Strikes by university staff called off after pay breakthrough

Strikes by university staff over the next two weeks have been called off after a breakthrough in negotiations over pay, pensions and working conditions, unions have announced.

Five unions – Unison, UCU, GMB, Unite and EIS – issued a joint statement with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) confirming three days of strikes will be suspended following talks at the conciliation service Acas, though discussions will continue.

It follows an agreement from university employers to give more money to the lowest paid in higher education and undertake a thorough review of the salary grades of all staff, according to Unison.

The University and College Union said it had called off seven days of strikes planned to take place on 21, 22, 23, 27 and 28 February and 1 and 2 March. But five days of campus strikes scheduled for later in March could still go ahead.

Jo Grady, the UCU general secretary, said: “To allow our ongoing negotiations to continue in a constructive environment, we have agreed to pause action across our pay and working conditions and pensions disputes for the next two weeks and create a period of calm.”

Both sides have agreed to further talks to discuss pay grading as well as other concerns including zero-hours contracts.

Unison’s head of education, Mike Short, said: “Improving the wages of the lowest paid university employees is a crucial step. Cleaners, domestic staff and others at the bottom of the pay scales have been in dire need of help.

“The pay structure in the sector has been unfit for purpose for years, with far too many staff earning just the minimum wage with little chance to progress in their careers.

“The fact that talks are to continue is a positive move. It’s vital that progress is made in improving the wages of everyone working in higher education.”

UCEA, representing 144 higher education employers, made a final pay offer of between 8% and 5% from August 2023 with a proportion of that to be paid from February, about six months in advance of the usual pay uplift date.

Raj Jethwa, UCEA’s chief executive, said: “UCEA accepted Acas’s services as the right thing to do in an attempt to reach a settlement and to meet our original objective of getting an affordable uplift to all staff sooner than usual.

“Despite strike action and further threats of disruption, and in recognition of how inflation disproportionately affects lower-paid staff, employers remain committed to this early implementation.

“Our intention is to see this is paid in March pay packets, backdated to February. It will be unfair to delay the early pay uplift to all staff any longer.

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“While the impact of strike action continues to be low and isolated, this is about a final attempt from employers and trade unions to achieve an outcome upon which both parties can consult their members.”

Meanwhile, Unisonthe UK’s largest union said the majority of ambulance staff at the East of England ambulance service (EEAST) had voted in favour of a strike.

The union, which represents about three-quarters of workers at EEAST, said 87% of those who voted opted for industrial action.

Earlier this month, EEAST staff joined a nationwide strike for the first time over staffing levels and pay when members of the GMB union voted for industrial action.

GMB said its members would join national industrial action on 6 March.

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