UCU Industrial Action

Updated 15 Feb 2018

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What’s happening?

The trade union for academics, the University and College Union (UCU) has announced its decision to take industrial action this term following a dispute about pensions.  

The planned action will take the form of a four-week period of strike days and ‘action short of a strike’, commencing on Thursday of week seven. The strike dates are:

  • Week seven - Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days);
  • Week eight - Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days);
  • Week nine - Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days);
  • Week ten - Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days).

Action short of a strike means activity that falls short of withdrawal of labour.  It would be designed to disrupt normal flow of business for example, staff could refuse to do overtime or choose to work to rule.

Why are UCU members striking?

UCU members are planning strike action in response to proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) a national pension scheme for HE academics.

In response to the latest valuation of the scheme, and the growing financial challenges it faces, the three parties involved in the dispute, Universities UK (which represents UK Universities) UCU (the Union) and the joint negotiating committee (made up of members of both with an independent chair) have been discussing potential changes to the benefits that the pension schemes’ members will receive in the future.

UUK has proposed changes to the scheme by ending the ‘defined benefit’ element (which provides a guaranteed income on retirement) and effectively replacing it with a ‘defined contribution’ scheme.  The value of such a scheme is determined by the value of its investments at any one point.  This means pensions received under the scheme would be subject to stock market changes.  

While benefits already earned by scheme members are protected by law, and benefits already being paid to existing retired members are not affected by the plans, UCU estimates typical lecturers would be almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement under the proposals, than under the current arrangements.  Universities UK argues that it cannot afford to continue the scheme in the future, under its current set-up.                 

Will the strike impact students?

At this stage it’s hard to say exactly how University of York students will be impacted.  It’s not known how many staff members at the University of York will be participating in the strike but it’s estimated that 742 staff across the University are UCU members.  Four hundred and thirty staff voted in the ballot on whether the UCU should take industrial action with 87% (374 staff) voting in favour of strike action.

Some students may well experience disruption from cancelled lecturers for example, if the dispute cannot be resolved ahead of the planned action.     

The Vice-Chancellor has informed students that the University is taking this matter seriously and is examining practical steps that can be taken to limit any potential disruption to studies.  He stated: “The University will continue to work constructively with USS, UUK and UCU through the next phase of consultation and reform. The University respects the rights of colleagues to take industrial action but we are also fully committed to trying to minimise disruption to our students and to their studies. I hope that we will achieve the best possible outcome in the circumstances, and that there will be minimal disruption for all of you.”

How can I find out what’s going on?

Talk to your department

  • Arrangements for the industrial action and potential changes to teaching schedules will differ from department to department. Look out for updates from your department and get in touch with key contacts in your department with any questions that you have.

Look out for updates from the YUSU sabbatical officers

  • The sabb team are in regular contact with UCU representatives and University Management.
  • They have been collating a set of FAQs setting out a response from both parties on the key issues that matter to students, ranging from where to get support to students’ rights. See here for the University's response. If you have questions you would like to see answered as part of these FAQs please contact reception@yusu.org or speak straight to the University at: industrialactionqueries@york.ac.uk

I’m a Course Rep - what should I do?

  • Talk to students on your course and ensure they know what’s happening.
  • Encourage them to seek out academics, talk to them about the strike and find out more about the issues. 
  • For information on how students may be impacted, please advise students to talk to Heads of Department in the first instance.  While some staff may wish to discuss their intentions regarding the strike they are not legally required to declare their participation until it begins.  Please respect that. 

I’m a Department Rep - what should I do?

  • Help keep Course Reps and other students in your department informed about what’s going on.
  • Encourage your students to engage - ask them to talk to Heads of Department about plans and how students will be impacted in the first instance.  Individual academics may well be willing to talk to you about the issues under debate. 
  • Signpost students for advice - keep an eye on YUSU’s webpages for regular updates on the situation at York.

What is YUSU doing?

YUSU is student led and will ensure that students’ voices are at the forefront of our approach during the planned action.  The Sabbatical Officers are in frequent communication with both University management and UCU representatives.  At present their priorities are to ensure that both University and UCU officials are:

  • communicating information surrounding the debate clearly to students;
  • considering where and how students might be affected;
  • trying to find ways of mitigating the impact on students.

Officers have met with both parties in recent days and put students’ questions to the Vice-Chancellor and Union officials.  They will be publishing a film over the week ahead.  See here for the University's responses to your questions.  We understand that many questions remain and will continue to work to ensure all students’ queries are answered.  The YUSU Advice and Support Centre is open as normal to help students with specific individual cases.

Where can I find out more?