UCU begins strike ballot at 169 universities

UCU members at 147 universities are to be balloted for strike action over pensions and pay, workloads, casualisation and equality.

The union’s higher education committee (HEC) met yesterday and confirmed the timetable for a ballot of 69 institutions over USS pensions and also for a pay, workloads, casualisation and equality ballot that will run at 147 institutions at the same time.

The ballots will run from Monday to October 30 and HEC will meet to consider the results on November 1.  The ballots will be disaggregated so each institution will be polled separately.

In June the union wrote to the 69 USS institutions warning that if they failed to defend members’ pensions then the union would prepare for an industrial action ballot in September. UCU made clear that it did not expect members to have to face higher contributions or any loss of benefits. The union said if the employers failed to secure those commitments from USS then they should meet additional costs.

 Last year, university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action. UCU members lost 14 days’ pay to defend their pensions and said it was only fair that any cost this time around should be shouldered by the employers.

The union said it rejected the employers’ latest stopgap offer as it failed to avoid the imposition of unfair and unnecessary costs on scheme members. UCU said it wanted to work towards a long-term solution to address fundamental flaws with USS, how it is valued and how it is run.

At a meeting of the USS Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) in August, the universities’ proposals – that will see members pay 9.6% of their salary into their USS pension, compared to 8.8% at present and 8% before the strikes, with further hikes planned from 2021 – were backed by the chair Sir Andrew Cubie.

UCU tabled its own proposals to the JNC setting out why universities should meet any additional costs. The union previously wrote to universities in June and warned that if they did not agree to limit members’ contributions to 8%, or meet the cost of any additional contributions, then they faced the risk of a strike action ballot.

 A separate ballot on pay, workloads and equality will also begin on Monday. It will affect the 69 universities being balloted over USS as well as another 78 institutions in the UK (147 in total). The union said universities had done nothing to address the declining value of its members’ pay, which has fallen in real-terms by 21% in the last decade.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “We have been upfront with universities for months about our intention to ballot members over pensions, pay and conditions, so it is incredibly disappointing that they have chosen not to engage properly with us.

 “The ballots start on Monday, but we have no desire to take strike action and the employers still have time to avert a crisis on campus. However, in order to do that they need to start negotiating with us credibly.

Aside from some last minute game-playing and misleading statements on pensions, the employers have done nothing to even try and avoid disruption. USS members should not be hit with extra costs  and we want to work towards a long-term solution to address fundamental flaws with USS, how it is valued and how it is run. We don’t want to be running ballots year after year, we want these problems properly sorted.”

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