UCU opens ballot on potential strike action

Newcastle University academics are currently being balloted by UCU as to if they want to go for Strike Action over issues with pensions, pay and working conditions.

Maud Webster
23rd October 2021
@GoddenNikki via Twitter

The Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) revealed on the 22 September that they would be opening strike ballots between the 18 October and 4 November, to ask their members if they want to proceed with strike action, which UCU states would take place before the end of the year. 

Out of the 152 institutions affiliated with UCU, 62 will be balloted on both pay and equal working conditions, as well as action on USS pensions. Over recent years, employers have asked academics to pay more into their pension, with less benefit and more risk being offered within the pension scheme. Newcastle University will be one of the 62 universities balloting on both.

Staff will strike over a number of pertinent issues, including a drastic fall in pay, casualised contracts which lead to job insecurity, unacceptable race and gender pay gaps, toxic working environments and the threat to pensions. A survey conducted at Newcastle earlier in the year concluded that staff are at breaking point, struggling with “unsustainable and unmanageable workloads”

The Courier’s Ella McCaffrey explored the reasons lecturers chose to strike during the 2020 strike action, highlighting specifically the huge gender pay gap currently affecting Newcastle and other universities:

“Did you know that in 2018, only 37% of the Newcastle University staff paid above £46 924 were women? Equally, did you know that if a non-clinical female member of staff received an annual bonus, it was on average 31% lower than the male equivalent? Of course, these are not statistics that any institution would choose to promote, which makes a lack of knowledge across the student body completely understandable.

However, the gender pay gap at Newcastle University is 4.4% higher than the average gender pay gap at other UK universities: this is something that can no longer be ignored.”

“Our members across the UK know that working in a university does not have to be like this and are clear that they are ready to take action to stand up for their dignity, defend pensions and win long overdue improvements to their pay and working conditions. There is still time for university chiefs to resolve a situation which is entirely of their own making, but they must return to negotiations and make credible offers.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady

UCU strikes have impacted Newcastle students’ for a number of years, most notably in 2020 when university staff took the largest strike action seen yet within the UK higher education sector. Strikes also took place in February 2018, following changes to pensions. 

Strike over pensions in 2018 | Image: @DrAlanGreene via Twitter

A motion passed at NUSU Student Council last week which allowed “Sabbatical Officers to conduct on cross-campus poll on potential UCU industrial action”; proposed by Education Officer Livia Scott. This will allow Sabbatical Offers to poll students on the extent they support strike action, and the motivations behind the strike, in order to take an informed stance as a Union. 

However, the Sabbatical Officers stress that regardless of the outcome of the poll, and the resulting stance, their energy will be wholeheartedly directed at mitigating the effects of the strike on students, and offering comprehensive support where possible. 

UCU will meet on the 8 November to consider the result of the ballot, and actions to take going forward.

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AUTHOR: Maud Webster
she/they | third year architecture & urban planning student @ newcastle | co-head of culture for the 21/22 academic year

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