The University and College Union has made the decision to take national strike action from Wednesday 1st December to Friday 3rd December. UCU members are protesting against proposed cuts that could see their pensions slashed by 35%.
It is not yet clear how many Durham staff will strike. However, support for strike action was particularly strong in Durham; almost 80% of participating members voted in favour. The Durham UCU branch also recorded high turnout levels — 63% of members participated, whilst just 53% voted nationally.
The UCU higher education committee has also taken the decision to call action short of strike (ASOS), beginning with working to contract. ASOS will start on the 1st December and run until 3rd May 2022.
The UCU stated that if there is insufficient progress in negotiations, there is likely to be more strike action in the new year, and an extension of ASOS activities. Previously the Union emphasised that if the dispute continued, the Union would “significantly” escalate action in Epiphany term.
The University told Palatinate that “our priority is now on making sure any impact to student education and staff workload is minimised. Members of the Durham community can stay up to date at our dedicated USS changes website, which has detailed information on the proposed changes and sector developments”.
76% of members of the University and College Union voted in favour of taking strike action in a recent ballot regarding the pensions dispute and almost 85% backed ASOS.
The Union is contesting proposed changes to the University Superannuation Scheme (USS), the sector’s principal pension benefit system. They argue that the proposals would cut the annual guaranteed pension by 35% and limit protection from inflation.
Staff also backed strike action in a second ballot regarding the Union’s ‘four fights’: rising workloads, staff casualisation, workplace inequalities, and pay issues.
The ballot results give the Union a six-month mandate to strike, meaning staff could walk out at any point before the end of April 2022.
Staff at Durham University previously went on strike in 2018, 2019, and early 2020 over similar grievances.
29 universities, including Oxford and Newcastle, did not meet the 50% turn-out threshold legally required for union ballots. The Union proposes that these branches participate in the days of action, but staff will not go on strike.
Before escalating action next term, Grady proposes launching reballots with a longer voting window with the hope of addressing low turn-out levels at some branches.
She stated: “I believe in UCU members’ ability to do this, get even better ballot results next time, and translate them into a serious victory that reverses the decade-long trend of underinvestment in staff in this sector”.
Image: Tim Packer