The University and College Union (UCU) has announced that it will be balloting its members about potential strike action.
70,000 members across 143 different colleges and universities, including the University of St Andrews, will have between the 15 January and 22 February to vote on whether to take industrial action.
If there is a turnout of over 50 per cent and a majority in favour vote for action, then there may be strikes much like those that disrupted semester two of the 2017/18 academic year.
In March last year it was revealed by The Saint that members of St Andrews’ UCU branch had hailed an exam boycott as their “unbeatable weapon”.
— UCU (@ucu) January 11, 2019
The dispute goes back to May where negotiations over pay between the UCU and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) broke down. In three rounds of meetings between March and May, demands including a 7.5 per cent pay increase, gender pay demand, and £10 per hour living wage were rejected by the UCEA. The UCU argues that the value of pay has dropped in real terms by 21 per cent since 2009.
The UCEA counter offer of a 2 per cent pay rise was resoundingly rejected in a ballot of members by 82 per cent in late June. 65 per cent of those who voted said they would take industrial action in defence of their pay.
Between the 30 August and 22 October, a vote was held over whether industrial action should be taken over the pay offer. This was a two-part vote, with the first aspect being on strike action and the second on a marking boycott during the exam period. However, few institutions reached the 50 per cent turnout required under the Trade Union Act and as such no action took place.
Results from the University of St Andrews showed that 75.2 per cent were willing to take strike action, while 82.17 per cent were willing to boycott marking as well, but there was a turnout of 49.1 per cent.
At a Higher Education special sector conference in November, it was decided that a second balloting should take place as the results of the first one had shown a desire for strike action and that only the 50 per cent threshold had been a setback. Hence, this new call for strike action represents the second attempt by the UCU to ballot its members over the issue. However, this time the vote will be aggregated and national, meaning that results will count together as opposed to on an institution-by-institution basis.