By Megan Evans, News Editor
University staff will strike from 1-3 December over pay and pension disputes.
Staff from 58 universities, including the University of Bristol, are due to strike next month after members of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) voted in favour of industrial action last week.
From 1-3 December members of the UCU will walk out in disputes over pensions, pay and working conditions.
🚨BREAKING🚨— UCU (@ucu) November 16, 2021
Strike action is set to begin at 58 universities next month
To avoid disruption to campuses across the UK university bosses must revoke pension cuts & make an improved offer on pay & working conditions
UCU members from the University of Bristol voted 82% in favour of strike action in ballot earlier this month, significantly higher than the overall national average of 70%.
The industrial action is being supported by the National Union of Students (NUS).
As well as three days of strike, members of staff at 64 universities will partake in ‘action short of strike,’ which will include working strictly to contract and refusing to take on any additional duties.
This could continue for up to the five months, the period of time that industrial action has been mandated for, unless universities and the union reach a resolution.
The UCU has stated that it intends to reballot at universities that failed to reach the 50% turnout threshold.
The union warns that ‘the three day strike will just be the start of sustained disruption for the sector if employers fail to negotiate.
Over 80% of Bristol UCU voters were in favour of industrial action, which could take place before Christmas. https://t.co/GsnxGBXPs8— Epigram (@EpigramPaper) November 10, 2021
‘The union intends to escalate its disputes next term. If employers do not make improved offers, further industrial action is likely to continue into the spring, at which point branches that gain a mandate in their reballots will be able to join the action.’
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Strikes over three consecutive days are set to hit university campuses next month unless employers get round the table and take staff concerns over pension cuts, pay and working conditions seriously.
‘UCU has repeatedly asked employers to meet with us to try to resolve these disputes. But while we set out pragmatic solutions that could halt widespread disruption to UK campuses, university bosses refuse to revoke unnecessary, swingeing pension cuts or even to negotiate on issues like casualisation and the unbearably high workloads that blight higher education.'
‘A resolution to this dispute is simple. But if employers remain intent on slashing pensions and exploiting staff who have kept this sector afloat during a pandemic then campuses will face strike action before Christmas, which will escalate into spring with reballots and further industrial action.’
NUS national president Larissa Kennedy has commented: ‘Students have a rich history of standing shoulder to shoulder with university staff, who have seen their pensions, pay and conditions slashed in recent years.
‘With vice chancellors' average total pay packets rising to £269,000 per year, it's clear employers can afford to resolve their dispute with UCU over staff pay, which has fallen by an average of 20% in real terms since 2009.
‘Staff teaching conditions are student learning conditions, and we mustn't forget many postgraduate students on casualised teaching contracts will be striking.
‘The onus for minimising disruption for students lies with university bosses: they must come back to the table to address the clear issues in how higher education is currently run.’
The UCU claims that cuts to pensions through the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) would reduce the guaranteed retirement income of a typical member by 35%, while staff pay has fallen by 20% in real terms in over a decade of pay offers below inflation rates.
Disputes also stem from workload, casual contracts and lack of diverse representation, with the UCU citing that under a third of professors in the UK are women and only 1% are black.
University of Bristol UCU branch president, Dr Jamie Melrose, said: ‘Strike action is a last resort, but universities’ collective refusal to address these issues has meant UCU members at Bristol and across the UK are prepared to take strike action to get employers to come back to the negotiating table.
‘We deeply regret that employers have not fundamentally budged from their position in the negotiations. In the face of savage cuts to staff pensions, for example, decried as completely unnecessary by pensions experts, we are fighting back. We must stand up, too, against ridiculous workloads of 70 hours per week plus, the ingrained use of short-term, highly exploitable contracts, and gender and BAME pay inequality at every pay grade. Throughout it all our employers’ response is indifference and inaction.’
Striking staff will be on picket lines from 08:30am on Wednesday 1 December.
Featured image: Epigram/Isobel Turner
What do you think about the UCU taking industrial action?