Halloween strike aims to spook 'miserly' universities

Strike rallies will take place across the UK today during a one-day walkout by university staff over pay, with some universities already cancelling classes

October 31, 2013

Members of higher education’s three largest trade unions – the University and College Union, Unite and Unison – will join rallies in 21 towns and cities across the UK on 31 October after unions backed industrial action over a “miserly” 1 per cent pay offer.

Liverpool Hope University has cancelled classes.

Meetings are due to be held in Birmingham, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Exeter, Leeds, Leicester and Liverpool among others, as well as in central London.

Staff are also expected to join picket lines across the country in the first national walk-out by over pay since 2006.

A “teach-out” will also take place at Goldsmith, University of London, where academics will hold a series of public lectures for students outside the university’s library.

All three unions said they expect “widespread support” for the action, which will cause the cancellation of classes.

Union members claim their pay has been eroded by up to 15 per cent over the past four years following four successive below-inflation pay deals, while vice-chancellors’ pay has soared.

Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, who will be joining members on the picket line in London, said: “Taking strike action is never an easy decision, especially for those already struggling on low pay.”

He added: “With Christmas less than two months away losing a day’s pay is even harder, but it shows just how angry and upset our members feel at this miserly 1 per cent offer.”

Mike McCartney , Unite national officer for education, said members were taking this action “with a heavy heart”,  but they have endured a “five-year pay drought”.

“You have the curious scenario of highly-paid vice-chancellors at UK universities travelling the world extolling the merits of their universities to attract more foreign students,” he said.

“Yet, at the same time, our members, who underpin these highly regarded institutions of academic excellence, are treated with disdain when they ask for a decent pay rise, at a time when household bills, such as energy costs, are going through the roof,” he added.

Union leaders say they are still keen to resolve the dispute with 11th hour talks, but claim employers have been unwilling to enter meaningful talks with them.

“There is widespread anger over the pay cuts staff have had to endure in recent years and all the reports we are getting is that Thursday’s strike will be very well supported,” said Michael MacNeil, UCU head of higher education.

“We are amazed the employers are still refusing to sit down with us to try and resolve this without any need for disruption.”

A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which negotiates pay on behalf of its members, said it had met “repeatedly over the last six months and as recently as last week” to attempt to resolve the dispute.

He argued that incremental pay increases for higher education staff on the national pay spine will mean that salary costs in most HE institutions will actually rise by around 3 per cent this year, with the “increase on all pay points is just one element of the pay picture”.

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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Reader's comments (1)

These strikes are focused solely on pay freezes and minimal increases (real terms decreases). They take no account of the increasing causalisation of the academic labour force, the use of zero hours contracts (and the fear of being 'zeroed down') and the extent to which staff on such contracts are expected/compelled to undertake unpaid overtime. While universities might claim that zero hours contracts are being phased out, in reality minimum hours are only guaranteed just a week or two before teaching starts and only then for a very short period. One is still unable to properly plan one's finances and still in a position where attempts to negotiate better conditions, requests for payment for extra duties undertaken brings the fear of being 'zeroed down'. Sadly, those suffering most under the current system might not feel able to strike.

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