Ballot backs lecturers’ strike

Sam Harrison 13 May 2016

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) have voted for a two-day strike after the union and the university employers’ body, the University and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA), failed to reach agreement on a pay rise.

The UCU asked its members two questions. On the question, ‘Are you prepared to take industrial action consisting of strike action?’, 65.4% voted ‘Yes’, 34.6% ‘No’. On the question, ‘Are you prepared to take industrial action consisting of action short of a strike?’, 77.3% voted ‘Yes’, 22.7% ‘No’. 21,141 ballots were returned. The strike will take place on May 25th and 26th, with threat of more strikes in ensuing months if a satisfactory agreement is not made.

The union called the ballot after rejecting a pay rise of 1.1% offered by the UCEA. The union stated that “industrial action which impacts on students is never taken lightly,” but argued that it had no alternative. It called the offer “an insult” and highlighted the 3% rise offered to vice-chancellors, who on average receive a pay and pensions package of £270,000, at a time when the wage of university staff have declined by 14.5% in real terms over six years. The UCEA accused the UCU of an effort to “try and cause disruption” and alleged that it had “targeted students from the very outset of these discussions.”

The Cambridge branch of the UCU told The Cambridge Student, “We would not wish any action which we are forced to take to have a negative impact on students, but it would be naive to suggest that there is not a risk. It is in everyone's interest that we defend the University sector and its staff, even if that requires us to take disruptive action. We hope that the employers will swiftly increase their offer, as we believe that they can afford to do, and that it will not be necessary to take the action currently scheduled to start on 25th May. We hope that Cambridge University will be using its influence with the national body representing the employers in the pay negotiations (the UCEA: the Universities and Colleges Employers Association) to achieve this outcome.”

The union’s membership principally comprises academic staff, but also includes IT staff, librarians, and senior administrators. In addition to the strike, the UCU has instructed all of its members to work to contract from the 25th of May. It is also making preparation for action aimed at student admissions and at the setting and marking of work if the dispute drags on. It is appealing to all of its members to resign from external examiner positions and not to take up new ones until a settlement has been reached. The declaration is pending negotiations, meaning that the action could still be called off if the pay issues are resolved before the scheduled dates.

The action follows a long struggle between the UCU and the UCEA over pay. In June of 2015, UCU members rejected a 1% pay rise 53.5% to 46.5% and indicated their support for industrial action short of a strike over that offer. In 2014, two days of strikes won the lecturers a pay rise of 2%.