What is UCU?
The University and College Union is the trade union that represents academics, such as tutors, lecturers, professors, and other teaching staff at universities.
They have around 120,000 members nationwide, around 280 of whom work at Staffordshire University.
Why is this strike happening now?
From September 2021 all new employees taken on by the University are employed by Staffordshire University Services Ltd, a wholly owned subsidiay of Staffordshire University.
Prior to September 2021, it was only professional support staff below grade 6 that were employed by the subsidiary. The pension scheme that is available to employees of the subsidiary is a defined contribution scheme rather than a defined benefit scheme.
This means that contributions to the scheme by the employer and employee are fixed, but the precise benefits at retirement (i.e pension) depends on the performance of the funds invested and any national shifts in life expectancy.
With a defined benefit scheme, the pension is assured based on salary and years' service, however the cost of providing those benefits varies based on national life expectancy and market conditions.
What's UCUs position?
UCU’s position is that engaging staff via a subsidiary company will lead to a two-tier workforce. The immediate issue is that over time terms and conditions for all staff will be eroded. UCU believes that a two tier workforce will mean that the university has greater difficulty in meeting its strategic aims. The university has admitted that its own plans will affect the university’s reputation. No other UK post 92 university has chosen to engage academics via a subsidiary and deny them access to TPS.
If the university does not reconsider it will struggle to recruit the best staff. If lecturers have options they will chose to go elsewhere. Management’s approach to this is incredibly short-sighted.
UCU members have been forced into taking strike action as the university has refused to engage in any meaningful way. UCU members have not taken this decision lightly, but have done so in order to protect the university’s future. If the university gets its way Staffordshire University will suffer severe reputational damage and will not be an institution at which people will want to work or study.
UCU recognizes that there will be short term disruption for students and that is regrettable. However we believe that this action is necessary to secure our working conditions and your learning conditions.
What's the University position?
"By way of background, for new academic staff, just like new professional support staff, we are now employing them through a subsidiary, wholly owned and managed by the University, with no other party.
This arrangement has been in place for professional support staff in grades one to six since 2018.
Staff who have been employed via the subsidiary since 2018 have not experienced any differential working practices potentially leading to fragmentation or lack of cohesion with other colleagues across the University.
It is unclear why UCU believe that our experience from 2018 onwards would now change.
We have committed to UCU that we would evaluate following twelve months of operation (ie July 2022) to understand and address any real and tangible issues, rather than non-specific and potentially unfounded concerns. However, sadly, this was insufficient to prevent the ballot.
When we first introduced the subsidiary arrangement in 2018, we committed to no differential changes to terms and conditions for those staff employed by the subsidiary (other than pension provision). This remains the case.We committed to recognising UCU and UNISON within the subsidiary, just like the University. This remains the case. We also placed on record that the creation of the subsidiary was not connected in any way to outsourcing. This remains the case. Since 2018, no employee has raised working within the subsidiary as an issue in terms of working practices, and nor has UNISON raised this as an issue with the University."
What happens next?
UCU have balloted their members on undertaking strike action and more than 50% of members voted (the quota), with 70% of staff who voted in the ballot voting yes to strike action.
80% of those who voted also voted yes to action short of strike. This could include working strictly to contract, refusing to cover for colleagues and refusing to undertake voluntary activities.
UCU have notified the University management that they will go on strike unless the University drops plans to employ new staff via a wholly owned subsidiary company.
The UCU members at Staffordshire university will be on strike on Monday 28 March, Wednesday 30 March and Thursday 7 April. Other days may be planned. Lectures will also be taking other action, basically working within their contract, so they will be avoiding working into the evenings and over weekends amongst other things.
What's the Students' Union's position?
Your Officer Team are currently polling our netwrok of representatives to gain a representative indication of our membership's feelings on strike action. Here's the summary of our position ahead of the last round of strike action:
The Students Union Officer Team have met with both UCU representatives and the University Chief Operating Officer to understand the issues.
The Students Union understands the concerns voiced by UCU that a less generous pension scheme than previously offered could have an impact on the quality of staff attracted in the future.
The experience of the Union Officer Team, who have been involved in recruitment panels for the University, is that Staffordshire University have been attracting and appointing exceptional and talented staff to the organisation, and that this hasn't noticeably changed in the last 9 months.
"We feel that COVID-19 and its effects over the last 2 years have already placed a substantial strain on students and their wellbeing, and we couldn't condone or support any action that would further disrupt current students' experiences."
Our role in this dispute therefore will be to provide students information about the facts of the dispute and work to try to mitigate any detriment to students learning."
Where can I get more information about my rights?
The Office for Students has produced an in-depth guide to industrial action, featuring:
What you can expect from the University
Your rights under consumer protection law
How to complain if you're unhappy about the impact of industrial action on your studies, and
What the Office for Students does to protect your interests when industrial action happens
You can read the guide in full here: OfS Student Guide to Industrial Action
If you're a student and you want to learn more or share your thoughts, please contact