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UK: Trade union action escalates in university pay dispute

published 8 June 2016 updated 13 June 2016

The University and College Union in the United Kingdom has decided on a strategy of disruption targeted at open days, graduation days and an assessment boycott to protest short-term contracts and a gender pay gap.

At its Congress 2016, held in Liverpool from 1-3 June, the University and College Union (UCU) set out the next steps in its dispute with university employers over pay. University open days and graduation ceremonies will face disruption over the summer as individual union branches take strike action to coincide with the events.

The UCU members working in higher education also voted to escalate their action with a marking and setting-of-work boycott in the autumn term, if the dispute has not been settled.

Strike dates

“Following members’ decision to back escalating strike action, local branches have already come forward with strike dates timed to target open days and graduation ceremonies,” the UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt said.

University employers need to recognise that staff will no longer depressed pay levels while some at the top enjoy the rewards of increased funds for universities, she stressed, adding that “nobody wants to take industrial action, but clearly enough is enough”.

The UCU, she said, hopes that the employers will respond positively to the members' decision and come back to them with “a serious pay offer”.

Working to contract

As well as walking out on 25 May, UCU members have also started working to contract. This means they will refuse to work overtime, set additional work, or undertake any voluntary duties like covering timetabled classes for absent colleagues.

The education union has also called on external examiners to resign their positions on exam boards. Such a move threatens to disrupt marking this summer when boards meet to discuss challenged marks. External examiners are a crucial part of quality assurance in universities, as each course requires an external examiner to ensure that an institution’s assessment is fair and comparable with others.

Low pay offer

The row over pay kicked off when UCU members in universities walked out for two days. The dispute arose following a pay offer of just 1.1 percent from the universities' employers. The UCU said universities could afford to pay more and the latest offer did little to address the real-terms pay cut of 14.5 percent that its members have suffered since 2009. The squeeze on staff salaries comes despite vice-chancellors enjoying a 6.1 percent pay hike.