York Lecturers Set for Strike Ballot

Vice Chancellor Charlie Jeffrey: “Industrial action is not the answer."

(Image: Iwan Stone)

Staff at the University of York are set to vote on whether to take strike action later this term.

York is one of over 150 universities where strike ballots are being held by the University and College Union this week, with action threatened over cuts to pensions and pay as well as working conditions.

Vice Chancellor Charlie Jeffrey said: “Let me be very clear, we want to avoid industrial action and I certainly don’t want students to experience further disruption in what has already been an incredibly challenging time.

“The national UCU’s call for action will not change the national challenges facing the pension scheme, and so much headway has already been made on this issue, as well as very constructive progress on pay and working conditions. This is why I have called on all parties to build on the common ground we know exists, rather than continuing the damaging cycle of division we have seen.

“I know that everyone – including those who may feel compelled to take industrial action – will be thinking hard about students’ interests. I have stressed that we need to do all that we can for a generation whose education has already been severely disrupted and disadvantaged. Industrial action is not the answer.”

In an email to staff last week ahead of the ballot, seen by Vision, Jeffrey said: “We have made significant strides at York in working with campus unions to improve local conditions of employment.”

He highlighted “the significant work we have done on Graduate Teaching Assistant contracts, which we believe has gone above and beyond so many others in the sector” and the University becoming a Real Living Wage Employer.

The UCU has told Universities that they have “three weeks to save Christmas” ahead of the ballot.

The Union says it’s demanding a £2.5k pay increase; an end to race, gender and disability pay injustice; a framework to eliminate zero-hours and other precarious contracts; and meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads.

They also say that the National Union of Students has offered its support for staff planning to take action, saying that “students will hold employers responsible” if vice chancellors and employers do not come to “a negotiated settlement and address the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by staff”.

UCU General Secretary Jo Grady said: “Industrial action can easily be avoided if employers withdraw their disgraceful pension cuts and make credible offers on pay and working conditions. 

“These are not radical demands, but the bare minimum staff deserve and in the best interests of the sector as a whole.

“Employers have three weeks to sort this out. If they don’t, the blame for any disruption will fall squarely at their feet.”

Universities UK said they were “disappointed UCU is pressing ahead with an industrial action ballot over USS pensions.

“The proposed reforms secure USS’ status as one of the most attractive pension schemes in the country, and eliminate the need for massive contribution rises that would severely reduce pay and force employers to make cutbacks in other budgets.

“Discussions over the valuation are still ongoing. Employers met with UCU representatives last Tuesday, and further meetings are planned for the coming weeks. However, it is hard to see how UCU’s demands can be reconciled without an alternative solution, which we have consistently asked them for and are willing to consult employers on.

“After a difficult 18 months, students do not deserve any further disruption. It is unclear why UCU thinks it’s appropriate for students to suffer due to the scheme’s increased costs and the regulatory constraints under which pensions operate in the UK.

“Universities are well prepared to mitigate the impact of any industrial action on students’ learning, and minimise disruption for those staff choosing not to take part.”

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