Strikes cancelled over the next two weeks following UCU negotiation progress

Seven days of strikes are called off as talks go on to ‘turn this progress into a full agreement’

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The Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) has announced that previously-planned strikes over the next two weeks are cancelled after “breakthroughs in talks” with university employers.

The “two-week period of calm,” from 20th February to 3rd March, was originally going to see seven days of strikes at 31 London universities, along with 150 UK unis. These strikes are part of the union’s continued industrial actions over better pay, pension, and working conditions.

The UCU’s General Secretary, Jo Grady, said in a Twitter announcement: “I am delighted to announce that we have made significant progress in our negotiations with the employers. Against that backdrop, we jointly agreed to a two-week period of calm, which will enable us to hold intensive negotiations with the aim of delivering a final agreement.”

If no agreement is reached during these two weeks, strikes are expected to continue on 16th, 17th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd March.

The UCU represents academic staff such as lecturers and tutors at universities and colleges across the UK. Over the past few years, it has called numerous strikes, action short of strikes, and marking boycotts over two disputes with the institutions it works for: one for better pay and working conditions, and the other against cuts to pensions and benefits.

There had already been nine days of strikes so far this academic year, withย 12 more scheduledย and a possible marking boycott that “strategically targets the summer finals” if a settlement is not reached by April.

But it seems progress has been made in negotiations with the break in strikes. It came as UCU members will vote in a re-ballot next week to decide whether the union can continue to call for strikes at all 150 UK universities involved in the dispute.

Addressing union members, Jo Grady said: “This progress is for real, and the threat to our employers remains. We are standing down two weeks of action.

“The employers know that we will not walk away from this dispute. We have also been crystal clear that the aim of this dispute is not to take strike action. It is to reach an agreement. We do not want you on picket lines for a minute longer than you have to. We take your sacrifices very seriously.”

She alsoย clarifiedย that actions short of a strike (ASOS), during which staff don’t take on any responsibilities outside of their contracts, are still on despite the pause in strikes and warned that if the talks don’t go anywhere, the union is prepared to resume the action and escalate.

While the ongoing negotiations are only between the UCU and universities, both parties have acknowledged that students are caught in the crossfire.

Jo Grady previously told The London Tab: “We understand this is disruptive. We do.

“It’s disruptive for students if their favourite lecturer isn’t here next semester. And it’s also disruptive for students if, by the time they graduate, your lecturer is working somewhere else and they can’t get a reference.

“It’s not that we don’t understand the disruption. It’s that we need education to change so that we can be better for you.”

The President and Provost of UCL, Dr Michael Spence, recently wrote in an email to all students: “What I hear from students is that you are stuck in the middle and really frustrated. You know staff are not striking against you as individual students, but you are the ones suffering from the disruption. This is made worse because you have already experienced so much disruption from Covid, and you just want things to get back to normal.

“I really get that and we really are doing everything possible to find resolutions that are fair to staff and students across the sector.”

The 31 London universities involved in the current dispute are:

  1. Birkbeck, University of London
  2. Brunel University London
  3. City, University of London
  4. Courtauld Institute of Art
  5. University of East London
  6. Goldsmiths, University of London
  7. University of Greenwich
  8. Imperial College London
  9. Kingโ€™s College London
  10. Kingston University
  11. London Metropolitan University
  12. London School of Economics
  13. London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  14. London South Bank University
  15. Middlesex University
  16. Queen Mary, University of London
  17. Roehampton University
  18. Royal Academy of Music
  19. Royal Central School of Speech and Drama
  20. Royal College of Art
  21. Royal College of Music
  22. Royal Holloway, University of London
  23. Royal Veterinary College, University of London
  24. Senate House, University of London
  25. SOAS, University of London
  26. St Georgeโ€™s, University of London
  27. St Maryโ€™s University, Twickenham
  28. University College London
  29. University of the Arts London
  30. University of West London
  31. University of Westminster

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โ€ขย โ€˜We need education to changeโ€™: The head of UCU on how the strikes are affecting students