70,000 UCU members have voted to strike – here’s what happens next at your university
There will be at least three weeks before any strikes start
On Monday, the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) won its national ballots for industrial action, with over 70,000 university staff at 150 unis taking part in the vote. But what does that mean for your university, and what happens next? Here’s everything you need to know:
What are the UCU ballots?
UCU is a higher education union for academic staff in the UK – your lecturers, supervisors and fellows are probably members. The union is currently demanding better pay and working conditions, as well as rejecting the proposed 35 per cent cut to their pensions.
Last academic year, university staff across the country took part in strikes for a maximum of 18 days. A Tab investigation this summer found Russell Group unis saved £11million in withheld pay whilst lecturers were on strike last university year.
Over the past few months, the UCU has balloted across the country to see if its members want to strike in order to win its fights – better pay and working conditions; and against cuts to pensions.
Of the members who voted in this most recent national ballot, over 80 per cent voted in favour of strikes for each of the two issues, so there will almost definitely be strikes at your university this year. A full list of all UCU member universities can be found here.
But the process between winning a national ballot and actually striking is a long one, and it could take up to a month. Here’s what’s going on behind the scenes at your university, and the steps that will be taken:
1. Local UCU Branch Meetings
The first step after ballot results are announced is for local UCU branches to hold meetings, which are happening this week.
At these meetings, a democratic process ensues to determine what branch members are comfortable acting on.
Since this ballot was a national one, there are no turnout or vote breakdowns for individual branches – so there is a chance, for example, that the majority of members of one branch don’t want to strike and would instead prefer to take “action short of a strike” (ASOS).
It’s also possible that your lecturers may choose to strike for only one of the two issues balloted on, in which case there would likely be shorter strike periods at your university. Last year, for example, 33 unis chose to strike over both pay and pensions, 21 had strikes just over pay, and four universities chose to strike for only the pensions issue.
2. Branch Delegates Meeting
The position of branch members around the country is then represented at the Branch Delegates Meeting, on Monday 31st October.
Delegates from each university will vote in accordance with the decision taken at their local branch meetings, as a “further layer of democracy,” according to a tweet by UCU general secretary Dr Jo Grady.
3. National Higher Education Committee
From there, the decision taken at the Branch Delegates Meeting will be passed onto the National Higher Education Committee.
They will meet on the 3rd of November, and take the final decision on what action will take place, as well as deciding when it will take place.
4. Two week’s notice
UCU has a legal requirement to give employers’ two weeks notice before they strike. Assuming that there are no delays in any of the meetings, the earliest strike action could take place is the week of 21st November. However, UCU may choose to strike later in the term, or even to strike next year instead.
There’s no way of knowing when strikes will be until the Higher Education Committee announces its decision.
5. Industrial action
On the dates agreed on by the Higher Education Committee, there will be industrial action across the UK. There will be an announcement regarding which universities will be taking place in what sorts of action. Due to the high turnouts in the ballot, it’s likely there will be strike action in most cities.
Universities UK, which represents higher education employers, has said: “Universities are adept at mitigating the impact of strikes on student learning, and so prepared for any further possible industrial action over the coming months.”
There will be a “series of measures” to “minimise the impact of any industrial action” on students, as per a spokesperson for the group.
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Feature image credits: Vedika Mandapati