UCU announces major strike action across UK universities

Seventy-four universities will go on strike in February and March, the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) has announced.

UCU members across the capital will strike over two different disputes.

The first dispute centres upon the sustainability of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). A study by First Actuarial commissioned by UCU shows that changes to the USS pension scheme will leave UCU members up to £240,000 worse off, despite staff paying up to £40,000 more into their pensions over their careers.

The second dispute focuses on universities’ “failure to make significant improvements to pay, equality, casualisation, and workloads.” This comes after a Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) study concluded that university staff have seen an approximate 17% pay cut on average since 2009. The UCU estimates that the pay cut may in fact be more severe, at 20%.

The strikes have been announced against a backdrop of protests which focus on casualised workers’ rights. At SOAS University of London, the School’s senior managers have announced cuts to their “fractional” staff budget. A campaign group, Fractionals for Fair Play (FFFP), has slammed SOAS’s directorate for cutting this budget, “effectively firing large numbers of people in the process.”

While no staff have been “sacked,” according to Vice-Director Stephen Hopgood, the SOAS Directorate has not denied that some casual members of staff will have their teaching hours reduced to zero come September.

In Higher Education, casualised or “fractional” workers are typically hourly-paid teaching staff and do not hold full-time contracts with their employer. The UCU says that these contracts are often “insecure, poorly paid, and not valued.”

The UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: “We have seen more members back strikes since the winter walkouts and this next wave of action will affect even more universities and students. If universities want to avoid further disruption they need to deal with rising pension costs, and address the problems over pay and conditions.

“We have been clear from the outset that we would take serious and sustained industrial action if that was what was needed. As well as the strikes next month, we are going to ballot members to ensure that we have a fresh mandate for further action to cover the rest of the academic year if these disputes are not resolved.”

February and March

The Strikes will take place in February and March. The UCU has planned fourteen strike days across four weeks:

  • Thursday 20 and Friday 21 February, 2020.
  • Monday 24, Tuesday 25, and Wednesday 26 February.
  • Monday 2-Thursday 5 March.
  • Monday 9-Friday 13 March.

In London, strikes in response to both disputes will take place at:

  • Birkbeck, University of London
  • City, University of London
  • The Courtauld Institute of Art
  • Goldsmiths, University of London
  • Queen Mary University of London (QMUL)
  • Royal Hollway University of London (RHUL)
  • SOAS University of London
  • University College London (UCL)

Additionally, some staff at the Open University will strike.

Strikes will also take place at the University of East London (UEL), the University of the Arts London (UAL), the University of Greenwich and Roehampton University over pay, casualisation, and workloads.

Some King’s College London (KCL) and Imperial College London staff are striking as part of the USS pensions dispute.

Photo: Author.

Will is London Student's Features Editor. He has recently completed a BA History at SOAS, and you might find him hiding in a library around Bloomsbury.

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