UCU’s own staff vote to strike

The dispute centres around allegations of racism and pay priorities

The dispute centres around allegations of racism and pay priorities

Staff at the University and College Union have today voted in favour of strike action over their employer’s allegedly “shameful” handling of workplace racism and breach of collective agreements.

Nearly three-quarters of UCU’s 182-strong members of the Unite union said they are prepared to strike against their trade union employer, as a ballot over a long-running dispute concluded.

The ballot result also found 78 per cent were prepared to take industrial action consisting of action short of a strike. Turnout was 79 per cent.

Staff are prepared to strike for one day on May 30, the second day of the union’s annual congress on May 29 to 31 in Bournemouth, FE Week understands.

UCU will meet with Unite before the congress at an ACAS meeting on May 24.

If no resolution is found, then it will be the first time in UCU’s 18-year history that its own staff have gone on strike.

The strike ballot followed an internal dispute over UCU’s “institutional failings” into how it allegedly treats Black staff, the Unite Black member’s group claimed back in March.

The group alleged that Black staff are disproportionately targeted for punitive action under internal procedures – 45 per cent of all UCU cases handled by Unite had an element of race discrimination.

It welcomed an independent investigation into workplace racism at UCU as of March 1.

UCU said at the time that it was in the midst of “sourcing an external independent party” to conduct the review.

UCU did not specify at the time of publication whether it had appointed an independent investigator for the review yet.

A Unite spokesperson said: “Unite members have today said enough is enough. We are resolute in our demands for an anti-racist workplace, for UCU as an employer to honour its collective agreements with us and, for an independent investigation into how the organisation is run. We are determined to bring about the change that UCU staff and UCU members so desperately deserve.”

The move is a further escalation of the ongoing internal dispute at the union after Unite ramped up a pay dispute with UCU and accused bosses of “prioritising” senior management pay.

Shortly after, FE Week revealed that recently re-elected general secretary Jo Grady had accepted a near-£18,000 salary rise to help her pay damages from a libel case.

Unite also accused UCU of repeatedly breaching its agreements with the staff union, such as recognising a separate staff union by senior leaders – which Unite says breaches their recognition as the sole union for UCU workers.

The spokesperson added: “As a trade union, UCU is at the forefront of fights for equality, collective agreements and safe working environments for its members. 

“It is shameful, therefore, that as an employer UCU has overseen a culture of racism within its own workplace, imposed new working conditions on staff without agreement and continues to breach collective agreements with its staff union, Unite. This includes unilaterally de-recognising Unite as the sole union for UCU staff. UCU’s actions as an employer go against the core values of trade unionism that we and the rest of the trade union movement campaign for every single day.”

A UCU spokesperson: “UCU is proud to offer its staff some of the best pay and conditions in the movement – our staff work incredibly hard, and their work is rightly valued and rewarded highly. 

“We recognise that there are areas where we can improve and are actively working with Unite to address any issues of concern. 

“We are pleased to have secured an upcoming meeting at Acas on Friday 24 May to further facilitate this, and our absolute focus is on finding agreed solutions to this dispute as quickly as possible.”

The strike ballot results are not the first of its kind in education. In 2018, staff at the NASUWT teachers’ union went on strike over a pensions dispute and the way it was run. The turmoil led to a step down of the then-general secretary Chris Keates in 2019.

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