UEA’s union branch relayed a rejection of an agreement to end the pension strike to their national committee today.
An agreement was reached between the University and College Union (UCU) and higher education representative Universities UK (UUK). Talks were held with industrial conciliation service Acas.
UCU branches discussed the offer this morning, with UEA’s branch almost unanimously agreeing to express dissatisfaction.
The UUK said they expected a suspension of industrial action “from and including Wednesday 14 March”.
However, UEA staff said they were prepared to continue striking, including in May and June. Action continued today, with some following a ‘Rabbits for Resistance’ theme on the picket line.
Staff are disappointed with the agreement’s address of a contested deficit in the pension scheme and proposals that would mean staff pay more in contributions. Staff described this as a pay cut.
UCU UEA branch spokesperson, Dr Ben Little said: “The strike has forced the UUK into those negotiations and into making a compromise. Unfortunately, for most of our members, nearly unanimously at our branch, that compromise is too far. They’re asking to take too deep a cut still.”
“The basic problem has been acknowledged, that the valuation of the pension scheme is inadequate and needs to be re-done. We would be taking a cut effectively on bad maths.
“It’s a reduced pension with increased contributions on the basis of bad maths, people are really unhappy about that.”
Thanks for members' feedback via the meeting this morning, plus twitter poll. Going into national briefing now to represent the branch's views.
— UEA UCU (@UEA_UCU) March 13, 2018
A vast majority of UCU branches also rejected the offer. An open letter against the agreement has circulated online.
**BREAKING** 34 branches and counting vote to REJECT the @ucu / @UniversitiesUK proposal #NoCapitulation #ussstrikes #ucustrikes #strikeforuss @BBCNews @BBCScotlandNews @ram_51 @SkyNews @GdnHigherEd @GuardianEdu @FinancialTimes @timeshighered @ucu @UniversitiesUK and @AcasOrgUK
— Goldsmiths UCU (@GoldsmithsUCU) March 13, 2018
There are concerns with wording in the agreement which suggested staff would have to reschedule classes without being paid.
“There’s some ambiguous wording around rescheduling teaching which suggests people may have to undertake extra work without pay. They will have been docked for striking but will be asked to undertake teaching missed again,” Dr Little explained.
“There’s a sense that some members of staff would be especially vulnerable in that set of circumstances, so that seems a very curious aspect of the decision,” another professor, Steve Waters, said.
Dr Jeremy Noel-Tod, head of Literature in the Literature, Drama and Creative Writing school, told Concrete: “There’s no guarantee in three years time we won’t be back here in the same situation.
“I think the feeling of people who’ve been put on strike for the last eleven days is this is not what we were out on strike for.”
— Concrete (@Concrete_UEA) March 13, 2018
Despite being disappointed with the contents of the agreement, staff are optimistic about the progress of the action.
Mr Waters told Concrete: “I would say this is remarkable progress. In absolute terms it is quite a disappointing offer, there was no offer last week. I personally feel like there is some better value in it but I’m hoping for a better deal.”
Dr Little said the offer “was not even on the table two weeks ago”.
“We don’t want to be doing this. We want to get a deal. I love my job, everyone loves their job, but we also need to be reasonably supported in retirement. That’s what this is about.
“We have been put in this position and we don’t really have any choice,” he added.
UPDATE: The national UCU committee has rejected the offer, meaning strikes will continue across the country.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Branches made it clear today that they wanted to reject the proposal. UCU’s greatest strength is that we are run by and for our members and it is right that members always have the final say.
“The strike action for this week remains on and we will now make detailed preparations for strikes over the assessment and exam period. We want urgent talks with the universities’ representatives to try and find a way to get this dispute resolved.”
SU Postgraduate Education Officer Maddie Colledge said: “It’s hugely disappointing that an agreement hasn’t been reached in the dispute- but given the derisory offer that was put to staff, hardly surprising.”
The SU will meet with university management to discuss the impact of continued action on students, she added.
“We will be releasing a further statement soon on the SU website about what students can do, how students should be supported academically and how to show support for staff.”
Transport to a national demonstration against the UUK’s stance at the University of Sussex is to be covered by the SU. The SU voted to support staff on strike at a Union Council meeting earlier this term.