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Pay row: More strikes and fresh industrial action ballot planned

Image: Ceri Breeze, via Shutterstock

UCU threatens further industrial action and plans to ballot to extend its strike mandate

The University and College Union’s higher education committee has voted to take further strike action before the end of September if employers do not improve their national pay offer.

The union said it will begin preparations for a fresh ballot to renew its mandate for action in the pay and working conditions dispute. It will also continue its marking and assessment boycott, which began at 145 institutions in April and has caused major disruptions at universities as some students have been unable to graduate on time. 

The decisions taken at a 14 August meeting of the higher education committee, which decides how the union approaches industrial action in universities, mean that disruption in universities could continue well into 2024.

‘No attempt to compromise on key issues’

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said the committee had “agreed to hit universities with multiple days of strike action at the start of the coming academic year if vice-chancellors refuse to return to negotiations”.

“While we have agreed to requests for a joint review of sector finances, employers have made no attempt to compromise on the key issues,” Grady said. 

“If they had shown some goodwill, the boycott could now be over. Instead, tens of thousands of students have been impacted and strike action is likely to stretch into next year.”

A pay uplift of between 5 and 8 per cent began to be implemented by universities earlier this year, but the UCU wants to secure a bigger pay rise and talks between the two sides have now broken down.

‘Extremely disappointing’

Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, described the committee’s decisions as “extremely disappointing”, adding that it “forces UCU members to target students”.

“While Ucea respects the right of workers to take industrial action, the choice of the marking and assessment boycott, described by Jo Grady as a ‘tactic’, is extremely concerning.”

He said the UCU needed to “be honest” with its members that there was “no possibility of a further pay uplift in the 2023-24 pay round and that these aspects of the talks are complete”.

The row comes after higher education minister Robert Halfon wrote to the UCU and Ucea to urge them to find a way to end the “unacceptable” marking boycott.