Image Credit: Alarichall
Today, the University and College Union (UCU) has announced eight days of strike action in 60 UK universities from Monday 25th November to Wednesday 4th December. Members of UCU have clashed with universities over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and a lack of improvement to key sources of conflict including pay, equality, casualisation and workload.
Consequently, the UCU are backing two separate legal disputes, one on pensions and one on pay and working conditions. Whilst several universities are only experiencing strike action over one legal dispute, the University of York is one of 43 universities in the country to be affected by both actions, with the strikes primarily affecting any student with contact hours in Week 9 of this term. Overall, more than a million students are due to be affected by the nationwide walkout.
Last week’s vote saw a majority of 79% of UCU members back strike action concerning changes to pensions and a 74% majority to strike over pay, equality, casualisation and workloads. However, the USS ballot had an overall turnout of 53% and on pay and conditions, that fell to 49%. Universities are only allowed to take action if their branch of the union had a 50% quorum. UCU commented that it was ”frustrated” that members had to be balloted again, but that universities’ refusal to deal with their concerns had left them with no choice.
When asked, Jo Grady the UCU general secretary added “The first wave of strikes will hit universities later this month unless the employers start talking to us seriously about how they are going to deal with rising pension costs and declining pay and conditions.” These disputes have long been a source of tension between the UCU and universities with last month seeing the shadow education secretary Angela Rayner call for urgent talks between both sides. Whilst supporting UCU members fight for improvements to their salaries, she called for both sides to find peaceful solutions to the disputes.
The eight-day strike will not be the end of the disruption for students as following 4 December, union members will begin “action short of a strike”. This process will not feature a walk out but will instead see UCU members working strictly to contract, refusing to cover for absent colleagues and most importantly, not rescheduling student contact hours lost to strike action.
This is not the first time these disputes have brought the University to a standstill with strike action having heavily disrupting student’s contact hours last year. These strikes will likely echo previous action with the potential to cause serious problems for student close to important deadlines. It should also be considered that lecturers that walk out will not get paid during the strike action meaning their wages will be kept by universities. Following the strike action of last year, the University of York gave the money from withheld staff pay to proposals agreed in the Equity of Pay Report. To repatriate students for lost teaching time, the university agreed to fund a variety of proposals with the main focus being to cover essential printing costs such as the printing and binding of dissertations.
The cost of graduates’ ceremonial gowns was also covered with graduates receiving free gowns in January and July this year. Proposals concerning student’s mental health also received funding with support for student-led and partnership activity. A disabled student’s allowance was set up to ensure that students with disabilities can get the medical certification that is needed to access relevant services. The University looked at tackling course-related costs such as lab coats for Biology students and a proposal to create a long- term laptop loan service for students.
A Universities UK spokesperson told the Independent, “We are hopeful that the dispute can be resolved without industrial action, but plans are in place to ensure that any potential disruption to students and staff is minimised.”