Image Credit: Patrick Walker
University of York staff could be facing another strike, as the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) today announced that it would be reviewing progress over its disputes with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA.) The union’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) will meet tomorrow to consider further action after they received an offer on changes to pay late last Tuesday. Union General Secretary Jo Grady has called the offer a “step forward” in negotiations.
UCU strikes, which are now backed by members at 74 universities including York, could be on the horizon, depending on the decisions made tomorrow by the HEC on whether progress is sufficiently strong on key issues. Strikes this term would build on the impact made by the eight-day strikes in November.
The negotiation between the UCU and the UCEA centres on two key debates. The first is the changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme, (USS) which administers the pensions of university staff. The scheme has come under fire for cost-cutting pensions by being overly cautious with payouts, and has been contentious as far back as the 2018 strikes in the previous academic year.
The second debate is over how much university staff are paid. The UCU argue that employers do not give lecturers sufficiently reliable contracts, often reducing staff to one-year contracts that hurt financial stability: a so-called process of “pay casualisation.” It also believes that salaries have not sufficiently increased with inflation, and are not appropriate considering the heavy workloads that many lecturers take on.
Writing yesterday, General Secretary Jo Grady said that negotiation over pay and workload would be the primary focus over further talks with the UCEA. Grady said that employers had “not moved at all” from proposals made before the November strikes, and had also offered few “concrete commitments” to address the problem of workload.
YUSU supported striking lectures during action in November, although it is unknown whether the Students’ Union policy extends to strikes in the future. With officer elections incoming, it is likely the strikes could become a point of contention over candidates. YUSU’s statement backing lecturers was relatively unique among British universities.
The UCU is the largest union representing university staff, and speaks for over 120,000 academics, lecturers, and administrators in the UK, as well as most university staff at York. Membership at the University is especially high in humanities departments: humanities sustained the greatest impact during the November strikes.
Jo Grady’s critical analysis of the proposed deal by UCEA likely means that strikes are on the table in the near future, especially if university employers fail to meet demands. Whilst there is no plan to strike yet, the meeting tomorrow could well decide whether students will face more action this term, or during exam season in summer.