Saturday, 21 September 2013

News of the UCU strike ballot

Guest Post by Sarah AB

[image depicting] UCU - University and College Union logo

Clearly UCU members are divided on the issue of strike action. On a local level, it’s worth noting, the threat of a strike seems to have produced a very welcome win for members in Liverpool. Here the protest was triggered by a threat to dismiss hundreds of members of staff and then rehire them on less favourable contracts:

UCU regional official, Martyn Moss, said: 'Our members felt so strongly about the way the university was bringing in new contracts that many were prepared to take industrial action and their support was critical in resolving this dispute. Fortunately, in the end we were able to sit down and reach agreement through negotiation with the help of ACAS which of course, is better for everyone involved.

Here's a reminder of why a majority of UCU members taking part in a recent pre-ballot survey supported the call for industrial action on pay:

The union highlighted its members in higher education have not received a meaningful pay increase since October 2008. Since 2009, they have suffered four consecutive years of pay cuts and seen their pay drop by 13% in real terms.

The squeeze on staff pay comes at a time when the cumulative operating surplus in the sector was over £1 billion, while many higher education institutions have built up cash reserves, and overall student numbers have held up in the face of higher tuition fees.

Those in charge are cynically using a more competitive funding environment to justify driving down terms and conditions and pay for the majority of staff. At a time when staff have been under great pressure to improve the student experience and workloads have increased they have had their pay held down"

Those unsure about strike action may cite members’ greater anxieties about issues other than pay - casualisation, stress, workload for example – or may express concerns about ensuring concerted commitment to industrial action from a critical mass of members.

Whether or not you support strike action at this time, what you really really don’t want to do is vote for ASOS (action short of a strike) unless you also back this up with support for strike action. Too many members are voting just for ASOS. If you are unsure – make your mind up – fence sitting is not the way to go. ASOS can be a very effective tool but it is not an easy option. Employers will in fact be much more perturbed by an assessment boycott (one kind of ASOS) than by a one day strike. If you fail to fulfil a single element of your contract (however well you are performing in other respects) then employers may, quite legally, decide to deduct 100% of your pay. Unless employers know the union can escalate to full strike action ASOS is likely to prove ineffective – and painful. It makes no sense at all to vote just for ASOS and is the second worst way to use your vote in the upcoming ballot.

The worst is not to vote at all.

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