Staff at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) are set to ballot next month over pay and working conditions, which could lead to strike action this term.
Last week, The University and College Union (UCU) confirmed that strike ballots will open at 147 UK universities on Monday 18 October in rows over USS pensions, pay, unsafe workloads, casualisation and equality failings.
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UCLan UCU, which has over 700 members, will be one of 83 institutions balloting over pay and working conditions alone, as they are not affected by the changes to USS pensions.
The university confirmed it had received notification that the UCU is balloting some UCLan staff for industrial action.
A spokesperson for the UCLan said: “This is a national issue for Higher Education, although the UCU ballots will take place separately at each institution. We have always worked closely with our local UCU union branch and of course respect the right to take action, if they secure the support of their membership. However, should the call for industrial action materialise we will put in place whatever measures are needed to minimise disruption for our students.”
Another 63 institutions will be balloting over pensions, pay, and working conditions, with 6 more balloting on pensions alone.
Both ballots will run from Monday 18 October to Thursday 4 November unless employers resolve the dispute beforehand by returning to negotiations with "better" offers.
UCU’s Higher Education Committee will meet to consider the results of the ballot on 8 November with action expected to take place before the end of the year.
The decision to ballot over pay and working conditions comes as research by UCU found 42% of teaching staff are employed on zero hours contracts, with 49% on insecure fixed-term contacts,
Pay for university staff has also fallen by around 20% in real terms between 2009 and 2019, with the latest pay offer from University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) being just 1.5%.
The gender pay gap sits at 15.5% and the most recent Higher Education Statistics Agency figures reveal that, of 22,810 professors in the UK, only 27% were women and 1% were Black.
Speaking on behalf of UCLan's UCU members, Martyn Moss, the North West Regional Official for the UCU, said: "I can confirm that if matters aren't sorted out by the end of the ballot period and the outcome of the ballot is positive, then there will be strike action before Christmas
Martyn added: "Our members have suffered below inflation pay rises for many years, rising workloads, pay inequality in relation to gender pay, to black members, who are clearly discriminated against when you look at the statistics, and the use of casualized contracts in higher education is rife. These are the issues that are at the heart of the dispute that are members at UCLan are being balloted on.
"And of course, our members have kept the university going through very difficult times over the last 18 months, adapting to the move to online delivery of teaching and learning overnight, it's not been easy for staff and it's not been easy for students, they've done a fantastic job, but all they're being thanked with is a 1.5% payoff."
UCU say they are demanding a £2.5k pay increase, an end to race and gender pay injustice, a framework to eliminate the use of precarious contracts and meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads.
The ballot over pensions then comes after employer body Universities UK (UUK) voted to cut thousands of pounds from the retirement benefits of university staff last month.
This represents an annual guaranteed pension cut of 35% for a typical USS member, however UCLan is not a member of USS so remains unaffected.
National Union of Students (NUS) offered its support for staff planning to take action, saying "students will hold employers responsible" if vice chancellors and employers do not come to "a negotiated settlement and address the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by staff."
NUS national president, Larissa Kennedy, said: "As students, we regularly witness how staff and student’s conditions are intertwined. University management forcing staff onto casualised contracts, cutting their pay, and now trying to cut thousands of pounds from their pensions cannot be divorced from the fact that one in 10 students has needed to access a foodbank to survive the pandemic - these aren’t the actions of a university leadership or an education system that have the interests of staff or students at heart.
"Staff working conditions are student learning conditions and we stand shoulder to shoulder with our educators in fighting for a more just education system. We demand fully funded, accessible, lifelong education where our spaces of teaching and learning belong to the students, staff and communities they exist to serve. Until then, it is entirely in the gift of vice chancellors and employers to come to a negotiated settlement and address the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by staff. If they don’t, students will hold employers responsible."
University staff previously took the largest strike action UK higher education has ever seen in 2020 over the same issues.