University of Leeds staff back strike over pay and conditions

University of Leeds lecturers, researchers and academic staff have voted to go on strike this semester in the latest development of a long running dispute over pay and working conditions. 

The University and College Union (UCU) Leeds branch secured a turnout of 60.8% – above the 50% legal ballot threshold – with 75.2% of members voting to take strike action.

Chloe Wallace, President of the Leeds UCU branch, said in a statement: “This is a magnificent outcome, which repeats what we achieved in 2019, in very different circumstances.”

Wallace paid tribute to volunteers who had sent texts and calls to members about the vote, noting that staff in Manchester, Newcastle and UCL had narrowly failed to reach a 50% turnout meaning they are unable to proceed with a strike.

She said the University could “avoid the disruption of industrial action” by working with the union to find settlements to their disputes. In the meantime, Wallace said the union is “determined to build our solidarity and our creativity to take effective, powerful action to bring them back to the table.”

The UCU said 57 other universities have supported strike action. It has called for a £2,500 wage increase for all staff, an end to pay discrimination, the elimination of zero-hours and other casual contracts, and measures to tackle unmanageable workloads

An Extraordinary General Meeting of the Leeds branch will be held on Tuesday 9th to discuss the next steps which will then be fed into a nation-wide branch delegate meeting, with a UCU higher education committee ultimately deciding how the union will use its mandate to take action.

The University must be given a minimum of two weeks notice so strike action is not expected until the end of November or December.

The Russell Group, which represents 24 universities in the UK including Leeds, criticised the decision, saying in a statement: 

“Industrial action will only penalise students who are enjoying the buzz of campus life after a challenging 18 months and will not change the fact that reform is needed to ensure the USS scheme is sustainable and affordable for staff and employers.

“Universities are well prepared to mitigate the impact of industrial action on students and would urge UCU, who have acknowledged the need for change to USS, to work with employers to find mutually agreeable solutions that will provide value for money for the long-term without placing an unfair burden on future generations.”

In an email sent to students last month, the University said that it wishes to see the matter resolved quickly, and has already promised some changes including the reduction of the use of short-term contracts. It says, however, that “the issues at the heart of the ballot are national issues” beyond their control.

It promised to “minimise the impact” of strike action on the education and experience of students.