On 4 November, staff at the University of St Andrews and universities around the UK voted in favour of strike action. The vote was triggered by cuts to USS Pensions which, according to the University and College Union (UCU), would cut the guaranteed retirement income of individual members by 35%. Universities UK voted for the measure earlier this year, but the UCU says the economic environment has changed so the cuts are not necessary.
The University and Colleges Employers’ Association, however, said in reaction to the ballot that, “We are disappointed that UCU is encouraging its members to ballot for action which is specifically designed to disrupt teaching and learning for students who have endured so many recent upheavals."
St Andrew’s UCU branch voted with a 56.6% turnout, 87.8% of members voting to take action short of a strike and 79.9% of members voting to take strike action. This was more than the national turnout of 53% with 76% support for strike action. For a strike to be held, turnout had to surpass the 50% legal threshold.
Reacting to the national ballot surpassing the legal requirement for industrial action, UCU President Jo Grady said, “These results are a clear mandate for strike action over pension cuts and should be heard loud and clear by university employers.”
Expanding on how disruption could be avoided the president said, “It is now in the gift of employers to avoid strike action, which is the outcome staff want as well. All management need to do is withdraw their needless cuts and return to negotiations. If they fail to do so, any disruption will be entirely their responsibility.”
Strikes in St Andrews would be a continuation of pay disputes, with the UCU having nationally called four strikes in three years. The full nature and extent of strike action will only be known after a UCU meeting on 12 November. However, St Andrews students are likely to see the effects of this dispute before the end of the semester.