Words by Connor Drescher, Staff Writer

UCU, a major union for University workers rights, has held a ballot in which its members voted to take strike action and ASOS (action short of a strike) this December. The days affected have been confirmed as the 1st to the 3rd December. 

At Sussex, this comes during the recently announced changeover of Vice-Chancellors from Adam Tickell to David Maguire (interim), while the search for a permanent holder of the role continues. 

David Maguire recently sent out an email to all students, stating that ‘only a minority of staff at Sussex’ are members of the union, and suggesting that this may lead to little or no disruption. However, as those who were on campus two years ago may remember, disruption to teaching and learning as a result of the last strike was both significant and sustained. There are also many members of staff across disciplines who are members of the union and may choose to take part in the strike action. 

In an apparent effort to shift responsibility for any potential resolution, Maguire also stated that the causes of the strikes (namely pensions, equality, pay, and precarious contracts) ‘are not things we can solve here at Sussex’ and that Sussex only has ‘a small amount of influence’ over these matters.

As this round of strike action is only scheduled to last for 3 days, it is likely that disruption will be minimal, although if a resolution is not found there could be further disruption in the new year, with the student’s union stating: “The union said the three-day strike will just be the start of sustained disruption for the sector if employers fail to negotiate.

The union intends to escalate its disputes next term. If employers do not make improved offers, further industrial action is likely to continue into the spring, at which point [other institutions’ UCU] branches that gain a mandate in their reballots will be able to join the action.”

Union members are taking the action as a result of a breakdown in negotiations between the union and governing bodies UUK and UCEA, which represent employers in higher education. The main issues being raised are about the working conditions of higher education staff – including precarious contracts (known as ‘Casualisation’), workloads, cuts to pensions, decreasing pay (not in line with inflation) and pay gaps both racial, gendered, and disability-related. These problems have been ongoing for some time, however after the last round of strike action in 2019, employers did come back to the table and negotiations were somewhat successful, staving off pension cuts and foregoing the need for further action. 

This time around UCU’s demands are significantly less extensive and indications are that the planned industrial action will be brief, with the hope that it will be enough to bring the concerned parties back to the table to work out a deal. 
These developments come as a recent Times Higher Education study found that 70% of all higher education staff are ‘burned out and afraid to ask for help’ at work. The Sussex student’s union held a recent information event last Thursday 18th November, at the JMS building on campus, in which they answered questions from students concerned about the industrial action. More information can be found on the Student Hub website and from the student’s union.

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