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Doubts over strikes as King’s staff strike deal with university


KCL staff hit out at UCU as union confirms other institutions will cancel strikes

The University and College Union has said it expects more universities to pull out of next week’s planned national strikes, after staff at King’s College London announced an end to industrial action.

UCU told Research Professional News that some of the 140 institutions due to participate in national strikes over pay and conditions next week were no longer taking part, although it is likely there will still be widespread action. The union said it would soon issue a statement confirming which universities are participating in industrial action.

On 20 September, the UCU said in a press release that staff at King’s would end a marking and assessment boycott after securing concessions from management, adding that staff at the institution would now no longer take five days of strike action over pay and conditions.

‘Failure of UCU leadership’

But on 20 September, in a now-deleted post published on X, formerly known as Twitter, the King’s branch of the UCU claimed it “did not pull out of strike action because of the local deal”, but that it did so due to “the failure of UCU leadership”.

Lucia Pradella, vice-president of the King’s UCU branch, told Research Professional News that the decision to end the marking boycott was taken last week, based on the improved local offer—but that the withdrawal from national strike action was unrelated.

“The decision to pull out of national strike action was due to the fact that a majority of members believe that national [UCU] leadership had failed to provide a coherent and effective strategy,” Pradella added. 

The UCU press release announcing the withdrawal of strike action did not reference the criticism of UCU leadership by the King’s branch. Research Professional News has approached the UCU for comment on this statement.

‘Nail in the coffin’

The King’s local settlement follows Queen’s University Belfast’s decision to reach a local settlement in June this year. The local deals could represent a problem for UCU, which has been pushing a nationally unified approach to industrial action.

UCU regional official Barry Jones said the King’s deal “makes a big difference for our members, especially those on the lowest incomes and those with caring responsibilities” and called for other universities to “follow King’s lead”.

But Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said it was “odd” that the UCU was “trumpeting a deal that is the opposite of the sector-wide solidarity that the union usually claims to support”. He added that the deal did little to tackle problems of casualisation in academic employment, one of UCU’s bugbears.

“It does seem to be another nail in the coffin for national pay bargaining,” Hillman said.

The local deals are also potentially difficult for university management, represented by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association. Ucea suspended Queen’s membership for three years in July after the university broke ranks with the national negotiation line employers were trying to hold.

But the deal struck at King’s is not directly comparable with the one at Queen’s, since it concerns adjustments to London weighting payments rather than the nationally negotiated increases across the pay spine. It is therefore not in infringement of national pay negotiation terms.

A Ucea spokesperson said: “The New Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff pay negotiations take place each year to negotiate an uplift to the New JNCHES pay spine. Participating institutions are responsible for their own conditions of service and other benefits including any regional pay weighting or local market supplements.”

Deal done

The King’s deal includes an £800 uplift in London Weighting payments for 2023—taking payments to £5,000 from December this year, an increase of £1,500 since 2021. An increase in paid maternity leave from 18 up to 20 weeks and paid paternity leave from two weeks up to six has also been agreed, as well as improved childcare cost subsidies for those with children under three.

It also offers a new recognition agreement covering the processes of negotiation, consultation, information and dispute resolution, and the creation of joint union-management working groups to address pay gaps, excessive workloads, and career progression including casualisation.

A spokesperson for King’s said: “We have worked hard with our colleagues from UCU [and other unions] to progress a wide range of benefits for all staff to build our thriving staff community at King’s, including increases to the London Weighting Allowance, childcare support and paid parental leave. In recognition of the significant progress around these issues, UCU branch members have agreed to end the MAB with immediate effect.”