You may have heard about the UCU – Universities and Colleges Union – ballot that’s going on at the moment. There’s been a bit of discussion about what it means and what will happen if the ballot succeeds, so we thought we’d break it down for you!
What’s the ballot?
The ballot is effectively a vote to determine if the staff at up to 143 institutions will go on strike, enact action short of a strike, or not enact any action at all. There’s some complicated additional regulation around this vote but that’s the basic idea.
Why’s the ballot happening?
It’s about pay disputes and working conditions generally. UCU claims that the pay academics receive has fallen by 17.8% in real terms (real terms means what the impact is when inflation is taken into account). This is alongside the fact that generally, staff pay has proportionally become a smaller part of Higher Education Institute expenditure, and the fact that Vice Chancellor pay tends to increase year on year.
There is also concerns about casualization of the work force – what this means is that academics are more likely now than in the past to be hired on fixed-term contracts. The document I received from UCU states that 52% of academic staff are now on these fixed-term or otherwise atypical contracts. There are arguments for and against these kinds of contracts, but there are concerns around the fact that they don’t provide staff with certainty about the future.
In addition to all of the above, there’s concerns about the gender pay gap in academia. At the current rate, this is due to close in 40 years – UCU would like to see work being done to make this timeline shorter.
Finally, there are issues regarding workload. A 2018 survey showed that 35% of academics do 5 hours or more work at the weekends, 82% work while they’re on holiday and 65% say that their partners consider their workload detrimental to family life.
Wasn’t there a strike last year?
There was elsewhere, but not here at ARU. That strike happened in early 2018 and it was a dispute about pensions at the relevant universities.
What happens next?
If the institutions are able to reach their threshold (50% of UCU members nationally need to return their ballot) then action will be taken based on the outcome of the ballots returned. This could lead to any of the following;
- Strike action
- Action short of a strike
- No action
ARU Students’ Union would encourage all staff to exercise their democratic vote on this occasion. Whatever the outcome of the ballot may be, the Students’ Union Officer team will support staff to work with the University senior management to find a solution that is in the best interests of the whole community. Hopefully together we can reach a conclusion that benefits both staff and students to the fullest extent both now and in the future. The full letter that was sent to UCU members at ARU can be seen here.
If there are any further questions regarding the balloting process or what’s going on, please contact Laura Douds at firstname.lastname@example.org.