As we head into the Spring term, many will be aware that the dispute between the University and College Union (UCU) and Universities UK continues with further strike days expected this term. Nationally UCU currently has a mandate for industrial action through until April and has recently announced 18 days of strikes to be taken over the next two months – these start on the 1 February, with the full list of dates available on our staff webpages.
While we regret the planned strike action, and particularly the effect this unprecedented amount of strike activity will have on our students’ time at Kent, we are far from the only sector facing disruption at the moment and it is clear that this a difficult time for many. The rising cost of living is putting great pressure on budgets for both individuals and employers – this is certainly the case at Kent, as I’m sure it is for many of you personally. As well as our ongoing discussions with our local UCU branch on matters under our control at Kent, we continue to urge all parties to continue discussion nationally in the interests of an outcome that balances a fair deal for staff with maintaining the financial sustainability of universities themselves.
Pay is, of course, not the only issue under dispute with the long-running disagreement over pensions also at the heart of the current action. Changes for those in the USS pension scheme were brought in last year which, while regrettable, were done with the future integrity of the scheme in mind. However, the process that led to this exposed the weaknesses in the current governance structure for the scheme – along with other universities we are jointly funding a review of this and agree with UCU’s position nationally that we shouldn’t continue with taking the same approach to decision-making around the future of the scheme. There is more background on this, and the other areas under dispute currently, on our Industrial Action Staff Webpages.
The first strike day on 1 February is timed to coincide with a national day of action around changes to strike laws in the UK. A strong trade union voice is an important part of employee relations and, here at Kent, local representatives of all our recognised unions regularly make valuable contributions in the interest of improving all of our time at Kent. We fully respect the right to strike and I can appreciate colleagues’ concerns at the recent proposed shift by the Government. Above all, though, it is important we respect the differing views people have across areas and, where we do disagree, ensure that this remains both considerate and constructive. Strike days can be contentious but there are agreed boundaries around what they involve – while those on strike are entitled to withhold their labour, I’m grateful that this continues to be done in a respectful manner that recognises that many others will be working as usual.
It’s my sincere hope that an agreement can be reached between UCU and UCEA that avoids further damaging industrial action – in the meantime I will continue to keep you updated as the current period continues.