University of Exeter staff fail to meet required turnout to strike in latest UCU ballots

University of Exeter, Streatham Campus | Pierre Terre/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.0

No industrial action will be taken at the University of Exeter while academics from 58 other UK universities have voted for strikes over pensions, pay, and working conditions.

Of all the University and College Union (UCU) members who participated in balloting, over 70% backed strike action.

Overall turnout was 53% for the pension ballot and just over 50% for pay and conditions. The minimum turnout legally required to strike is 50%.

37 of 68 balloted universities met the threshold and supported strike action over pensions, while 54 of 146 supported action over pay and conditions. From these results, strike action is expected to take place at a total of 58 universities.

At Exeter, turnout was 47% for the pension ballot, with nearly 73% in support of strike action, and 47.2% for pay and conditions, with just under 70% in support of strike action, both below the 50% threshold.

From this outcome, no industrial action will take place at the university over these issues.

The dispute over pensions concerns the valuation of the Universities Superannuation Scheme, a private pension scheme for the sector.

Universities UK, which represents employers, said: “The employers’ proposals for reform are the only viable plans under current regulations that will keep the scheme affordable for members and universities and keep the defined benefit section of the scheme open.”

Additionally, the UCU is calling for a £2,500 pay rise for staff, an end to pay discrimination, the elimination of zero-hours contracts, and action to mitigate “unmanageable workloads”.

Staff at 74 universities, including Exeter, previously organised two weeks of strikes over pensions, pay, and conditions in early 2020. Strikes also took place at 60 universities, including Exeter, in late 2019.

Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said that “the low turnouts in the UCUs’ ballots” over pay and conditions were “a clear indication that the great majority of university union members as well as wider HE employees understand the financial realities for their institution”.

The National Union of Students said that it stood “in solidarity” with staff who voted for action, adding: “The sad truth is that increasingly staff on the ground have only seen more work for less reward. Time and time again, we’ve seen staff across universities go above and beyond to keep their institutions running, and students learning, and they have been met with cruel and untenable conditions and remuneration.”

UCU General Secretary Jo Grady said: “It is scandalous that university vice-chancellors on overinflated salaries seem to think doing nothing on pay, casualisation and inequality is acceptable in a sector awash with money.

“We truly hope that disruption can be avoided, that is what staff and students alike all want. But this is entirely in the gift of employers who simply need to end their attacks on pensions, pay and working conditions and finally demonstrate they value their staff.”