Royal Historical Society Statement on UCU Industrial Action

This news item was originally published on 25 November 2019. It was updated on 19 February 2020 to provide updated information about the second wave of strike action scheduled for February and March 2020.

In autumn 2019, members of the University and College Union (UCU) voted in favour of industrial action, with branches at 60 Universities reaching the 50% support threshold.  Following a further ballot of members in early 2020, UCU announced on 3 February 2020 that seventy-four UK universities would undertake 14 days of strike action in February and March, after more institutions reached the 50% threshold.

The action centres on two disputes: 1) a dispute over changes to the USS pensions scheme (79% of UCU members who voted did so in favour of industrial action on this ballot) and 2) a dispute over pay, equality, casualisation and workloads (74% in favour of strike action). Collectively, these are being described as the “Four Fights”.

A second round of strike action is scheduled to take place on the following dates:

  • 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

Several universities have agreed local variations of these dates with UCU. At UCL, where RHS is physically based, Thursday 20 & Friday 21 are not strike days, however Thursday 19 & Friday 20 March are strike days at UCL, and thus will have a picket.

In addition, many UCU members are continuing to undertake ‘action short of a strike’.

The Royal Historical Society (RHS) has members on both sides of this dispute, members who work at universities that did not reach the required threshold for industrial action, members who are not unionised or who belong to unions not engaged in this dispute, international members, and members outside higher education.  In this context and as a registered UK charity that is not itself a party to this dispute, the Royal Historical Society does not take a declared position with respect to this industrial action. However, the RHS strongly supports members’ legal and moral right to undertake strike action, and accepts that aspects of our own work – the vast majority of which is undertaken by volunteers – may be delayed or interrupted during this time.

As previously, many members of the RHS Council will be participating in strike action. Our final committee and Council meetings for 2019 as well as the Society’s AGM were initially scheduled for 29 November, during the strike period.  By a strong majority, Council voted to move these meetings to 6 December 2019, after the strike ended.  This decision ensured that the Society meets its legal obligations to the Charity Commission whilst avoiding any necessity for Council members or seconded committee members to cross a picket line.

RHS staff, as employees of a registered charity that is not a university or college, are not eligible for membership in UCU.  The RHS office is however physically located at UCL, one of the 60 universities participating in the UCU strike.  All RHS staff have been offered the option for the duration of the strike to work from home without any prejudice should they wish to do so.  Likewise, RHS staff who choose to attend work at UCL during the dispute can do so without any prejudice. RHS Members wishing to access the RHS office during the dispute are advised that there will be pickets at the UCL entrances, and as is ordinarily the case, they are advised to call or email in advance to check that the office will be open at the time of their intended visit.

Questions from the RHS membership on this matter should be directed to rescommsofficer@royalhistsoc.org.

More information:

More information about the two disputes can be found on the UCU website.

The employers’ (UUK) perspective on the pensions dispute can be found on the UUK website.

The employers’ (UCEA) perspective on the dispute on pay and conditions can be found on the UCEA website.