Strike action in higher education

In the news 10 May 2019

UCU says members will make final decision on future of USS

UCU said yesterday that it will be members who ultimately decide the next steps in the dispute over the future of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). The union was responding to proposals from the USS board that will now be considered by UCU and Universities UK (UUK) at formal Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) meetings. None of the proposals from the USS board satisfy the union's "no detriment" policy, which states members' benefits should not be reduced and their contributions should not rise.

Speaking to Times Higher Education, UCU head of higher education Paul Bridge said: 'While the union has made substantial progress in terms of avoiding the very large increases originally proposed by USS, none of the three options satisfy the union's no detriment policy position. We will press our policy of no detriment. It will then be for our members to decide what happens after proposals emerge from the JNC negotiations.'

 

UCU calls for Secretary of State's intervention on prison education job cuts

UCU has written to secretary of state for justice David Gauke urging him to intervene over plans to cut over 100 prison education jobs across the north of England. The prison education provider Novus recently announced that 176 staff were at risk across 27 prisons where it operates. It proposes to retain only 62 full time equivalent roles, meaning over 100 posts are set to be lost overall.

The cuts have been blamed on the drop in value of new prison education contracts which were introduced at the beginning of April. Novus has so far refused to rule out compulsory redundancies. The letter also calls on the secretary of state to examine the wider impact of the new contracts.

UCU said the loss of over 100 experienced prison educators would have a serious impact on learning opportunities for offenders at a time when prisons are reporting record levels of assaults and self-harm.

Speaking to FE Week, UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: 'You cannot make cuts of this scale and not impact on the education and opportunities available to offenders. This is a particularly worrying move given that reports of assault and self-harm in prisons are at record levels.'

 

Members overwhelmingly back industrial action at Winchester University

Industrial action is on the cards at Winchester University after UCU members overwhelmingly backed strikes and action short of a strike. Four-fifths (80%) of members who voted backed strike action and 93% backed action short of a strike. The branch smashed the 50% threshold for turnout as 58% of members voted.

The university has said it wants to get rid of 55 posts - around 10% of the workforce. It has cited increased costs in pensions as a reason for the drastic move. UCU regional official Moray McAulay told the BBC that there was no need for this knee-jerk reaction to changes to pension costs. The union has said the university must rule out compulsory job losses if it wants to avoid disruption.

The Hampshire Chronicle said UCU will finalise details of the industrial action in the coming days. As well as strikes likely to hit lectures this term, members are considering other forms of action such as working to contract, not covering for absences and boycotting open days.

Students have expressed their support for staff and held a demonstration last month. The university has also come under fire for its bungled handling of the process, having revealed all the staff at risk of redundancy in an email.

 

Striking staff at Lambeth College settle dispute after improved deal

UCU members at Lambeth College have called off next month's strikes after agreeing a deal with the college worth over 3% in pay with additional holiday days, sick pay benefits and a reduction in teaching hours.

Union members at the college have taken 10 days of strike action since November in the long-running pay dispute. The deal will see staff receive a pay rise of between 2% and 3% backdated to September 2018, with an extra payment of £250 for the lowest paid staff.

Tes reported that all staff will benefit from six months' full sick pay entitlement and six months' half sick pay entitlement. In addition teaching staff teaching staff who are on a contract introduced in 2014 will receive an additional five days' annual leave and a reduction in their teaching hours.

Speaking to FE week, UCU regional official Una O'Brien said: 'Too often colleges hide behind low levels of government investment to avoid giving their staff proper pay and conditions. This deal shows what can be achieved when colleges work with us to avoid disruption and look after their staff.'

 

Backlash continues against plans to close Stourbridge College

The backlash against the decision by Birmingham Metropolitan College (BMet) to sell off Stourbridge College continued this week. UCU condemned the "deeply damaging" move saying students and staff were paying the price for poor management.

The decision will affect hundreds of staff and students, but UCU said that there had been no meaningful consultation about the move with the local community, staff or students. The union also said the plan made little financial sense, as the college had recently spent millions refurbishing the Hagley Road campus.

Speaking to the Express and Star yesterday, UCU regional support official, Teresa Corr, said the decision to close Stourbridge College was a deeply damaging move. She said: 'Learners and the local community are paying a high price for years of poor management. There has been a total lack of meaningful consultation with the hundreds of staff and students that will be affected, many of whom will be forced to travel to other colleges.'

 

UCU members on strike at West Thames College

UCU members at West Thames College were on strike this week in a row over pay after talks broke down at the end of last week. Staff were on picket lines on Tuesday and Wednesday and warned further strikes were planned if the college refused to make a decent offer.

Speaking to Union News, UCU regional official Una O'Brien said: 'Strike action is always a last resort, but unless West Thames College prioritises its staff then there is going to be disruption. It is not acceptable for colleges to say finances are tight and nothing can be done. Other colleges have shown what can be achieved when they engage seriously with us on pay and conditions.'

 

Stephenson College approved pay rises and improved security for executive ahead of merger

Stephenson College has come under heavy criticism for significantly enhancing the employment conditions of its senior staff ahead of entering a merger consultation. FE Week reported that the board of the Leicestershire College approved pay rises and notice period extensions for all executives, including the long-serving principal and Association of Colleges board member Nigel Leigh.

The college denied that this had anything to do with the plans to merge with a larger college which were being explored at the time. A spokesperson for UCU described the enhancements as "a tone-deaf move which flies in the face of widespread calls for senior pay restraint in colleges and shows that, when it comes to pay and conditions, it's one rule for those at the top and another for the rest of the staff" and said there had been a "concerning" lack of transparency around the pay rise.

According to the college's accounts, Leigh's pay has risen 15 per cent in the past three years, from £125,653 to £145,000, during which time the post-16 area review recommended that Stephenson College be taken over by North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College.

 

General secretary election

The ballot for the election of UCU general secretary closes on Thursday 23 May. You should have received your ballot paper through the post by now. If you haven't, you can go here to request a new one.

The three candidates running for the job took part in a special further education hustings hosted by Tes. That event is now online and be viewed here.

 

Last updated: 10 May 2019

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