UCU Cambridge has started discussions on the specifics of the strikes, and can confirm they’ll most likely follow the same structure as those in November and DecemberJoe Cook

Last Monday, the University and College Union (UCU) announced that 74 universities, including the University of Cambridge, will be hit with 14 days of strike action in February and March, starting on Thursday 20th February.

The disputes centre on the sustainability of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and rising costs for members, and on the universities’ failure to make significant improvements on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.

Members of the USS contributed 6.35% of salary in 2011 to their pension and from October last year, now contribute 9.6%, which is due to go up to 11% in 2021, subject to review under a 2020 valuation.

According to modelling by First Actuarial, because of changes to USS, a typical member will pay around £40,000 more into their pension, but receive £200,000 less in retirement, leaving them £240,000 worse off in total.

Branch Co-Secretary of UCU and English Literature Research Fellow at Gonville & Caius College, Ted Tregear, updated Varsity on the situation. He said that since the announcement in the past week, Universities UK (UUK) – the employers’ negotiating body in the USS dispute – has told UCU they are launching a fresh consultation with their members over whether universities should cover the increases in USS pension contributions that have been passed onto members, at least until the 2020 valuation of the scheme can be agreed.

UUK are to ask their member institutions (including each of the colleges) if they want UUK to make UCU a new and better offer. UUK made an offer to UCU last year, proposing a reduction of USS members’ contributions to 9.1%. However, UCU argued that this was still a significant increase on past figures and rejected the offer.

UCU wrote to the governing bodies in all colleges, urging them to respond to the consultation by encouraging the prospect of a new offer. They have also written to the Vice-Chancellor, who has not made public statements on either issues that have caused strike action. If UUK makes a good offer to UCU, this could indicate a way forward in this long-running dispute, explained Tregear.

On 28th January, the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA), which represents universities and colleges in national negotiations, published a statement regarding UCU’s demand for improvements in pay and equality. It said that the UCEA had offered positive proposals to address important issues around employment in universities, focusing on casual employment, workload/mental health, and pay gaps on gender and ethnicity, following national negotiations with all the trade unions, including UCU.

Tregear said that the offer made by the UCEA was “deeply unspecific”, referencing their agreement to take action on casualisation and inequality and workload without specifying any concrete action.

Some progress has been made since the last round of strikes, with UCEA now prepared to talk about creating positive expectations upon employers. UCU wrote online that three key problems remain: “First, there is no formal mechanism to turn the fine words in the employers’ offer into reality for staff.”

“Second, some of the proposed expectations themselves remain too weak, particularly about the need for all staff to have a fair and effective workload model. Third, the employers refuse to increase their overall pay offer of 1.8% even though it completely fails to address the long-term decline in staff salaries since 2010.”

Tregear said that instead of eight consecutive days of striking, as in November and December last year, the Union will be staggering their strike days each week, from two days, to three, to four, culminating with a five day strike week from 9th to 13th March, leaving employers more time to negotiate with UCU before the 14 days are over: “We ideally don’t want to get to the 14th day of strikes.”

“There are so many wonderful things about working in a university, and one of those wonderful things is encountering students, and teaching, and researching. You know it has got bad when people who love their jobs feel they have to do this. It’s not just about higher pay, it’s about the continuing viability of Higher Education.”

“Women, BME, international and disabled staff don’t have the rights they deserve at universities, including fair and equal pay.”


Mountain View

14 more days of strikes to hit Cambridge this term

On the UCU website, General Secretary Jo Grady wrote: “We have been clear from the outset that we would take serious and sustained industrial action if that was what was needed. As well as the strikes next month, we are going to ballot members to ensure that we have a fresh mandate for further action to cover the rest of the academic year if these disputes are not resolved.”

Tregear said the UCU Cambridge branch has started discussions on the specifics of the strikes, and can confirm they’ll most likely follow the same structure as those in November and December, with pickets in the morning.

In the last round of strikes, striking workers formed picket lines outside Old Schools, Downing Site, New Museums, Sidgwick, West Cambridge, Education and Engineering Departments. Tregear said UCU is committed to not picketing the Bene’t Street entrance to the New Museums site so that people can access the University Counselling Service and the Disabilities Centre.

Graham Virgo, the Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor, said in an email to students, “the University respects the right of UCU members to take industrial action, and recognises that those who strike will not have taken the decision to do so lightly.

“The University will take all reasonable efforts to ensure that your studies are not adversely affected, and we have written to Faculties and Departments to make them aware of this requirement.”