University and Colleges Union

Pay dispute

Strike on 7th March 2006 + Exams Boycott and other action from 8 March

(See also the AUT HQ information on the strike)
Introduction | Strike FAQ | Messages of support | Reply to Provost | See also


Action short of a strike, including a boycott of examinations and assessment, started on March 8th.

Employers offer 3% while raking in cash

After promising "substantial" increases this year - but not yet - the employers organisation UCEA met on March 24 with the other unions (but not AUT and NATFHE) and offered...

... 6% over two years - i.e. 3% pa, exactly the same as in previous years!

They have the money

Universities will gain an extra £3.5bn in the next three years from tuition fees and other government support. But College bosses want to keep it for themselves.

University VCs gave themselves an average increase of 25% over the three years 2001-04.

In 2003 UCL paid £3.5m to just 20 'Top Staff' earning over £150,000. In 2004 UCL paid £14.5m to 60 staff in the same category.

Why are we taking action?

Over the last 30 years, university staff have delivered huge increases in productivity. Lecturers used to teach an average of 9 students. Now we teach an average of 21.

As befits a research-intensive institution, UCL staff carry out long hours of research on top of their teaching to maintain departmental RAE ratings. The programme of 15% cuts launched by the Provost will make matters worse for students and staff. Workloads are going through the roof.

Meanwhile, pay has been effectively frozen. Real costs of living have gone up, especially in London and the South East, but pay has risen at about 3% a year for a decade.

With new money coming into the sector, staff know they have to fight for their share.

Can this dispute be resolved?

Yes. Industrial action is always the last resort for any union. AUT and NATFHE are no exception. We are committed to a negotiated settlement.

Our members are very angry. They voted 4:1 for the exams and assessment boycott, knowing it would be difficult. We have spent our careers delivering education to students.

The college employers provoked this dispute by refusing to talk while grabbing the money for themselves.

What is at stake?

The dispute is about staff pay.

But we know that the stakes are extremely high.

Time and again, university staff and their trade unions have united with students to defend Higher Education from cuts. We are the first line of defence.

All we ask is that you support us over our pay.

AUT members across the country voted 64% for strike action and 81% for action short of a strike.

What does the "action short of a strike" consist of?

Beginning on 8 March 2006, in the following areas:

Detailed guidance about the involvement of members in each type of action is given here.

Staff are asked to observe the hours for which they are paid and not to take on duties arising from the action. This includes respecting colleagues' participation in the action (e.g., not marking a colleague's examination) and limiting our usual excessive workloads.

Information for students

UCL Students Union recently passed a resolution in support of the Action Short of a Strike.

Latest leaflet for students (PDF)
A pro-forma letter to students that you might wish to use is here.

“Our decision to take industrial action has not been taken lightly. The employers have had months to stop this happening and even after our resounding mandate from members they still haven’t made us a pay offer. I am extremely saddened that it has got this far and can fully understand the fears and frustration of students and their parents. How the employers can claim their staff and their students are so important to them and then treat both so shabbily is beyond me. The universities are gambling disgracefully with students’ futures and I would ask them to think again and at last offer serious negotiations without pre-conditions.

For our part AUT and NATFHE are committed to a negotiated solution. If the employers do now finally actually come up with an offer that meets our claim there will be no need for industrial action.” - Sally Hunt, AUT General Secretary

article: Talk now to end the dispute, AUT tells employers


Over the last two decades, salaries in Higher Education have fallen in real terms and even more significantly, relative to other professional staff groups. Compared to other groups such as GPs, university pay has declined by as much as 40% over 20 years. Even Tony Blair said in 2003 that "the shortfall in teaching funding has badly hit the salaries of academic staff, which have shown practically no increase over two decades."

article: what they said about our pay

This is also a fight to defend Higher Education provision.

Staff do not merely face derisory and diminishing pay. We have seen workloads go through the roof over the same two decades.

Now at UCL, we face a purge of 15% of all centrally-funded staff, from professors to technicians. UCL is one of the wealthiest institutions in the country, yet the Provost says staff should pay for government underfunding and the mistakes of his Senior Management Team.

But substantial new money is coming into the HE sector. Some of this comes from top-up fees. Some of it comes from the Full Economic Costing of research grants. Some of it comes from other government support. All in all, over the next three years, universities will receive some £3.5 billion.

There is enough money to stop the cuts, to pay decent salaries to staff, and provide bursaries to students. But we have to fight for our priorities - a properly funded Higher Education sector from which all can benefit.

Higher Education staff are very angry. This is why the ballot result was so solid. Now we have to turn that anger into action.

Strike FAQ

Am I breaking my contract by taking strike action?

Strike action is a breach of contact. However, the AUT has carried out statutory ballots and the action has been formally called. The law now protects workers from dismissal for taking part in lawful industrial action at any time within eight weeks within the start of the action. Dismissal for taking part in such action is automatically unfair.

How much pay will I lose?

In the past staff lost 1/365ths of their annual salary for each day on strike. The arrangement is that monies deducted from salaries through strike action go to the Student Hardship Fund, once the costs of any additional resources required to run essential services have been deducted.

Do I have to tell the College that I am on strike?

Yes, but not until after the action. You do not need to tell your manager beforehand, and the question could be construed as intimidation.

In the past heads of departments have asked staff after the strike day. You should inform your line manager or Head of Department afterwards if they forget to ask. The date given by HR for heads of department to supply information is simply to allow Payroll to deduct the days' pay from salaries.

For action short of a strike, have a meeting in the department to collectively agree what you will do and then inform your Head of Department. Let us know what you do decide.

What if I'm off sick or have pre-arranged paid leave?

In these circumstances you will not be deemed to have taken part in the strike and will not lose the 1 day’s pay.

What will AUT do if I do not strike?

The law does not allow AUT to discipline members who refuse to participate in the industrial action. Moreover we recognise that our members' conviction in the importance of our own action is one of our central strengths. The union will expect that members will abide by the decision of the majority given that AUT has carried out a legal and democratic ballot of its members. AUT members voted an overwhelming 64% in favour of the strike, with a turnout of over 50% of eligible members. Naturally all members of staff will benefit from any improvements negotiated as a result of the strike, whether they take part in it or not.

Can I give a talk at a location off-campus?

Please do not do so. We are allowing exceptions in extremis, for example, where a department is being externally evaluated by a professional body and rearranging is impossible.

Applying for a job elsewhere is not part of your normal duties, but speaking as a visiting lecturer elsewhere or doing a public lecture in your work capacity may well be part of your normal work.

We are calling on all our members to strike on the same day, 7 March. The reasons have been rehearsed a number of times, but it is worth emphasising that none of us are doing this lightly. This is an opportunity to force significant improvements in our pay and to put down a marker in the fight to defend jobs at UCL.

If the strike is solid, it will make our action short of a strike more effective. It will also make UCL realise staff are serious about defending jobs should the Provost go down the route of compulsory redundancies.

Our sister union Natfhe will be on strike alongside us. All members are encouraged to express their support for colleagues in other universities.

I voted for action short of a strike, but did not vote for the strike. On the other hand I don't feel happy about crossing picket lines.

Are you counted as having tried to turn up for work if you will not cross a picket line, or is this deemed to be striking? Am I bound to strike because it is a majority decision even though I voted against it?

The short answer is that any collective action, including a strike, is not done well by halves!

And if you do not come into work because you did not cross a picket line (whether a member of AUT or not) you will lose the day's pay for each day that you did not come into work.

It does boil down to straightforward democracy. We discuss the issues and we organise a ballot. In the event, over half of the union voted, and of those that voted, there was a 2:1 vote for a strike action, and a 4:1 vote for action short of a strike. If we call our members out on strike because the majority voted in favour, the democratic position is that we work together to make that strike a success. If we take collective action short of a strike we will need to ensure that this action is a success as well.

University staff are not weak. Our knowledge, expertise and hard work is what makes UCL function. If staff stand together over pay and make it clear that we will take industrial action in defence of jobs, we can stop the rot.

What about people who are not members of the AUT? Is it legal for them to strike if they are:
    a) not a member of any union
    b) a member of another union but do not want to cross an AUT picket line
If they choose to refuse to cross a picket line does this constitute strike action?

The answer to your questions are (a) yes and (b) yes.

Human Resources have stated in the past that they will treat every staff member the same for the purposes of the strike and workplace discipline. Ironically, the law does not allow them to discriminate against non-members of a union.

The law does allow sanction against union organisations if they call members out on strike without a ballot. In this case, the AUT ballotted its members and is calling its members out on strike.

As a result of this admirable non-discrimination position, every person who does not come into work on the day of a strike (whether a member of the union or not) will be treated as if they had heeded the strike call. Staff members who report themselves sick, or have booked annual leave, will not be deemed to be on strike.

Messages of Support

UCL Amicus

UCL Amicus Branch fully recognises the right of AUT members to take strike action in support of their dispute with the employers over the current round of pay negotiations. We also support their claim that a significant proportion of the income from top up fees should be used to improve the pay and conditions of university staff. Higher education pay has fallen by 40% in relative terms to our comparators in other sectors of the economy, and it is right that this should start to be addressed when this additional funding stream becomes available.

UCL Amicus Branch has requested that our members do not cover for work which would normally be done by a colleague taking part in the AUT's strike action.

Reply to Provost

On Friday 20 January, UCL Provost Malcolm Grant wrote to staff in an all-staff email.

In this email he stated that UCL would not be able to afford a significant pay rise in staff salaries, particularly given UCL's supposedly parlous finances. The implication is that the current AUT ballot over pay is unreasonable and the demands cannot be funded.

What he neglected to say was that the pay claim in question addresses the historic opportunity to raise salaries presented by around £3.4bn of new money coming into the UK HE sector.

His sums are simply wrong.

As can be seen below, the Provost is not unique. His letter to staff appears to be very similar to other "letters to staff" purporting to come from VCs. The same elementary errors and misrepresentations crop up in these texts time and again.

Below our letter to members is a summary of UCEA's myths and misrepresentations. A point-for-point rebuttal of UCEA's arguments is here.

Dear colleague

On Friday evening the Provost sent a letter to all staff regarding the current ballot for strike action. The timing of this letter, and its tone and content, are aimed at attempting to influence the current vote for national industrial action over next year's pay claim.

UCL AUT Executive Committee believes you can see through his arguments and asks you to vote Yes on both questions and return the ballot paper. Sadly it seems that only visible demonstrations of staff anger are sufficient to get through to our employers.

Sally Hunt, AUT General Secretary, will be speaking at a UCLAUT General Meeting on the pay campaign on Wednesday 1st February in the Darwin Lecture (entrance from Gower Street) at 1.00pm if you are undecided how to vote and wish to debate the issues involved.

Whereas the Provost has a free hand in emailing all staff, we can only communicate with our members. But do copy this to colleagues who are not in the AUT.

Whereas the Provost negotiates his own pay rise, the rest of us have to take collective action to do so. Our reluctance to take action in the past has seen our pay fall while Provosts and Vice Chancellors have emulated the private sector (see note 1 below).

As a result, in 2003, even Tony Blair said that "the shortfall in teaching funding has badly hit the salaries of academic staff, which have shown practically no increase over two decades."

This dispute is about addressing the long-term stagnation of our pay. New money is coming into the sector. Either university staff fight to claim their share of this money or it will disappear, to be spent at the whim of VCs and their Senior Management Teams.

The facts of the dispute are these.

  1. Last year the three unions representing professional staff in UK Higher Education, AUT, Natfhe and EIS, put in a joint pay claim. We asked the employers, UCEA, to respond by the end of November 2005. Following their failure to do so, AUT's national executive authrised an UK-wide national ballot on industrial action. As no acceptable offer has been made by the employers this is now going ahead.
  2. When VCs, including Malcolm Grant, lobbied the government to introduce top up fees, they used our pay as one of their main arguments to justify student fees. HE Minister Alan Johnson told MPs that vice-chancellors had told him that "at least a third of that money will be put back into the salaries and conditions of their staff". At UCL last week Alan Johnson was asked specifically who had made that pledge. He confirmed it was Universities UK.
  3. This year, college employers will have significant additional income, including top-up fees and some £2bn of additional government grants, by 2008/9 around £3.4bn, an estimated rise of 25% across the UK. The Provost's letter completely ignores this income:-

    "Assuming that increases of this order applied to all staff, this would add more than £50 million to our pay bill over the first three years, and over £21 million annually on an on-going basis. This is in the context of an operating budget that is presently in deficit."

The Provost has used UCL's 1.5% deficit to justify cutting 15% of staff posts. Now he wants to use it to justify not paying staff a wage rise.


UCLAUT Executive Committee


  1. Figures released by AUT to the media on 18 Jan 06 show that the vice-chancellors and principals on the UCEA board since 2001/02 have enjoyed, on average, a pay increase of 32.1 per cent over the last three years. The highest increase was a 35.6 per cent rise at the University of Aberdeen. During the same three-year period pay for academic staff has risen by just 9.44 per cent.
    On average the vice-chancellors and principals on the board earned £178,000 in 2004/05. A new lecturer can expect to earn, on average, less than £25,000 when they start their career. Academic salaries have declined by more than 40 per cent in the last 20 years, compared with average earnings, and the union is currently asking for a three year deal of around 20 per cent.

Summary of positions


  • The unions’ claim is misconceived and unduly in advance of when pay rates will next be subject to review.
  • No commitments have been given to Government about increased spending on staff, but a substantial proportion of new income in 2006-07 is very likely to be spent on employees’ pay and conditions.
  • The claim fails to recognise the considerable differences between HEIs in their expectations of new income in 2006-07.
  • There will be scope for negotiation on a reasonable timetable, taking account also of the pay claim yet to be submitted by the support staff unions, and with a realistic assessment of the financial realities for all HE institutions.


  • The money is there to afford salary improvement and student bursaries.
  • Universities lobbied for this money in part to pay for salary improvement and told the government that was what the fees were for.
  • Academic unions have submitted a realistic and affordable claim that would finally begin to raise salaries in universities.
  • We have always been ready to negotiate and it is only the failure of the employers to meet us until this point, coupled with their failure to demonstrate the will to achieve a negotiated settlement that has got us here.
  • UCEA have shown a cavalier attitude toward recent history and are demonstrating the same disregard for students and university staff alike.
  • For twenty years now, we have patiently delivered all the rises in productivity and workload that have been asked of us and all that time we have seen our pay decline in value by 40% relative to our professional colleagues.
  • Enough is enough. We cannot let VCs fob us off again. It’s time to make a stand for the profession.

Fact & Fiction: AUT's point-for-point rebuttal (PDF)
Pay campaign in brief (PDF)

See also

National AUT guidance on action short of a strike
National AUT website
(constantly updated)

UCL - No to 15% job cuts - Defend Higher Education

Return to UCL AUT Home Page. Enquiries to Rob Jones. Last updated 19 February, 2004