UCU Strike Action (2019-2020 Academic year)

On Monday 3 February 2020, UCU announced 14 strike days which will take place over 4 weeks during Semester 2 of the 2019-2020 Academic Year. The dates were as follows:

  • Week one - Thursday 20 & Friday 21 February
  • Week two - Monday 24, Tuesday 25 & Wednesday 26 February
  • Week three - Monday 2, Tuesday 3, Wednesday 4 & Thursday 5 March
  • Week four - Monday 9, Tuesday 10, Wednesday 11, Thursday 12 & Friday 13 March

This was the second round of industrial action that academic year, based on the same disputes as the strike days that took place in Semester 1 between 25 November and 4 December 2019.

The Referendum (Feb 2020)

The SU Trustee Board called another referendum to ascertain student opinion on the planned UCU Strike action.

Question: Should The SU support the strike action called by the UCU between the dates of Thursday 20 February to Friday 13 March? YES, NO or ABSTAIN.

Polling was open from 12:00 on Friday 7 February and closed on Monday 17 February at 12:00.


3,013 students voted in the referendum asking “Should The SU support the strike action called by the UCU between the dates of Thursday 20 February to Friday 13 March??

920 voted ‘YES’

1,952 voted ‘NO’

141 chose to ‘ABSTAIN’

Therefore, the motion was not carried and The SU resolved to not support the strike action called by the UCU between the dates of Thursday 20 February to Friday 13 March.


What happened following the result?

The SU Officers worked with the University to look at how students could be supported through the industrial action and mitigate the impact on the student experience. The SU Officer team had daily catch-ups with University Senior Management to communicate the student view on the strikes. The Officers also met with Academic Reps, Faculty Reps, and departmental societies to keep them updated with relevant information.

We also held an Extraordinary Meeting for student leaders informing them about the Strikes and next steps. View the slides from this meeting.

We recognised that our Doctoral community may have been participating in the strikes and The SU continued to support our Doctoral members. Our Postgraduate officer sent specific information out to all Doctoral students regarding further support and a drop-in session.

General FAQs

What is a Trade Union?

  • An organisation that employees of a certain profession can join for representation and political bargaining (this is different to an SU - SUs are Charities, not Trade Unions).

What is a Strike?

  • A strike is a period of time where employees decide not to come into work in protest about a particular aspect about their employment. They do not get paid whilst on strike. Strikes are often referred to as ‘industrial action’.

What is a Picket Line?

  • A picket line is a boundary established by workers on strike – often at the entrance to their workplace – which others are asked not to cross.

What is the University and College Union (UCU)?

  • The University and College Union (UCU) represents over 110,000 academics, lecturers, trainers, instructors, researchers, managers, administrators, computer staff, librarians and postgraduates in universities, colleges, prisons, adult education and training organisations across the UK.

What were UCU striking about?

Please note that both the Semester 1 and 2 strikes are related to the same legal disputes. These are as following.

Legal dispute #1: Pay and Working Conditions. What’s the issue?

Pay: “Findings from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) show that the pay of staff has dropped by around 17% in real-terms since 2009”.

However “UCU said it was shocked and disappointed that UCEA has tried to spin the findings to suggest pay has not fallen so sharply. In its presentation of the data, UCEA has chosen to show findings only from 2013 and cherry picked the information used to calculate the figures.”

You can read UCU’s perspective further.

Working Conditions: UCU’s concern about working conditions includes 3 factors:

Casualisation: the transformation of a workforce from largely employed on secure permanent contracts to short-term or casual contract

You can read the “Counting the costs of casualization in higher education” report by UCU.

Workload: “Staff in higher and further education work on average more than two days unpaid each week. Workload is unmanageable and unsustainable for most staff.” Read more from UCU

Gender pay gap: “In 2018 university leaders came under fire after the first official gender pay gap data showed that women in UK universities were paid a mean hourly wage that was, on average, 15.9 per cent lower than their male colleagues.” Read more from UCU on the gender pay gap.

Legal dispute #2: Pensions – USS Scheme. What’s the issue?

Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) is one of the largest private pension schemes in the UK and is the principal scheme for academics and academic-related staff in UK universities and other higher education and research institutions with over 350 employers participating in it.

Staff who are on the USS pension scheme are frustrated because in 2017, there was an “attempt to transform the USS from a defined benefit scheme – which fixed pensions to salaries – to a defined contribution scheme with considerably lower pension payouts for most members”. The contribution from employees has increased from 8% to 8.8% in April, and rose again to 9.6% in October.

However, Universities are worried about how much they are paying into the USS Pension scheme for staff as a defined benefit scheme. They had to increase their contributions from 16% to 21.1% of the employees’ salary in October. Read more on UCU’s perspective

What was the result of The SU’s Semester 1 (2019) referendum?

As a result of our referendum in Semester 1, our student community voted for the SU to support the UCU strike action.

The results were as follows:

2505 students voted in the referendum asking “Should The SU support the strike action called by the UCU between the dates of Monday 25 November to Wednesday 4 December?”

1436 voted ‘YES’

938 voted ‘NO’