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University Picket

UK universities to face five more days of strike action before Easter

4 March 2022

UCU today said that 68 universities across the UK will face a further five days of strike action beginning this month unless vice chancellors revoke pension cuts and meet staff demands over pay and working conditions.

Over 50,000 staff are taking five further days of strike action over two weeks in both the USS pension dispute and the pay and working conditions dispute. In the first week 39 universities will take five days of action from Monday 21 March to Friday 25 March. In the second week of action 29 universities will take five days of action from Monday 28 March to Friday 1 April. Well over a million students will be impacted. As part of the ongoing dispute, all branches will also be reballoted soon in preparation for potential industrial action next term.

Due to the nature of its teaching model, staff at the Open University will be taking seven days of strike action. 

Staff at the 68 universities just finished taking up to 10 days of strike action this week but after employers forced through pension cuts and refused to negotiate meaningfully over pay and working conditions, further action has now been called.  

On 22 February, university employers forced through pension cuts which will see 35% slashed from a typical member's guaranteed retirement income. UCU is demanding that employers revoke their cuts and re-enter negotiations.  In the pay and working conditions dispute the union is demanding an end to race, gender and disability pay injustice; a framework to eliminate zero-hours and other insecure contracts; and meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads; as well as a £2.5k pay rise for all university employees. 

New retail price index inflation figures of 7.8% mean UCU estimates staff pay is now down by 25.5% in real terms since 2009. Over 70k academics are employed on insecure contracts. The gender pay gap in UK universities sits at 16%, whilst the disability pay gap is 9% and the race pay gap is up to 17%.

Staff are also experiencing a crisis of work-related stress with over half showing probable signs of depression. 

Staff at striking universities are also taking action short of strike (ASOS). This includes working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action, and not undertaking any voluntary activities. 

It was reported that employer representative, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said university bosses are "compelled" to dock 100% of the pay of staff taking ASOS. So far only Queen Mary, University of London, has attempted to do so. UCU launched a local strike ballot in response and said that if any other university tries to emulate Queen Mary, it too will face further disruption. 

UCU said universities can more than afford to meet the demands of staff.

University finance figures show total income across the sector is around £41.9bn with reserves of £46.8bn. On average, vice-chancellors enjoy full pay packages of £269k per year. Students have been supporting the strikes and the National Union of Students joined the previous round of action with a student strike on Wednesday 2 March. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Vice chancellors could easily end this dispute and prevent further disruption in our universities, but they would rather attack the pensions, pay and working conditions of their own staff and damage the sector at the same time. Students and staff alike deserve better leadership than this, and we hope that this action and our reballot of members for future action will make employers see sense.

'Universities in the UK bring in tens of billions in income each year and have tens of billions more hoarded in their reserves. There is no justification whatsoever for slashing staff pensions or refusing to take action over falling pay, shocking equality pay gaps, rampant casualisation and unsafe workloads. For years our union has been offering sensible and deliverable solutions that would benefit staff, students and the entire sector, but employers are just not interested. 

'Students support staff because they know that staff working conditions are their learning conditions. They also know that universities have the money to give staff what they deserve. Until vice chancellors get the message, staff will continue to take action to defend themselves.' 

Full list of striking institutions and dates here

Last updated: 4 March 2022