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‘Ask George Boyne’: Strike Action looms as Aberdeen UCU prepares for ‘act of last resort’

Teaching likely to be cancelled if agreement is not reached by next week


By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco




The University and College Union (UCU), which represents tens of thousands of staff at higher education institutions across the UK, has announced plans to begin strike action at the end of November.


Additionally, industrial action including a marking and assessment boycott will begin in the New Year if employers and the powerful academic union do not reach a settlement.


The strikes, to take place on the 24th, 25th, and 30th November, will occur at 150 universities across the UK, including UoA. Over 70,000 UCU members are expected to join picket lines if a negotiated agreement with employers is not reached. 


Most lectures and tutorials are likely to be cancelled on the strike days, although students will be notified by their Schools about specific guidance ‘in due course,’ per a University announcement. 


A press release published by the Aberdeen branch of UCU stated:


‘The marketisation of education has overseen a decade of rip-off tuition fees, expensive vanity building projects, class sizes increasing – whilst those at the top have rewarded themselves handsomely.’ 

‘Our demands are not unreasonable – we want to have secure and decently paid jobs, so we have certainty to plan our lives, we deserve a decent retirement, women and those of ethnic minority background deserve equal pay. This isn’t right now and isn’t right for our future teachers and researchers – today’s students.’


In a statement, the national UCU demanded action to end the use of ‘insecure contracts', secure a ‘meaningful’ pay rise from employers to combat rising cost of living, and reverse a swath of pension cuts made earlier this year. 


UCU General Secretary Jo Grady commented, ‘Vice-chancellors are choosing to pay themselves hundreds of thousands of pounds whilst forcing our members onto low paid and insecure contracts that leave some using foodbanks. They choose to hold billions in surpluses whilst slashing staff pensions.’


According to HESA data compiled by UCU, the University of Aberdeen brought in 236 million pounds during 2020/2021, while paying Principal and Vice Chancellor George Boyne 296,000 pounds, a figure which the local UCU branch called ‘eye-watering.’


In a statement, David Anderson, Aberdeen UCU Branch Secretary said, ‘There is still time for a negotiated agreement and it is in the gift of our employer to influence the national negotiations and push for a new, credible deal to take to members.

'We are in a unique situation in that Aberdeen’s Principal, George Boyne chairs the employer’s national negotiating body UCEA.'

Mel Whitter, Aberdeen UCU Vice Chair added, 'Nobody wants to take strike action and this is an act of last resort to get university bosses back to the negotiating table – we call on students to ask George Boyne what urgent actions he is taking to avoid these strikes.


‘Students know that staff working conditions are students’ learning conditions and our students have supported our disputes in the past. If we are forced to go on strike, we will be ready to show our strength and we will be showing our solidarity with students through a series of teach outs on strike days – come along and get involved as we stand together as students and workers, united on campus.’


AUSA released a measured statement Friday afternoon. Camilo Torres Barragán, Vice President for Communities said:


‘We want all University staff to be well paid, happy, and motivated so we understand why UCU has decided to start strike action. At the same time, we hope the impact on students can be minimised and that all parties get back round the negotiating table and find a solution that considers students’ needs.’

 

‘The UK and Scottish Government continue to seriously underfund Higher Education and it is vital that they step in and help end this stand-off while tackling the wider crisis.’


In an email Wednesday afternoon, Professor Ruth Taylor, VP Education, told students: ‘This is a national dispute and we hope that the situation can be resolved swiftly. We will liaise closely with UCU locally throughout the dispute. Not all staff are members of the UCU which means that the extent of action will vary across the University. Your School will be in touch in due course with further information.


‘While staff have the right to strike, we are doing all we can to minimise disruption to your teaching, studies and student experience.’

As noted by Aberdeen UCU leadership, UoA Principal George Boyne is the Director of the Board for UCEA (Universities and Colleges Employers Association), who will represent universities bosses in negotiations over pay and pension cuts.

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