Members of the University and College Union (UCU) at 74 institutions are taking strike action on certain days from February 20th – March 13th. They are striking for better pay and working conditions, and to secure their pensions.
Why is the strike taking place?
The UCU are involved in two disputes, the first over Pay, Equality, Workload and Casualisation and the other over changes to the USS Pension Scheme.
This is because staff pay has declined by 17% over a decade, compounded by gendered and racialised pay gaps, they do significant amounts of unpaid work due to the size of workloads and casualisation is becoming an increasing problem. This means that many teaching staff in particular are employed on hourly paid contracts or zero hours ones, with very little job security. UCU are asking for a 3% plus a cost of living pay rise – in contrast, Vice Chancellors across the country got an average pay rise of 3.5% last year.
The USS dispute is a continuation of the issues that sparked the UCU strike in 2018: those who are members of the USS Pension Scheme are being asked to pay in more money in their monthly contributions, but will only get the same amount as originally promised on retirement.
What happens during a strike?
Strikes are a kind of industrial action often considered a last resort. It involves members of a trade union choosing to withdraw their labour during a dispute, often when negotiations have stalled or a compromise solution has not been found. The ‘right to strike’ is internationally regarded as a basic human right.
When workers go on strike they will form what is called a ‘picket’ outside their place of work. This is to encourage other workers to show solidarity with the strikers by refusing to cross into the workplace – for many, not crossing a ‘picket line’ is a point of principle.
When will it happen?
Strikes will be from the February 20th – March 13th. 74 universities will be taking part and you can see if yours is here.
Staff will only be on strike on certain days during this period. These days are:
Thursday and Friday, February 20-21
Monday to Wednesday, February 24-26
Monday to Thursday, March 2-5
Monday to Friday, March 9-13
However please note that some individual UCU branches may have changed some of these dates due to conflicts with other events, such as reading week. Please check with your university’s UCU branch or local Students’ Union.
Why is NUS supporting the strike?
We believe firmly in showing solidarity with other unions which fight to make our education better, and
UCU’s action is integral to improving education. Read more on our position and access further resources to support the strike HERE.
UCU also represents a large proportion of NUS members. Postgraduate Research students can join
UCU for free during their studies, and it is them who, as future academics, stand to benefit significantly from improved working conditions should UCU be successful in this dispute.
We also view UCU’s action as part of our wider fight against marketisation and for a funded, accessible and lifelong education. Government reforms have forced higher education providers to fight each other in a 'market' over student fees.
As a result, providers have driven down pay and conditions for front-line staff in order to put those savings into activity that improves their 'competitiveness' such as marketing and recruitment. The market regulation of education puts staff and students in a more precarious and disadvantaged position. The logic and forces that have driven down staff's pay, conditions and pensions are the same that have hiked our students’ fees and rents.
We know that the student experience will always be better with satisfied staff who are able to teach and support students to their fullest ability. Currently, precarious conditions and a decline in pay exacerbated by gendered and racialised pay gaps do not allow this to happen, and so we stand together with UCU to make sure it does.
What about the disruption to students?
Strikes will result in cancelled classes for students, and you can complain to your institution about this. It’s important to remember that the people in charge of the situation and causing the disruption are the university Vice Chancellors, represented by Universities UK and UCEA which are doing the negotiating with UCU over pensions and pay respectively. If they had meaningful negotiations and accepted UCU’s points, then the strikes would be over quickly!
You can write to your Vice Chancellor to express your feelings using our template or check your students’ union website, who might also have a template you can use.
If you want to complain officially to your University about missed teaching, you should contact your students’ union advice service who will be able to help you with this.
What can you do to help?
Let your lecturers know that you support them – it will mean a lot! Keep an eye out for solidarity actions planned by your students’ union and please join in wherever you can.
The more that students show their support, the greater the chance that the strike will be successful in forcing universities back to re-enter negotiations and settle the dispute.