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University Picket

University strike ballots open today amidst cost-of-living crisis

6 September 2022

Ballots for industrial action opened today at universities across the UK in disputes over pay, working conditions and pension cuts amidst the worst cost of living crisis in living memory, confirmed UCU.

In total, over 70,000 staff at 150 universities are being balloted across two separate ballots. 67 institutions are being balloted over pension cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and 145 are being balloted over pay and working conditions. Both ballots are aggregated. This means that for the first time in these disputes if UCU achieves an overall turnout of 50% or above and a majority YES vote in both ballots, all 150 universities will be hit by strike action, which would be unprecedented.

In the pay and working conditions dispute, UCU's demands include a pay uplift of 12% or Retail Price Index (RPI) plus 2%, an agreed framework to eliminate insecure work practices such as zero hours contracts, and action to address dangerously high workloads.

Last month university vice-chancellors imposed a 3% pay 'increase', well below RPI inflation of 12.3%, As a result pay has now fallen behind inflation by 25% since 2009, as shown by UCU's pay modeller. UCU said the real term pay cut will see staff facing poverty. Experts have warned that RPI will hit 21% by January whilst gas and electricity prices are already reaching record highs. On average, university staff work an additional two days per week unpaid due to excessive workloads. A third of academic staff are on some form of insecure contract.

In the pension dispute, UCU is demanding universities withdraw their benefit cuts and pressure the scheme's managers to restore benefits to 2021 levels. The ballot comes after employer representative Universities UK (UUK) pushed through cuts to USS that will see a typical member lose 35% of their guaranteed retirement income. The cuts were predicated on a valuation of the scheme in March 2020 that reported a deficit of £14bn. However, the latest monitoring report from USS shows the scheme is now in surplus.

Last month UCU revealed that the higher education sector generated record income of over £41bn in 2020/21 and that universities are planning to increase capital spending by £4.6bn (36%) this year. However, employers' 3% increase amounts to merely an additional £600 million in staff costs.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'The reason for these ballots is very simple: university staff are facing the biggest cost of living crisis in a generation, yet bosses think they can get away with a massive real-terms pay cut and pension cuts that will leave our members facing poverty. Our demands must be met and by emphatically voting yes to strike action, UCU members will be saying enough is enough.

'A 3% pay increase is completely unacceptable. There is more than enough money in the sector to pay staff properly, restore retirement income and address rampant job insecurity and unmanageable workloads. Vice-chancellors are choosing not to do so. They now need to urgently make a fair offer that allows staff to survive the cost-of-living crisis, or they will face historic strike action.'

Last updated: 21 September 2022