UCU accuses universities of playing games over pay ahead of strikes

The UCU has accused universities of “playing games” after they ruled out talking about pay, less than a week before its members are due to walk out on strike for eight days at 60 universities.

The universities’ representatives have written an open letter to all members of staff that explicitly refuses to talk about pay. The union has responded* saying it will meet for talks, but that pay needs to be put back on the table.

UCU members are taking strike action from Monday in two disputes. One focuses on changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme and one is about pay, casualisation, workloads and inequality.

UCU said it was impossible not to talk about pay when other elements of that dispute were so clearly linked to it. The union said if universities met UCU’s carefully weighted pay claim that would help alleviate pay inequality, as there are disproportionate women and black and minority ethnic staff on lower pay.

The letter says that in recent years “pay has been pegged to the lowest measure of inflation as a ceiling not a floor” and references UCEA’s own recent pay report that found that staff pay has fallen by around 17% in the last 10 years.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Universities’ refusal to talk about pay smacks of game playing, as they must know an offer like this creates real difficulties in trying to resolve that dispute. Nobody wants to take strike action, but we need to be talking about all the elements if we are to solve all the problems.

“You cannot refuse to talk about pay yet say you want to talk about closing pay gaps that exist for women and BME staff. Our disputes cover the key problems for staff working in universities and they must all be properly addressed.

“We are always keen to negotiate and will attend talks to try and avert the disruption the strikes will inevitably cause. We hope the employers will rethink their approach and we can actually work to try and find a resolution.”

Earlier this month, UCU members backed strike action in the two separate disputes, one on pensions and one on pay and working conditions. Overall, 79% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions. In the ballot on pay, inequality, casualisation and workloads, 74% of members polled backed strike action.

As well as eight strike days, union members will begin “action short of a strike” from Monday 25 November. This involves things like working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.

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