UCU narrowly misses majority vote on new industrial action

Image Courtesy of: Jeanne Bigot

The University and Colleges Union’s (UCU) Kent branch narrowly failed to vote for new strike plans over forced redundancies at the University.

The ballot, which had been tabled primarily through remote-voting, was overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action, but fell short of the 50% minimum turnout for the vote to be passed.

Iain Wilkinson, the newly elected president of UKC’s University and Colleges Union (UCU) branch, said that the branch felt compelled to ballot members.

“Despite being significantly ‘ahead of schedule’ in meeting cost savings targets, senior managers were and are still threatening some sections of the academic and professional services staff with compulsory redundancy.”

Out of those who attended, 79% voted in favour of striking, but turnout was only 44.9% and the vote could not be acted upon.

The Trade Union Act 2016 mandates a minimum of 50% turnout for a vote to be binding, encouraging those who don’t support strike action to abstain from voting, rather than taking part and voting against.

This low turnout, however, is not necessarily emblematic of low engagement in the union.

The branch was only around 23 votes short of getting a binding result.

He said: “UCU gambled with organising a vote under Covid-19 conditions, as this meant that a number of members did not receive ballot papers in time to vote due to them being posted to university rather than home addresses.

“for health and safety reasons, campuses were inaccessible through most of the summer and academics could not readily collect post sent to their work addresses.”

He added: “It was also difficult for us to campaign to get the vote out through the month of August as many colleagues were on holiday at this time”.

“if we need to ballot members again, we are confident that we will meet the required threshold”.

However, Professor Wilkinson said that industrial action is a last resort measure.

He said: “We have received an offer to enter negotiations with University management over arrangements that might be set in place in order to remove the threat of redundancy from staff working in areas of the university that are targeted for cost-saving cuts.”

“We are now in the early stages of these negotiations.”

He assured that UCU “are operating here in good faith”, and are determined to negotiate a solution which is beneficial to the working conditions of staff and the learning conditions of students.

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