Members of the University and College Union (UCU) at the University of Northumbria have voted to support future strike action over “how the [Covid-19] crisis has been and might be managed”.
A statement released by the executive of the Northumbria University UCU branch described the result as “unprecedented”. It would be “heard loud and clear, near and far”, the executive added.
Two-thirds of UCU members voted, and two-thirds of participating members backed strike action.
Of the 814 members eligible to vote, over 544 participated (67.3%); 364 backed strike action (66.5%), and 490 (89.9%) voted in favour of action short of a strike.
According to the most recent figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa), just over 2,900 staff work at Northumbria University – 1,480 of them academic.
The union has not announced any strike action. In response to the ballot, Northumbria University agreed to limit in-person teaching.
We regret that it took a ballot for industrial action for Northumbria to take this matter seriously. If the employer had listened to our concerns from the start then we could have avoided this escalation
– Jo Grady, UCU general secretary
A spokesperson from Northumbria said: “Discussions between the University and UCU have continued during the ballot period and at this stage, it is not clear whether any action will be taken so it is not possible to comment in detail.
“The university has worked hard to ensure the campus is safe for all colleagues, just as employers across other sectors have done to secure the safety and wellbeing of their employees where working from home is not always possible.
“In common with many other universities it is our intention to maintain the university’s teaching and learning offer to students, safely and in line with government guidance. Currently we are offering a limited amount of teaching on campus until 4 December when students will complete their last two weeks of study online before Christmas.
“As part of our ongoing planning and preparations, we are doing all we can to protect colleagues who feel unable to teach on campus at this present time. This will usually be where colleagues have an underlying physical health condition or mental health concerns or share living space with someone who is vulnerable. In these circumstances we have made it clear that colleagues will not be compelled to deliver face-to-face teaching on campus.”
The Northumbria UCU branch said Covid-19 secure workplaces were “a myth”. After announcing the result, the local executive said: “It is difficult not to see the outcome as a referendum on how the crisis has been and might be managed.”
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “This is a massive step forward in our struggle to keep campuses safe for staff and students. Staff at Northumbria have overwhelmingly voted yes to both industrial action and action short of a strike (ASOS).
“This shows how seriously our members take the safety of their students and colleagues, UCU would like to thank our members and reps for their support.
“We regret that it took a ballot for industrial action for Northumbria to take this matter seriously. If the employer had listened to our concerns from the start then we could have avoided this escalation.
“We welcome the statement sent by university management on Tuesday 24th to move to only limited teaching on campus and we hope that this sensible safety-first approach continues into next term.”