Durham UCU votes for further strike action

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Durham’s branch of the University and College Union (UCU) is among 24 UK Universities which have now voted for further strike action over the ongoing dispute over pensions cut. It is also one of 36 University branches of the Union to back strike action over the casual contracts and workplace inequalities.

UK-wide 79.5% of members backed strike action while 88.1% said they would support ‘action short of strike’ (ASOS) in relation to the pensions dispute. ASOS can include actions such as only working to contract, not uploading lecture materials for class cancelled because of strikes, and refusing to cover for striking colleagues.

On 27 April, UCU will be holding a special higher education sector conference on the pensions dispute where Union members will vote on what specific action should be taken.

If this leads to more strikes, it will be for the fourth time this academic year; Durham UCU previously took strike action in December, February and March.

UCU members voted on two ballots: one for action over pay and working conditions and one for action over the pensions dispute. There was a turnout of 61% among Durham UCU members.

77% of members voted to take part in strike action over pay and working conditions and 82% voted to support ASOS. In the ballot over pensions, 81% voted in favour of taking strike action and 84% voted to take part in ASOS. 

The vote shows continued concern over upcoming changes to pensions and concerns over working conditions also known as the ‘Four Fights’. In a recent UCU survey, two-thirds of UK higher education staff said they were considering leaving the sector over cuts to pensions and attacks on pay and working conditions. 

Changes to the University Superannuation Scheme (USS) would reduce a typical member’s retirement income by 35% and limit protection from inflation. The Union’s ‘Four Fights’ campaign aims to combat casualisation, racial and gender inequalities, rising workloads and below-inflation pay offers. 

Durham UCU commented on the results; “A strong turnout at Durham in the #FourFights dispute, 61.86% turnout and strong yes votes.

“We have a clear mandate for action & change on equalities, casualisation, workload & pay”.

“We have a clear mandate for action & change on equalities, casualation, workload & pay”

Durham UCU

So far Durham Students’ Union have supported the UCU, backing strike action in an emergency meeting at the start of the year and continuing to support the Union in February. 

The wider student community remains divided; polling from November showed 53% of students did not support strike action. 

Nationally 36 UCU branches voted for strike action over pay and working conditions, while 24 did so for the pensions dispute. Less UK universities have voted in support of strike action this time. In January, 68 UK universities gave their branch of the Union a mandate for industrial action.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said  “University vice-chancellors should be under no illusion at how disgusted staff are at the attacks on their pensions. The cuts are unjust, unnecessary and with eight in ten staff voting in favour of strike action it is clear the anger has not gone away. 

“Whilst staff were keeping universities running during the pandemic, vice-chancellors were using a once in a lifetime valuation of a pension scheme as an excuse to slash and burn. Our members are now set to lose tens of thousands from their retirement incomes. Sadly, despite 18 days of strike action, those that lead our universities – themselves on eye-watering salaries – have demonstrated they simply do not care. 

“Our union will now be taking these latest ballot results to a special meeting of its higher education sector where members will discuss how they wish to use this new mandate for action.”

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