THE UCU (University and College Union) begins balloting members today for strike action at over 150 universities across the country, with higher education set to close down before Xmas.
The union is balloting its members to strike against cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions, falling pay, the use of insecure contracts, unsafe workloads and serious equality failings.
152 institutions are being balloted in total – six on USS only, 78 on pay and working conditions, and another 68 facing two ballots over both USS and pay and working conditions.
The ballots run at the same time, and for three weeks, closing on 4 November.
The ballot over pensions comes after employer body Universities UK (UUK) voted to cut thousands of pounds from the retirement benefits of university staff in August, representing a cut of 35% to a typical member’s annual guaranteed pension and guaranteed lump sum.
These cuts come on top of a series of changes between 2011 and 2019 that have already been shown to leave a typical member around £240,000 worse off.
Pay for university staff fell by 17.6% relative to inflation between 2009 and 2019.
Since then employers have made further below-inflation offers, despite university income from tuition fees growing by a third in the last five years.
The latest pay offer from the University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) was just 1.5%, despite the monumental efforts of staff during the pandemic.
The UCU says inflation and higher food and energy prices are now eroding pay even further.
The gender pay gap sits at 16% 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.
The pay gap between black and white staff stands at 17% and the disability pay gap is 9%.
In a UCU survey in December 2020, 78% of respondents say their workload is heavier, or significantly heavier, 72% said it has negatively affected their physical and mental health.
A UCU report also revealed that over 74,000 academic staff are on insecure, temporary contracts at UK universities
UCU is demanding a £2.5k pay rise; an end to race, gender and disability pay injustice; a framework to eliminate zero-hours and other precarious contracts; and meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads.
Higher Education Statistics Agency data of 2019/20, shows total income across the sector was £41.9bn with reserves of £46.8bn.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady, said: ‘University staff are the backbone of the sector, but for a decade they have been thanked with massive cuts to their pensions, collapsing pay and the rampant use of insecure contracts.
‘The university sector is worth tens of billions of pounds, but the uncomfortable truth is that this success is built on exploitation, with staff denied dignity in work and in retirement by vice chancellors on eye watering salaries.
‘Industrial action can easily be avoided if employers withdraw their disgraceful pension cuts and make credible offers on pay and working conditions.
‘These are not radical demands, but the bare minimum staff deserve and in the best interests of the sector as a whole.
‘Employers have three weeks to sort this out. If they don’t, the blame for any disruption will fall squarely at their feet.’