Sunday, February 25, 2024

More disruption for students as Uni’s set to strike

The University of Lincoln and Bishop Grosseteste University could join the biggest ever higher education strike in the UK, as over 70,000 staff at 150 universities will strike for three days later this month over attacks on pay, working conditions and pensions.

The National Union of Students (NUS) has backed the strikes, which will be the biggest ever to hit UK universities and could impact 2.5 million students.

UCU said disruption can be avoided if employers act fast and make improved offers. If they don’t, strike action will escalate in the New Year alongside a marking and assessment boycott.

The full strike dates in November are:

  • Thursday 24 November
  • Friday 25 November
  • Wednesday 30 November.

Staff will also begin industrial action short of strike action from Wednesday 23 November, which includes working to rule, refusing to make up work lost as a result of strike action and refusing to cover for absent colleagues.

The strikes come after UCU members overwhelmingly voted ‘yes’ to industrial action last month in two historic national ballots over attacks on pay and working conditions as well as pension cuts. Despite the result, vice-chancellors have not made any improved offers.

In the pay and working conditions dispute, the union’s demands include a meaningful pay rise to deal with the cost-of-living crisis and action to end the use of insecure contracts. Employers imposed a pay rise worth just 3% this year following over a decade of below inflation pay awards. A third of academic staff are on some form of temporary contract.

In the pension dispute, UCU is demanding employers revoke the cuts and restore benefits. The package of cuts made earlier this year will see the average member lose 35% from their guaranteed future retirement income. For those at the beginning of their careers the losses are in the hundreds of thousands of pounds.

The UK university sector generated record income of £41.1bn last year with vice chancellors collectively earning an estimated £45million. UCU said the sector can more than afford to meet staff demands.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘Campuses across the UK are about to experience strike action on a scale never seen before. 70,000 staff will walk out and make clear they refuse to accept falling pay, cuts to pensions and insecure employment.

‘This is not a dispute about affordability – it is about choices. 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.

‘UCU members do not want to strike but are doing so to save the sector and win dignity at work. This dispute has the mass support of students because they know their learning conditions are our members’ working conditions.

‘If university vice-chancellors don’t get serious, our message is simple – this bout of strike action will be just the beginning.’

NUS vice president higher education Chloe Field said: ‘Students stand in solidarity with the 70,000 university staff across the UK who will strike later this month. Staff teaching conditions are students’ learning conditions, and we must fight together for a fairer, healthier education system for everyone who works and studies.

‘This is the fifth year in a row that government cuts to education and workers’ rights have resulted in strike action on our campuses. In that time, staff and students have stood together in the fight for better pay and conditions for all university staff, including the thousands of postgraduate students on increasingly casualised contracts.

‘The struggles we face as students are inextricably linked to the reasons that staff are striking. High rents, astronomical international student fees, and cuts to maintenance support have happened for the same reasons that staff are suffering under huge workloads – the failed marketisation of the sector which has put profit above staff and student well-being.

‘Universities and employers must come to the table and take meaningful action to end these disputes. They have a responsibility to their staff and students to end unacceptable pay disparities for racialised staff, disabled staff, and women, and to protect staff pensions to that they can have a decent retirement. As the workers of the future, students have everything to gain from UCU members winning this fight.’

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