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Universities could face more walkouts after union renews strike mandate

03 Apr 2023 3 minute read
UCU picket. Left picture by Peter Byrne. Right picture by UCU Bangor.

Universities could be hit by a further six months of industrial action after the University and College Union (UCU) renewed its strike mandate in disputes over pay, contracts and pensions.

The UCU could call further walkouts at 150 universities across the UK later this year after its members backed action in two separate disputes – one on pensions and one on pay and working conditions.

The union will begin a consultation with members on Tuesday over new proposals put forward by employers.

In the pay and working condition ballot, the vote for strike action was 85.6% and the turnout was 56.4%.

In the pension ballot, the vote for strike action was 89% and the turnout was 58.4%.

Staff also voted overwhelmingly for action short of strike in both ballots and the union will begin preparations to serve notice for a marking and assessment boycott.

Tens of thousands of university staff who are members of the UCU have already staged a series of walkouts in February and March which caused disruption to students’ seminars and lectures.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, said: “70,000 university workers have taken sustained action this academic year and as a result have won commitments to restore pensions and end zero hour contracts, alongside further time-limited talks on closing equality pay gaps, reducing insecure work and addressing unsafe workloads. But this dispute is not over.

“Employers thought we could not win a national ballot. They were wrong. Employers thought we could not repeat it. They were wrong again. Every vice chancellor in the UK today now knows we will win any strike action ballot we call.

“Members will now be consulted on proposals in both disputes, and employers know strike action can be called again at will. Importantly, we have shown university bosses that it is staff who are in the driving seat.”


Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), which represents 144 employers, said: “It is disappointing that UCU members have voted in favour of industrial action over last year’s (2022-23) closed pay round.

“UCEA is fully committed to working with the trade unions on the implementation of the terms of reference to positively reset industrial relations in our sector. This is an opportunity to address some important issues, building on the extensive good practice which already exists in the sector.

“However, the threat of industrial action, particularly a marking and assessment boycott that aims to target students, puts these talks in jeopardy.”

A spokesperson for Universities UK (UUK), which represents 340 employers on the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension, said: “Disruption this year from industrial action has been reported as low and isolated. Universities will continue to protect students’ interests so their education can carry on – if there is more industrial action.

“So much positive progress has been made on USS, and the timescale for key decisions has been set. UCU’s own negotiators recognise there is nothing to be gained at this stage from further industrial action, something we expect the wider UCU membership will recognise too.”

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