In a statement released on Friday 29 June the University and College Union (UCU) announced it will ballot its members for industrial action in a pay row.

This follows a recommendation made by the Universities and Colleges’ Employers Association (UCEA) who advise member institutions on issues such as pay and terms and conditions for staff at higher education establishments. 

The final offer made by UCEA of a 2 percent rise in wages is said not to address the falling value of pay within higher education. UCU said that pay “has decreased in real terms by 21 percent since 2010” further adding that “Spending on staff has fallen since 2009/10 to just 52.9 percent of income in 2016/17, while capital expenditure increased by 35 percent over the same period.”

A poll cited by UCU in an earlier statement claimed that over 60 percent of students voted in favour of their fees being used for teaching staff. 

The announcement comes after an initial consultation carried out by UCU to its members, in which just under 50 percent took part, 82 percent of whom voted to reject the pay offer with 65% also being prepared to take industrial action in defence of their pay.

UCU also said its members were frustrated by the employers’ refusal to commit to meaningful action to tackle the pay gap and insecure employment practices. 

This follows weeks of industrial action over pension changes, in the form of strikes, that took place earlier this year. UCU identified other issues around pay, terms and conditions for staff and services provided to students that needed addressing and welcomed further talks to resolve these issues amicably.

When asked about the potential implications of further industrial action, Jenna Chapman, Undergraduate Education Officer, at UEA Students’ Union says: “UEA students tell us their academic experiences, as well as their well-being, are the most important aspects of their university life. They care about how they’re assessed, the quality of their feedback, being able to access their resources and lectures. We know that academics work hard to deliver innovative teaching and to engage students in their passion. We know that this much harder when staff are demoralised by the falling value of higher education pay, feeling the lack of support to handle an increasing number of wellbeing queries and the perception of insecure employment.”  

In a statement announcing their recommendations, UCEA, recognise the complexities of matters relating to pay, especially with the variations in financial health within the industry and the lack of uncertainty around matters such as Brexit that will likely impact the sector over coming months.

It also made references to the disparities in pay with the gender pay gap and casual employment. Professor Mark E. Smith, Chair of UCEA, said: “The offers of further sector-level work in the areas of the gender pay gap and casual employment will, we hope, be positively welcomed. These topics, together with the trade unions’ concerns regarding workloads, are of course matters that HE employers address at an institutional level.” 

A spokesperson for UEA said: “These are national pay negotiations and UCEA is putting forward a collective position to trades’ unions on behalf of all employers. UEA will keep a close eye on the progress of the negotiations.  The University’s focus will be on planning to mitigate the impact of any future strike action upon our students.” 

Martin Marko, Postgraduate Education Officer, at UEA Students’ Union says: “Our academics and PhD associate tutors will have our full support as per our policy passed by the Union Council. As a Union, we, like the UCU, understand that industrial action is not ideal for students in the short term, and if the ballot is in favour for taking industrial action, we will ensure the University makes the right arrangements to minimise the disruption to students and we will help to educate students on their options.” 

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “Staff working in our universities have had enough of seeing their wages held down while institutions prioritise capital spending and building reserves. The employers’ below-inflation pay offer does nothing to address years of decline in the value of higher education pay so we now have little option but to ballot for strike action. 

“Universities would do well to listen to their students and make an investment in staff a top priority. That means a decent pay offer and concrete commitments to tackle problems with gender pay and insecure employment.” 

The ballot will open in August and close in October 2018.


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