UCU – Ten days of strike action begins at UK universities

University leaders have ‘failed staff and students’, UCU said today as up to ten days of strike action began at universities across the UK over devastating cuts to pensions and deteriorating pay & working conditions.

The University and College Union (UCU) represents over 130,000 academics, lecturers, trainers, instructors, researchers, managers, administrators, computer staff, librarians and postgraduates in universities, colleges, prisons, adult education and training organisations across the UK

Cross-posted from the UCU website

Students support the strike

Staff at 44 universities walked out today after university employers refused to withdraw cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) or accept UCU’s compromise proposals which would have seen staff and employers pay slightly more to protect benefits and resolve the pension dispute. Last week the pension scheme trustee USS, which runs the scheme, confirmed UCU’s proposals are viable and implementable. UUK’s proposals, which will see 35% cut from the guaranteed retirement income of members, are set to be formalised on Tuesday 22 February.

Next Monday strike action over pay and working conditions will also start with 24 further universities joining the action, bringing the overall total to 68 universities. This dispute is over a 20% real terms pay cut over the past 12 years, unmanageable workloads, pay inequality and the use of exploitative and insecure contracts, which are rife across the sector. Altogether, more than 50k staff are expected to walk out, with well over a million students set to be impacted.

The full strike dates, with numbers of institutions involved, are:

  • week 1 (USS pension dispute only, 44 institutions): 5 days; Monday 14 to Friday 18 February
  • week 2 (both the pension and the pay & working conditions dispute, 68 institutions): 2 days; Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 February
  • week 3 (pay & working conditions dispute only, 63 institutions): 3 days; Monday 28 February, Tuesday 1 and Wednesday 2 March.

The final day of strike action in week three has been called to coincide with the student strike on Wednesday 2 March, organised by the National Union of Students (NUS). The NUS is supporting UCU’s industrial action and is calling for better working conditions, pay and pensions for staff.

Staff are also engaged in action short of a strike (ASOS) which involves working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action, or undertaking any voluntary activities. In retaliation, employer representatives have authorised bosses to withhold the pay of staff taking ASOS. Six universities are claiming they will deduct 100%. UCU has warned that this may lead to even more strikes being called.

To resolve the pension dispute UCU is demanding employers revoke the cuts to staff pensions and formally accept the union’s compromise proposals. To resolve the pay & working conditions dispute UCU is demanding a £2.5k pay increase for all staff, as well as action to tackle unmanageable workloads, pay inequality and the use of insecure and exploitative contracts.

In December 2021, staff at 58 universities took three days of strike action. Following a successful reballot over Christmas, staff at ten more universities will join this latest wave of strikes.

The union said universities can more than afford to meet the demands of staff. University finance figures, from 2019/20, show total income across the sector was £41.9bn with reserves of £46.8bn.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘The action that begins today and will eventually hit 68 universities is down to vice-chancellors who have failed staff and students. They have pushed through brutal pension cuts and done nothing to address falling pay, pay inequality, the rampant use of insecure contracts and unmanageable workloads.

‘It is outrageous that when they should be trying to resolve this dispute, employer representatives have instead been finding new ways to deduct pay from university workers. Rather than punishing their workforce, these so-called leaders need to look in the mirror and ask why students support staff taking strike action and why their own workforce is so demoralised.

‘Throughout these disputes, our union has offered simple solutions that would avert industrial action and benefit the sector in the long-term, but time and again employers have chosen to continue pushing staff to breaking point, while the sector continues to bring in tens of billions of pounds each year. To avoid this period of industrial action all vice-chancellors had to do was accept UCU’s viable pension proposals and take action over worsening pay & working conditions. That they didn’t is an abject failure of their leadership.

‘Students are standing by our members because they know university staff are overworked and underpaid. And they know that this sector, which is awash with money, can afford to treat its workers with dignity. As ten days of action begins today vice-chancellors urgently need to get around the table and help UCU resolve these disputes.’

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