University of Bristol staff vote in favour of strike action

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By Megan Evans, News Editor

Over 80 per cent of voters were in favour of industrial action, which could take place before Christmas.

Members of the Bristol Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) have voted in favour of strike action in disputes over the pensions and the ‘Four Fights’: pay, workload, equality, and casualised contracts.

The voting at Bristol saw a 52% turn out, exceeding the legal minimum threshold of 50 per cent. Of the staff who voted, 82% were in favour of ‘industrial action consisting of strike action.’

Disputes over pensions come as a result of a proposed cut to the University Superannuation Scheme (USS), which the UCU argues could see the average guaranteed retirement income of a university staff member reduced by 35%.

Other major demands being made by the Union include pay rising with inflation, a 35 hour work week for staff, closing the gender and ethnic pay gaps, and an end to zero-hour contracts.

This will be the fourth time since 2018 that Bristol UCU members have taken industrial action over the Four Fights, and the fourth consecutive year that university students will experience teaching disruption.

A strike, however, is not yet guaranteed, with almost 90% of voters being also in favour of ‘industrial action consisting of action short of a strike.’

A Branch Delegate Meeting of Bristol UCU representatives is due to take place on Friday 12 November to advise the Higher Education Committee. This UCU Committee will then decide on its next steps, which may include calling industrial action or mandating a reballoting.

Bristol UCU’s Pensions representative Dr Neil Davies commented ‘We urge employers to withdraw their proposals for cuts, get a reasonable valuation out of the USS, and deliver on their promises to reform the scheme they made as part of the Joint Expert Panel in 2019.’

Releasing a statement on the news Bristol Students’ Union stated: ‘This is a national issue, not just about Bristol, and any decisions on action will ultimately be influenced by UCU's national position.

‘It is disappointing that disputes remain ongoing, and that strike action has now been deemed as necessary.

‘We recognise the different frustrations currently being experienced within the student body. We know that this is an important subject which will impact students in different ways, and that there may be a divided opinion on it. We’re aware that this will affect the university experience of many, and we also respect the right of university staff to pursue industrial action.’

The Students' Union has made its position on the strikes clear in a Motion which is being discussed at Student Council on 23 November.

When approached for comment by Epigram, the University of Bristol commented: ‘Industrial action is part of a complex national dispute over pensions and pay. These are important issues and we respect the right of our staff to strike, which we know was not an easy decision to make.

‘As a university, we have worked collaboratively with our staff and the local UCU branch to put our collective views forward and have argued for higher employer contributions to help ensure the USS Pension scheme is sustainable in the future.

‘Discussions continue at a national level this week and there is also an ongoing consultation with the scheme's wider membership, so we'll know more shortly. We hope that further progress can be made despite the outcome of the USS ballot.

‘As a University, we are proud of the way that we have worked with the local branch of UCU and the other trade unions to make things better for staff. We are open to continuing the conversation and being proactive in addressing their concerns.

‘It goes without saying that our priority as a University is providing teaching and learning for our students, many of whom have already faced disruption due to the pandemic.  We’re well-prepared to mitigate the impact of industrial action should it go ahead and would hope that the impact is kept to a minimum.’

In response to the UCU ballot on taking industrial action over pensions, a Russell Group spokesperson said: ‘Industrial action will only penalise students who are enjoying the buzz of campus life after a challenging 18 months and will not change the fact that reform is needed to ensure the USS scheme is sustainable and affordable for staff and employers.

‘Universities are well prepared to mitigate the impact of industrial action on students and would urge UCU, who have acknowledged the need for change to USS, to work with employers to find mutually agreeable solutions that will provide value for money for the long-term without placing an unfair burden on future generations.’

Epigram has approached Bristol UCU for further comment.


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