THREE consecutive days of strike action hitting 58 universities begin this morning after university bosses and their representatives refused to withdraw pension cuts or address falling pay and worsening working conditions.
After notifying vice chancellors that staff would take strike action unless they saw movement, their union, the University College Union (UCU), continued to meet with employers Universities UK (UUK) over pension cuts, but UUK refused to reverse them.
On pay and working conditions, meanwhile, employers, represented by the University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) still won’t meet without preconditions, and refuse to engage in agreeing action plans that would address widespread casualisation, excessive workloads and pay inequalities. UCEA has also refused to move on another below inflation pay offer for staff.
Last month, UCU members at 58 institutions backed strike action in two separate ballots, one over pension cuts and one over pay and working conditions.
Research by the National Union of Students shows 73% of students support university staff taking strike action. 42 branches that just failed to meet the Conservative anti-trade union threshold of 50% are being reballoted to join escalating action next year.
The USS trustees’ own modelling shows that a typical member will see a 36% pension cut.
Staff pay has fallen by 20% after twelve years of below inflation pay offers whilst almost 90,000 academic and academic-related staff are employed on insecure contracts.
The gender pay gap in UK universities sits at 15%, while the disability pay gap is 9% and the race pay gap is 17%, staff are also experiencing a crisis of work-related stress with over half showing probable signs of depression.
To resolve the pension dispute UCU is demanding employers revoke their pensions cuts. To resolve the pay and working conditions dispute UCU is demanding a £2.5k pay increase for all staff, as well as action to tackle unmanageable workloads, pay inequality and insecure contracts that blight the sector.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘It is deeply regrettable that staff have been forced into taking industrial action again, but sadly university bosses have shown little interest in negotiating in good faith and addressing the serious concerns of staff over falling pay, massive pension cuts, equality pay gaps and the rampant use of insecure contracts.
‘We are grateful to all the students who are supporting staff taking industrial action because they understand that staff working conditions are student learning conditions. Vice-chancellors now need to concentrate on asking themselves why strikes have become an annual occurrence and seek to resolve this dispute in order to avoid more needless disruption to learning.
‘If they continue to ignore the modest demands of staff then we will be forced to take further industrial action in the new year, which even more branches will join.’