strike action looks inevitable
– Jo Grady
Around 30,000 university workers represented by UNISON were polled in a separate ballot on pay and working conditions but turnout did not cross the 50% threshold. A similar ballot held by the EIS also failed to pass the turnout hurdle.
Click below to read the full UCU results for:
A spokesperson for Universities UK, which represents the employers involved in the pensions ballot, said: “Employers remain open to further talks with UCU to discuss how the dispute can be resolved without industrial action, which would be damaging for staff and students.
“Recent negotiations between UCU and Universities UK concluded with no cuts to USS pension benefits, and employers paying the majority of the extra contributions required under pensions law.
“In a challenging economic environment, this outcome is the best that could be achieved. Crucially, it is acceptable to both the USS Trustee and The Pensions Regulator.”
UCEA has read the low turnouts in the unions’ ballots of their members as a clear indication that the great majority of university union members as well as wider HE employees understand the financial realities for their institution
– spokesperson, UCEA
A spokesperson for Universities and Colleges Employers Association said the result was not an endorsement for strike action: “UCEA has read the low turnouts in the unions’ ballots of their members as a clear indication that the great majority of university union members as well as wider HE employees understand the financial realities for their institution.
“Of the five trade unions only three have announced their pay ballot results. Both UNISON and EIS have failed to get enough members to vote and will not be taking industrial action. Unite and GMB will announce presently.
“UCU has just 55 results from their 147 separate ballots supporting a national dispute over the outcome of the 2019-20 JNCHES pay round.
“While UCU members in these 55 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 147 employers to re-open the concluded 2019-20 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 handful of 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.
“It is now three months since employees covered by the national pay negotiations received above inflation base pay increases of between 3.65% and 1.8%, plus progression pay for the majority bringing the average increase at sector level to 3.5%. It is clear that the great majority of the 325,000 colleagues in UK HE institutions covered by the collective negotiations on the base pay uplift understand the financial realities for their institutions.”