University of Portsmouth set to be hit by strike action

UCU branch secretary, Dr James Hicks
UCU branch secretary, Dr James Hicks
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PORTSMOUTH University could be affected by industrial action with lecturers and support staff set to be balloted next week. 

The University and College Union (UCU) has said 70,000 of its members at 143 universities across the UK will be balloted about a possible strike.

University College Union members are to be balloted on industrial action.

University College Union members are to be balloted on industrial action.

UCU branch secretary and senior lecturer at Portsmouth University, Dr James Hicks, has identified pay and contracts as a key focus of potential action.

‘We have asked for 7.5 per cent pay increase and have been offered two. Even at 7.5 per cent this pay increase would be way below real terms inflation,’ said Dr Hicks.

‘We also want to address the situation of precarious contracts. At present, many of the university’s contracts are based on part-time hourly pay which can change from year to year. In one year my wife’s pay literally halved. This makes it really difficult to plan financially and almost impossible for some people to get a mortgage.’

Dr Hicks also said the union wanted address the issue of fixed-term contracts and said he believed many contracts ‘deliberately finished’ within a two-year period due to the fact that after this duration employees are entitled to ‘permanent workers rights’.

The University disputed the issue of precarious contracts and stated: ‘With relation to precarious contracts, since March 2018, the University of Portsmouth has been in negotiations with representatives from UCU regarding contractual arrangements for Part Time Hourly Paid Lecturing staff. These negotiations have resulted in a proposed agreement between UCU and the University of Portsmouth to allow those Part Time Hourly Paid Lecturing staff who meet agreed criteria to transfer to ongoing fractional contracts of employment. This agreement is currently out to ballot with Portsmouth UCU members.’

The final two areas of dispute focus on the gender pay gap and workload.

‘We have asked that real action is taken to close the gender pay gap by 2020 and to tackle the ever increasing issue of workload which has now got to the point where it is really difficult,’ added Dr Hicks.

Dr Hicks, who has worked at Portsmouth University since 1989, feels particularly aggrieved after the vice chancellor’s recent £7,000 pay increase from £266,000 to £273,000.

‘Whenever the issue of pay arises the University always claims a difficult financial situation yet they were able to give the Vice Chancellor a £7000 pay increase,’ said Dr Hicks.

The ballot will run between the January 15 and February 22. The initial vote is to address whether members feel some form of action is needed with the details of that action to be decided once the outcome has been identified. Under current legislation, for any action to be ratified there must be a minimum 50 per cent turn out.

Dr Hicks said any strike action would be done so reluctantly.

‘I initially hated the idea of strike action. Unfortunately, from my experience, taking industrial action is the only way for those in authority to take notice,’ he said.

A University of Portsmouth spokesman said: ‘The University of Portsmouth has been notified by the University and College Union that they will be balloting their members on a decision to take industrial action in support of their national campaign against the employers’ pay award.

‘This is a national dispute affecting all higher education institutions. We will continue to work closely with other UK Universities and UCU to seek to find a negotiated settlement to this dispute.’