Second strike to hold employers hostage

Universities are bracing themselves for further disruption following an announcement by three Trade Unions that they are primed to strike again early next month, in an on-going pay dispute.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU), Unite and Unison will resort to industrial action on the 3 December unless the University and College Employers Association (UCEA) drastically improve on their current below inflation offer of a one per cent pay increase. Unions claim this equates to a 13 per cent reduction in real term wage since 2008.

All three Unions staged a one day strike on 31 October, the first such collective strike to occur in six years, and successfully triggered a brief reopening of negotiations between the two disputing parties.

Kate Edwards, branch secretary at Sussex UCU, welcomed the new period of arbitration that the Halloween strike created, commenting: “It’s very significant that this is the first time in decades the unions have stood together for a fair pay deal and this fact has greatly strengthened the national profile of the action and our chances of a successful and speedy resolution”.
However, she did warn that the Unions were “gearing up” for the December strike, in case the gap between the employer’s and Union’s demands cannot be bridged.

Professing their inclination to begin serious talks with Trade Union officials, a spokesman for the UCEA stated: “UCEA continues to say that it is willing to talk to the disputing trade unions so that we can explore together whether the dispute can be resolved.”

The spokesperson also deemed the association’s offer of a one percent increase as an appropriate offer, continuing: “Ever since the initial consultation at the start of this year, the mandate from UCLA’s 150 participating UK HE employers has continued to be clear that, given the challenging and uncertain operating environment, the 1% pay uplift is a good and sustainable offer and is at the limit of affordability. This, of course, sits on top of other pay elements totalling around 3% on pay.

Frustrated by the lack of concessions offered by the UCEA, Unite’s national officer for education, Mike McCarthy, claimed: “employers have refused to budge from their hard line in not recognising the contribution that the workforce makes to the excellent global reputation that Britain’s universities currently enjoy.

“We hope that this latest strike will drive home the determination of our members to achieve a fair pay deal and focus the minds of the employers that they need to get around the table promptly to negotiate in a constructive and positive manner.

In addition to the UCU, Unite and Unison declaring their willingness to participate in the latest round of industrial action, The EIS, Scotland’s largest teaching union, has also taken the decision to stage a walkout next month.
The University of Sussex has made it clear that any agreement reached must be both “manageable and affordable for all institutions”.

A spokesperson for the University said: “These national negotiations have to take account of the position of all universities and they will vary in terms of their different financial positions.
“If there is action called, we would, of course, endeavour to keep as many services as possible running for our students, staff and campus visitors.”