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University leaders have written to the University and College Union to formally outline their commitment to continuing to work with UCU to deliver long-term reform of the Universities Superannuation Scheme. The move comes as UCU members at 60 universities begin strike action in disputes over both pensions and pay.
The University and College Union has given the go-ahead for a two-day strike in protest over a 1.1 per cent pay offer from university employers. HEi-know looks at the arguments from both sides, and their assessment of the likely impact of the dispute.
What is the dispute about?
The University and College Union (UCU) says the dispute follows an “insulting” pay offer of 1.1 per cent and that staff pay is being “held down” at a time when pay and benefits for university leaders is rising. In 2014-15, it says, leaders’ pay rose by 5.1 per cent. UCU believes universities can afford to pay staff more and that members have suffered a real terms pay cut of 14.5 per cent since 2009. The union also wants universities “to commit to closing the gender pay gap and reducing the proportion of staff on casual and zero-hour contracts”. On average, UCU says female academics are paid £6,103 per year less than male counterparts and that almost half of university teachers are on insecure contracts.
The University and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA) says its final offer is fair and one which commits it to giving substantial extra amounts to the lower paid “without putting additional jobs at risk”. It says under the offer, those on the bottom of the pay spine would have an uplift of 6 per cent and that half of all staff would receive 3 per cent on top of the 1.1 per cent, because of increments. The organisation says the strike was called “before they had been given the final offer” and that the union had “wanted to strike”. The employers say they have been working with the UCU on the gender pay gap for three years; that the gap narrowed recently and is far smaller than in the UK as a whole.
The UCU says it expects “considerable disruption to lectures and seminars” over the two-day strike, which it says is “always regrettable” and that the impact will vary from institution to institution and department to department. UCU members will begin working to contract from Wednesday, which means they will refuse to work overtime, set additional work, or undertake any voluntary duties like covering timetabled classes for absent colleagues.
A spokesman said the union had heard of exam boards being moved to different days “causing disruption where people already had other work commitments”. As well as the two-day walkout, protests are planned around the UK with rallies taking place in Belfast, Birmingham, Brighton, Cambridge, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield. The union says staff on strike will lose two days’ pay, “which again demonstrates how people never consider strike action lightly”.
UCEA says HE institutions are expecting “minor impact and minimal student disruption” on both of the strike days “because of the numbers involved in the ballot, the level of staffing at this time of year and the fact that it is almost the end of term and many students have already gone home”. It says “even for examinations” more than nine out of 10 of its member institutions are expecting a “no-to-low impact”. It adds that “the vast majority of their staff understand the current funding environment and can see that the final offer...endeavours to be fair”. The organisation says it is “standard practice” for institutions to write to staff asking them to say if they intend to or have taken industrial action and to advise that it will withhold a day’s pay for each day of strike action.
UCU: If no agreement is reached in the coming weeks, members have agreed to further strike action which could affect open days, graduation ceremonies and the clearing process. The union is also beginning preparations for a boycott of the setting and marking of students’ work to begin in the autumn.
UCEA: No additional talks are scheduled, all parties having agreed on 19 May that the dispute procedure was exhausted. The other four trade unions involved are conducting consultations with their members on the final offer on pay and related matters and we await to hear the outcome of these processes.
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