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Anti-union laws stop university staff striking for fair pay & conditions

6 November 2023

UCU has criticised anti-democratic trade union laws for frustrating the wishes of members who voted for strike action over pay and working conditions.

Over two-thirds (68%) of UCU members at 140 universities who voted backed taking strike action and three-quarters (75%) backed taking other forms of industrial action. 

However, restrictive trade union laws mean that despite turnout being 43%, far higher than in May's local elections (32%), staff will not be able to strike. 

The ballot came after the universities' representatives, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), imposed a below inflation pay offer, even though UCU members had overwhelmingly voted to reject it.  

Higher education pay has declined by 30% in real terms since 2009. The latest ballot is the fifth national higher education ballot UCU has run over the past year [NOTE 2]. The four previous ballots were successful. They saw UCEA agree to end zero-hour contracts and led to a historic pension victory, which will see employers reverse their 35% cut to guaranteed pensions by April. Pension contribution rates will also fall, meaning members of the scheme will get 3.7% more (minus tax) in their pay packets. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'The national ballot results show university staff support taking action over pay and conditions. However, anti-democratic restrictions, which single out trade unions for special treatment, mean no action can take place. 

'After a year in which we have run four successful national ballots, we have achieved a momentous victory by forcing employers to revoke their vicious pension cuts. But it is clear from this ballot that staff are still angry with vice-chancellors who have failed to deliver on pay, job security and workloads.

'We look forward to a Labour government rolling back the anti-union laws that prevent working people from democratically organising and block our members from fighting for what they deserve. In the meantime, we will carefully consider how we best turn our members' rightful anger into practical action to achieve change.' 

Last updated: 6 November 2023