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University strikes paused after union hails 'real progress' in talks

17 February 2023

UCU has paused strike action after 'real progress' was made in talks with employers over pay, conditions and pensions. A programme of a further seven days of strikes from Tuesday 21 February will not take place.

UCU has secured commitments from employers on tackling casualisation, including ending the use of involuntary zero hours contracts.

Commitments have also been made to improve pension benefits to pre-cut levels and to remodel the current pay offer to benefit the lowest paid. Intensive negotiations will now begin to produce final agreements including on the issues of workload and equality pay gaps.

The commitments on pay and conditions were made during negotiations with UCU via conciliation service Acas. On pensions, separate commitments were made in negotiations with Universities UK (UUK) and the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) trustee.

UCU confirmed that action short of a strike (ASOS) will continue and warned that the dispute remains live and that strike action could resume if employers do not deliver on the final agreements. UCU will also commence a reballot next week, allowing the union to extend its mandate and continue taking action for the rest of the academic year if necessary.

On pay and conditions:

  • UCEA to consult members with a recommendation that they end the use of involuntary zero hour contracts on campus  
  • remodelled pay offer to benefit lowest paid and review of the pay spine
  • time limited negotiations on a new agreement to reduce workloads
  • time limited negotiations on tackling casualisation
  • time limited negotiations on closing equality pay gaps with data collection, monitoring and expectations

On pensions:

  • subject to the forthcoming valuation, improve benefits to the level as existed before the April 2022 cuts, alongside a reduction in costs for members and employers
  • work together to ensure valuations are undertaken on a moderately prudent and evidence-based basis, taking account of the open and long-term nature of the scheme
  • work in partnership on low-cost options that do not undermine the main scheme
  • work in partnership on USS governance reform
  • fully examine the case for divestment from fossil fuels.

The announcement on pensions comes as the USS trustee releases its latest monitoring data which shows that the scheme has reported a £5bn surplus.

Further negotiations between UCU and employers will continue via Acas.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Strike action by 70,000 university staff has secured unprecedented commitments from university employers on pay, conditions and pensions. Action can now be paused to allow for a period of calm. This moment belongs to every university worker who has courageously stood on picket lines.

'Intensive negotiations will soon begin in the hope of delivering comprehensive final agreements on all issues in the disputes, but commitments have already been made to end the use involuntary zero hours contracts, improve pension benefits to pre-cut levels and remodel the pay system so that it benefits more workers, particularly the lowest paid.

'Today we can welcome real progress, but there is still work to do to resolve these disputes which remain very much live. Our union reserves the right to resume action and will reballot to allow further action to be taken if employers do not follow through on their commitments.'

Last updated: 23 February 2023