HE national disputes 2021

Boycott Leicester

University Picket

Big mandate for strike action at UK universities over pay & working conditions

5 November 2021

Members of UCU at UK universities have backed strike action in a ballot over pay and working conditions.

Overall, more than seven in 10 members who voted (70.1%) backed strike action with 85% (84.9%) voting for action short of strike, which could include a marking boycott. The overall turnout in British universities hit the 50% threshold required by Tory anti-trade union laws.

Today's results follow those held yesterday, in which 76% backed strike action over pension cuts, with an overall turnout of 53%. UCU said the turnout in both ballots reflected the anger of staff working in UK universities.

In both ballots, the union delivered the vote in a window of under three weeks.

Now, staff at 54 universities have a mandate to take strike action over pay and working conditions.

Yesterday, UCU announced that staff at 37 universities had backed strike action over Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension cuts.

Following the two separate ballots, staff at 58 universities now have a mandate to take action, 21 over pay, 33 over both pay and pensions and four over USS only.

The National Union of Students has backed staff voting for strike action, calling their working conditions "untenable".

UCU is demanding a £2.5k pay increase for all staff; an end to race, gender and disability pay injustice; a framework to eliminate zero-hours and other casualised contracts; and meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads.

Last week UCU launched a pay modeller showing the wages of university staff has fallen 20% in real terms since 2009. A report also published last week showed a widespread workload and mental health crisis in universities, with almost a third of staff feeling emotionally drained from work every day.

On 18 October employer representative Universities and Colleges Employers Association wrote to UCU refusing to negotiate on casualisation or make an improved pay offer.

The most recently published vice chancellor salaries show university bosses earn around £278k, almost ten times more than entry level academic or academic related professional staff.

The results were announced live to UCU members and the public in an open all member meeting of over 1,200 people at 5pm. The largest meeting UCU has ever held.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'This result is a clear vote of no confidence in the so-called leaders of our universities, with staff telling them in no uncertain terms that they have had enough of pay and working conditions being run into the ground. 

'UCU members have yet again beaten the Tory anti-union laws. Alongside our pension ballot result, this means we have a big mandate to take strike action, at a time of our choosing.

'It is scandalous that university vice-chancellors on overinflated salaries seem to think doing nothing on pay, casualisation and inequality is acceptable in a sector awash with money.

'We truly hope that disruption can be avoided, that is what staff and students alike all want. But this is entirely in the gift of employers who simply need to end their attacks on pensions, pay and working conditions and finally demonstrate they value their staff.'

Full results are available here. Overall, the pay ballot turnout was 50.6%. The ballots were counted branch by branch, 52 branches beat a legal 50% turnout threshold required for strike action. The threshold rule does not apply to Queens University Belfast of the University of Ulster. Based on the results, 54 institutions have a mandate to take strike action over pay.

Last updated: 8 November 2021