Our priority is always looking out for students’ best interests. We want to share a decision that was reached at our last Union Executive meeting – the policy-setting body for Students’ Union UCL made up of elected Sabbatical and Student Officers.
First, a bit of background. Members of UCU (the Union representing many staff at UCL) are currently voting on whether to go on strike. UCU has told universities they have 'three weeks to save term'. They are in dispute with universities over four key points; casualisation, pay, pensions and working conditions – and we support all UCU demands. We firmly believe that all staff should receive a fair and secure pension and decent working conditions. Everyone deserves the right to a prosperous retirement, and this should be defended for everyone in our university community. UCL and other universities have not made substantial, if any, progress in negotiations, leading to the national ballot on strike action by UCU.
If UCL and other universities worked with trade unions like UCU to reduce casualisation, increase pay in line with inflation, close the ethnicity pay-gap in HE and reduce workload for staff then strikes could be avoided. But they haven’t. UCL and other universities have led UCU to the point of strikes, but unlike in previous years, this academic year, we feel that we can’t give our support to action that will lead to more disruption for you, our members
So, at our Union Executive last week, we took the decision not to support potential strike action. You can read the policy that was passed here.
We’ve fully supported strike action in the past, most recently in 2019. It was the right thing to do. But the last three years have been significantly disrupted, first by strikes and then by Covid. Students are at breaking point, with a significant impact on mental health, loneliness, and isolation. We urgently need to repair and rebuild the communities so damaged over the past few years. But this doesn’t seem to be part of the discussion.
Students are hit hard during disputes between UCL and UCU. Strikes lead to lost learning, delayed teaching, increased assignment stress – students suffer as a way to add pressure on UCL during negotiations. As our learning environment is the working environment for academic staff, we usually accept this disruption and the challenges it brings. But this year is different.
We know many of you will have opposing views, and we want to hear these. Many of our members are also staff at UCL, employed on precarious contracts. Postgraduate students have been leading in-person seminars whilst larger lectures have remained online, putting themselves at increased risk during the pandemic. We will continue to campaign for better working conditions for PGTAs across the board, regardless of the outcome of UCU’s current negotiations. We’ll continue to work with UCU to ensure PGTAs are represented both as students and staff members.
In early November we’ll find out if the outcome of UCU’s vote is for strike action. If a strike is called, it could take place later in November and last for several weeks. We’ll keep you updated on any news. We will of course respect the outcome of the UCU vote, the democratic mandate UCU will have for strike action, and for the rights of staff to withdraw their labour. We ask that UCU respect our decision not to give our support to strike action as a negotiating tactic.
If a strike takes place, we’ll support you if you face additional academic pressure – helping you access extensions and navigate the extenuating circumstances procedure. We’ll lobby UCL to use withheld staff salaries to create a fund to provide financial compensation for lost learning. We’ll keep our facilities open and running so you have a place to study. And most crucially we’ll continue to put pressure on UCL to resolve the dispute as quickly as possible and end the strike.
For now, thank you for reading. We continue to live in unprecedented times, and this was not a decision taken lightly. We will always make the case for students, no matter how difficult that is.
Your Sabbatical Officers