Image Credit: Roger Blackwell
Lecturers at the University of York are beginning plans to strike following a Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) vote in favour of action at the University at the start of November. York staff voted above the national average in favour of industrial action: 75 per cent in favour of action over pay, workload, and job security, and 83 per cent over pension changes.
“We have had enough” came the statement from UCU York Joint President Ana Duerte yesterday. Duerte said that York management “have a voice” within the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA.) Staff at York believe that if the Vice-Chancellor were to speak out in favour of action, it might “encourage UCEA and UUK to return to the negotiation table with the trade unions, so that sufficient progress can be made and the strike avoided."
York faculties have been making contingency plans to varying degrees: many departments will remain largely unaffected due to the fact that many teaching staff are part of different unions, that did not vote for the strike action.
The strikes are, in many ways, a continuation of the three-week strikes that took place in March 2018. Then-Vice-Chancellor Professor Koen Lamberts had hoped for a “sustainable solution” to the issues with the pension payment scheme. Subjects are likely to be impacted by the strikes in dramatically different ways due to the fact that University staff are not all part of the UCU, although it is the largest union. As with the previous strikes, all students have been instructed to attend contact hours unless specifically told otherwise by lecturers in order to not miss important information that may be required in examinations or summative assessments.
YUSU and the University conducted a question and answer session on Friday, with YUSU Academic Officer Giang Anh leading the overall dialogue between striking lecturers, and academic representatives. Both the University and YUSU are seeking to minimise the impact of strikes: a challenging task considering the fact that most lecturers have not yet revealed their intention. Current contingency plans are based on previous walk-out numbers from last year.
UCU Joint President Ana Duarte, of York’s Centre for HealthEconomics, said that as well as their own welfare, UCU members were striking for the health of the education sector in general. “All of these are real threats to Higher Education as a whole. As pay, pensions, and working conditions get worse it becomes harder to recruit or retain able staff, with potential serious damage to the student experience, and to research, learning, scholarship and teaching: UCU is concerned for the well-being of universities as well as the specific problems of staff.
”When contacted, YUSU were reticent on the planned position on the strikes, although they do intend to develop a policy: a decision that was not made last year. Union President Samara Jones told Nouse: “we do not want a small group of elected representatives to be the sole arbitrator on union-wide policy. It should be students.
“We are a week away from the action commencing and it’s too early to say what this looks like and what the impact will be. We will be capturing what’s going on in departments on a day to day basis using the local representatives as the dispute evolves. This information will inform the union policy. We want student voices to be at the heart of our response. Based on previous experience, we aren’t willing to be silent or to make assumptions about the best way to serve students' interests.” The University said that they recognise that “the decision to vote for industrial action is not taken lightly and we respect colleagues’ right to take industrial action.” It added that it would try and “minimise the impact on students.”The University plans to “work with YUSU and GSA to identify the best ways to use this money to benefit students.
”On casualisation, a spokesperson said: “York, like many HE institutions, uses different types of flexible employment to meet changing demands. Departments are offered guidance on the use of casual; fixed term and temporary contracts to ensure that the most appropriate employment arrangements are made. The issue of temporary contracts is a sector-wide issue and is something the University is looking at.”