With the UCU strikes set to begin over the next few weeks, here is a lowdown of everything you need to know.
When is it happening?
The University and College Union (UCU) have confirmed on 29 January that academic staff will take industrial action on campuses across the UK, including Warwick for a period of at least 14 days, starting on 22 February.
The strikes will take place over several weeks in term two:
- Thursday and Friday of Week 7
- Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of Week 8
- Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of Week 9
- Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday of Week 10
This strike may last longer if the UCU’s demands are not met; similarly, it may end sooner if the Union and Universities UK are able to reach an agreement.
Moreover, ‘action short of strikes’ will begin on February 22 and continue up until June 19.
What will be happening?
In terms of what can be expected from the strike, the UCU says on their website that members will take strike action (during the dates mentioned above), as well as action short of a strike.
Picketing may occur during the strike days, as UCU members are “strongly encouraged” to do so. It is unclear at this stage where the picket lines will be.
‘Action short of a strike’ is described by the UCU as working to contract (adhering strictly to the terms of the employment contract), not covering for absent colleagues, and not undertaking any voluntary activities.
In a statement on the University website, Warwick announced a 100% pay deduction for staff participating in single days of strike, and 25% pay deduction for those taking action short of a strike.
During the strike days, participating teaching staff will not be holding lectures, seminars or office hours, marking work or answering emails. However, some teaching staff are looking into alternative class methods.
Staff are not required to say if they plan to take industrial action in advance of the aforementioned dates and they are encouraged by the UCU to not reschedule lectures or seminars cancelled due to the strike.
Exams may be disrupted as they may cover content which has been missed over Term 2.
The University has advised that students watch for updates on timetabled events on the MyWarwick app, and contact individual departments for concerns over the course.
Why is it happening?
This is taking place because of proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which would directly affect the pensions of academic staff.
The proposal is to change the existing arrangements to a defined contribution model. This means that pension income would mainly come from stock market or share investments made by the pension fund on behalf of the contributors – in this case academic staff.
The UCU argues that these changes in effect mean that academic staff are no longer guaranteed a certain level of pension income, as this would at least in part depend on the performance of the investments, making it less secure.
It is estimated that pensions could be cut by up to 40%, or potentially £200,000 for some academics. Following a public vote, UCU members across 61 UK universities will be going on strike.
What does the UCU say?
In an official statement, the UCU stated: “Striking is not a holiday! Strikers are not paid during this period.
“Strikers are missing out on 14+ days of pay. They all have to pay their rents, mortgages, childcare, food and electricity bills, and thus risk significant financial hardship in undertaking this action.
“Overall, staff are losing out on so much more than students. This is not a choice that they made lightly, it was a necessity that they were forced into.”
On the effects on students, it added: “We are a union of professionals and we know that our members don’t like taking any action that affects students. It is the same for many public services. However, when we take action, we are generally making a case for greater investment in or defence of the quality of the service we provide.”
“Observing the strike is defending the interests of staff and students alike.”
What does Warwick say?
The University’s vice-chancellor Stuart Croft was among the first university leaders to speak out against the USS changes, stating on his blog: “I can assure Warwick staff that we will reiterate our previous concern that the proposed de facto end to the defined benefit scheme will require USS’s investment strategy to become increasingly cautious, which would materially inhibit the future growth of assets out of which pensions will ultimately be funded.”
University press and policy director Peter Dunn said: “Staff and students both know that Warwick as a University actually shares many of the UCU trade union’s concerns about the proposed pension changes. We are therefore saddened that this may still result in strike action at Warwick, but we understand that is a national issue that needs resolving. We would call on both UUK and UCU to work together to find that resolution.”
On whether the University has any advice for staff or students, he added: “It is really up to staff whether they choose to take strike action or not. We would ask individual staff that if they do choose to take action that might particularly impact on students to consider giving as much notice of that action as possible so we can better inform students, and to enable us to reduce the direct impact on our students.”
“The University sector has had strikes before and will no doubt have them again, so it is something that can be planned for and worked through. Students should carry on as before and watch out for any news updates on insite.”
A further statement said that the following should be prioritised: timetabled teaching, setting and marking examinations, other forms of assessment, invigilation, attendance at examination boards and vivas, organisation of degree ceremonies and offer holder days.
This article will be updated as further information is provided.