Strike ballots will open at UK universities on October 18th

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UCU strikers marching during their strike action to defend their pensions in February last year

The University and College Union (UCU) has confirmed that strike ballots will open at UK universities on Monday 18 October in rows over USS (Universities Superanuation Scheme) pensions and pay, unsafe workloads, casualisation and equality failings.

The union’s higher education committee (HEC) met on Monday 20 September and confirmed the timetable for a ballot of 152 institutions in total, six will be balloted on USS only, 83 are to be balloted over pay and working conditions, with another 63 institutions in the UK facing two ballots over both USS and pay and working conditions.
UCU says that it now expects employers to return to negotiations with better offers in both disputes or face action that will disrupt the end of term and continue into the next one.
The National Union of Students (NUS) offered its support for staff planning to take action, saying ‘students will hold employers responsible’ if vice chancellors and employers do not come to ‘a negotiated settlement and address the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by staff.’
The ballots will run from Monday 18 October to Thursday 4 November unless employers resolve the dispute beforehand.
UCU’s HEC will meet to consider the results of the ballot on 8 November with action expected to take place before the end of the year.
The ballot over pensions comes after employer body Universities UK (UUK) voted to cut thousands of pounds from the retirement benefits of university staff last month.
The plans, based on a flawed valuation of the USS conducted at the beginning of the pandemic as markets were crashing, represent an annual guaranteed pension cut of 35% for a typical member.
These cuts come after a series of changes between 2011 and 2019 have been shown to already leave a typical member around £240,000 worse off.
UCU produced alternative proposals for reform of USS, which were discussed at the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) with employers, represented by UUK.
However, employers refused to match the level of covenant support for UCU’s proposals which they were willing to deliver for their own.
Employers also refused a range of delay options to allow more time to negotiate.
The second ballot is over issues related to declining staff pay, the use of casualised contracts, unsafe workloads and equality failings.
Research by UCU found 42% of teaching staff employed on zero hours contracts, with 49% on insecure fixed-term contracts.
Pay for university staff fell by around 20% between 2009 and 2019.
Since then employers have made a series of below inflation offers, this despite university income from tuition fees growing by a third in the last five years alone.
The latest pay offer from University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) was just 1.5%.
The gender pay gap sits at 15.5% and the most recent Higher Education Statistics Agency figures reveal that, of 22,810 professors in the UK, under a third (27%) were women and only 155 (1%) were Black.
UCU is demanding a £2.5k pay increase; an end to race and gender pay injustice; a framework to eliminate the use of precarious contracts, such as zero-hours employment; and meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads.
The staff groups being balloted in both sets of action by UCU include academic and academic-related staff.
University staff previously took the largest strike action UK higher education has ever seen in 2020 over the same issues.
The latest Higher Education Statistics Agency data, from 2019/20, shows total income across the sector was £41.9bn with reserves of £46.8bn.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘University staff propped up the entire sector during the pandemic, but they are now being thanked with huge cuts to their pensions, unbearably high workloads, and another below-inflation pay offer – all whilst universities continue to generate a handsome income from tuition fees.
‘The truth is that very well paid university leadership, who manage institutions with bigger turnovers than top football clubs, are choosing to exploit the goodwill of staff, repeatedly refusing to address the rampant use of casualised contracts, unsafe workloads or the shocking gender and ethnicity pay gap in the sector.
‘Our members across the UK know that working in a university does not have to be like this and are clear that they are ready to take action to stand up for their dignity, defend pensions and win long overdue improvements to their pay and working conditions.
‘There is still time for university chiefs to resolve a situation which is entirely of their own making, but they must return to negotiations and make credible offers.’
NUS national president Larissa Kennedy said: ‘As students, we regularly witness how staff and students’ conditions are intertwined.
‘University management forcing staff onto casualised contracts, cutting their pay, and now trying to cut thousands of pounds from their pensions cannot be divorced from the fact that one in 10 students has needed to access a foodbank to survive the pandemic – these aren’t the actions of a university leadership or an education system that have the interests of staff or students at heart.
‘Staff working conditions are student learning conditions and we stand shoulder to shoulder with our educators in fighting for a more just education system.
‘We demand fully funded, accessible, lifelong education where our spaces of teaching and learning belong to the students, staff and communities they exist to serve.
‘Until then, it is entirely in the gift of vice chancellors and employers to come to a negotiated settlement and address the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by staff.
‘If they don’t, students will hold employers responsible.’

  • Lecturers at London Colleges are to strike after rejecting a below-inflation 1 per cent pay offer.

At fifteen further education colleges and groups of colleges run by the Association of Colleges, lecturers have voted for up to 10 days of industrial action this autumn.
Members of UCU, the University and College Union, say that their pay lags behind that of schoolteachers by £9,000 a year and has fallen by 30 per cent in real terms over the last decade.
The ‘derisory’ 1 per cent pay offer has also been condemned by Unite, Unison, GMB and the National Education Union.
The lecturers will begin their strike action on Tuesday September 28.
The UCU warned that further walkouts could follow if the pay proposal was not increased.
The lecturers voted for strike action at Croydon College, Capital City College Group, City and Islington College, College of North East London, Westminster Kingsway College, Lambeth College, South Thames College Group, Carshalton College, Kingston College, Merton College and Wandsworth and Tooting College.
A ballot of the workers, who seek a pay rise of more than 5 per cent, saw 89 per cent vote in favour of strike action.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘College staff are angry at having had their pay held down whilst workloads increase.
‘They have now had their pay cut by over 30 per cent in real terms over the past decade and this derisory 1 per cent pay offer is another real-terms cut.
‘It is completely unacceptable and is especially insulting after staff have worked so hard throughout the covid pandemic.
‘College leaders urgently need to come to the negotiating table if they want to avoid facing sustained strike action and severe disruption over the next few months.’