Image: Cameron Clark/ The Boar

Potential strikes as UCU opens ballot for industrial action

The Universities and College Union (UCU) has opened a ballot for industrial action after refusing the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA)’s pay offer, opening the potential for further strikes this academic year.

The ballot, open from now until mid-October, asks union members to vote in favour of industrial action after employers met the unions’ demand of a 7.5% pay increase with a 2% offer.

Should union members vote in favour of industrial action, employers will be given time to respond and potentially revise their offer before action proceeds.

Following the collective unions’ joint higher education trade union national claim, employers, including the University of Warwick, have already increased staff pay by the 2% offer.

However, this offer was declined by the unions on the 29 June, and thus the ballot was applied for, accepted and opened yesterday.

Prior to the ballot, UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, advised that “universities would do well to listen to their students and make investment in staff a top priority”, holding firm on a pay increase of at least 7.5% moving forwards.

“That means a decent pay offer and concrete commitments to tackle problems with gender pay and insecure employment.”

The UCU has also commented: “Earlier this year, UCU members in a number of colleges walked out for several days of strikes, winning better deals for staff where they had previously been told this would be impossible.”

It’s symptomatic of a wider problem within higher education, of more money being spent on shiny buildings more than the people who are actually doing the work

– Duncan Adam, Warwick UCU vice president

Warwick UCU vice president, Duncan Adam, described the 2% offer from employers as “taking staff for granted”, as in reality the 2% offer represents a small increase for staff in proportion with inflation rates.

“2% is yet another example of employers taking our members for granted. It’s symptomatic of a wider problem within higher education, of more money being spent on shiny buildings more than the people who are actually doing the work.”

The dispute between the five unions and the UCEA, who represent 147 HE institutions including Warwick, began earlier this year with the unions’ “joint higher education trade union national claim”.

The unions’ claim consists of a list of campaigns from the UCU against sub-inflationary pay for HE staff, gender inequality, vice chancellor pay, precarious contracts and unfair workloads, of which the UCU suggests leaves the average HE staff member with the equivalent of two unpaid days per week.

The UCEA detailed their final 2% pay offer as including “2.8% on the lowest point and consequent extra loading for the first 14 pay points where it is acknowledged that cost of living pressures are felt most keenly.”

“This offer would bring the average sector pay increase for 2018-19 to 3.5%, with half the staff covered by the negotiations also eligible for additional progression pay increases”.

Upon making this offer, Professor Mark E. Smith, Chair of UCEA, described the pay increase at 2% as something that some of UCEA’s institutions would find “financially challenging” as it is.

The UCU has already engaged in industrial action this year concerning disputes over HE staff pensions.

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