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Image: Stinglehammer / Wikimedia Commons

Possible autumn strikes to be determined by two UCU ballots in September

The University and College Union (UCU) has confirmed that strikes will be on the way if the union does not accept the pay and pension offers made by universities, which will be determined by two ballots.

The ballots will simultaneously take place in September, which will both run from Monday 9 September to Wednesday 30 October. UCU members from 140 institutions will vote in the ballots.

The union’s higher education committee (HEC) will meet on Friday 1 November to discuss the results. Institutions will be hit with industrial action if improvements to pay and pensions for members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) are not approved.

Regarding the ballots, the UCU said: “Members in branches where UCU has registered a dispute over USS will receive two ballot papers – one for pay, workload, equality and job security and one for USS.”

The main reason for potential strikes is that universities had not done enough to address falling pay, which has decreased by 21% in the last decade.

In June, 69 vice-chancellors received a letter from the UCU stating strike action will occur this autumn if they fail to comply with demands.

Currently, USS members pay 8.8% of their salary to the scheme, which increased in April this year by 0.8% and is due to rise to 10.4% in October and 11.7% in April 2020.

Furthermore, the pension scheme has been hit with “high-profile scandals” in recent weeks. For example, Jane Hutton, a professor at the University of Warwick, spoke out about miscalculations regarding the USS deficit but her efforts were allegedly sidelined.

The more members take part in the ballot, the sooner employers will make us a serious offer

– Jo Grady

Universities UK (UUK), a representative body for vice-chancellors, has defended USS and expressed their confidence in the scheme’s trustee board. They added that it would be “irresponsible” to say otherwise.

“Every day seems to bring some new damning revelation about USS,” UCU’s Head of Higher Education Paul Bridge said. “Their response has been wholly inadequate, as has that of Universities UK.

“If universities are not prepared to work with us on pay and pensions, then they will face serious disruption later this year.”

UCU’s General Secretary-elect Jo Grady stated: “Once again, employers are leaving us with no resort other than a strike, even if it stops us all from doing the valuable work we entered this sector to do.

“But we should remember how quickly they came to the negotiating table once last year’s USS strike started. The more members take part in the ballot, the sooner employers will make us a serious offer.”

Last year’s strikes saw around 42,000 staff engaging in industrial action and a loss of 575,000 teaching hours.

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