The development, which was announced on the UCU’s Twitter page, comes a week after an agreement was reached with the university to make in-person teaching voluntary in Tiers 2 and 3 of coronavirus restrictions.
The motion was passed by 68 UCU members at their Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) on Thursday night, while 32 voted against the and 14 abstained. The EGM was attended by just 114 members, as opposed to the 300 present for the previous motion to ballot earlier this month.
Another motion, passed on 14 October and pending confirmation with the National UCU, holds that Newcastle UCU will be moving to an indicative ballot. This includes the options of both indefinite strike and indefinite action, as in an overtime ban and a call out ban, in short of a strike.
7 UCU members who voted against the motion via email were not included in the final result.
Prior to last week’s agreement, Newcastle’s UCU branch accused the University of failing to take health and safety responsibilities “sufficiently seriously”, demonstrating a “lack of leadership”.
A deal was struck in a joint statement issued by the university and the UCU on 22 October. The statement confirmed that online teaching would be the default, including if the restriction level dropped from Tier 3 to Tier 2.
Multiple UCU members were approached and declined to comment. The Shark of Solidarity, Newcastle UCU’s mascot, said: “I respect the democratic process of the reef and its decision-making, and I await the decision from UCU National on whether this is a sufficiently high enough number to proceed to industrial action.
“I know that so many colleagues are very aware of the impact on students, and want to minimise this – together we are stronger.”
The Solidarity Shark urged the UCU branch to “not forget that the core business of the university is teaching and learning – and that vital bond between students and staff is what keeps the energy of the reef alive”.
A Newcastle University spokesperson said:
“We are very disappointed that a small number of UCU members have taken this action, despite the agreement we reached last week where both sides agreed a way forward that would offer the best educational experience for our students while keeping our University community safe.
We are very disappointed that a small number of UCU members have taken this action, despite the agreement we reached last week
“We remain committed to working with our local branch of UCU to resolve outstanding concerns and we very much hope there will not be a ballot for a strike.”
The UCU had two strike periods last academic year due to concerns with unfair pay, contract casualisation, equality issues, increased workloads and changes to pensions.
UCU members at 60 UK Universities walked out between Monday 25th November to Wednesday 4th December 2019. Following Universities’ failure to make improvements to pay, equality, casualisation and workloads, UCU members across 74 UK Universities participated in a second 14-day strike action between Thursday 20th February and Friday 13th March 2020.
Newcastle University participated in both strikes.
Featured image: UCU rally at Edinburgh University, taking place last February. Source: Magnus Hagdorn on Flickr