‘Solid’ support for strikes as staff rally over pay and pensions

Thousands walk out, but universities say they expect ‘low to medium’ levels of disruption

November 25, 2019
Source: Eleanor Bentall

The University and College Union reported a strong show of support on the picket lines as thousands of staff walked out over pensions, pay and conditions.

UCU said that turnout had been “solid” on the first of eight days of strike action, as rallies were held in cities around the UK and academics organised “teach-outs” for students.

More than 43,000 staff were eligible to strike after 60 institutions voted in favour of industrial action earlier this year. UCU said that 3,500 people had since joined the union, entitling them to strike as well.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “We have been receiving news of solid support for the strikes across the UK. That support sends a clear message to universities that staff will not settle for pay cuts, increased pension costs or deteriorating conditions.”

At the University of Bristol that support included the vice-chancellor Hugh Brady, who was seen on the picket line. It could be a further sign of university leaders starting to break ranks, after Anthony Forster, vice-chancellor of the University of Essex, said last week that his institution would be willing to pay more into pensions.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also tweeted that he stood with the striking staff. “University staff deserve fair pay, secure contracts, reasonable workloads and decent pensions. Labour will end the marketisation of education, and we’ll put staff and students first,” he wrote on Twitter.

However, employers have played down the effect on universities.

Helen Fairfoul, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association, highlighted that the action that UCU has called over the pay dispute “is running at around a third of the UK universities that are party to the national pay negotiations, so 90 of these universities are seeing no action at all”.

“We anticipate the impact will be mixed across the 57 universities where action has been called, as they vary greatly in the both the size of the institution and the UCU branch. Early reports from universities are of some low and some medium levels of disruption to teaching,” Ms Fairfoul said.

Universities UK said that institutions were “doing everything they can to ensure that students do not lose out”.

“Today we are reiterating our call to the union to focus its efforts on continuing talks to reach a joint and fair solution. It is in the best interests of students and all our staff that this dispute is resolved as soon as possible,” the organisation said.

However, Dr Grady said that if universities “continue to refuse to negotiate seriously, more action with even more people involved could be on the cards.”

If there is no resolution after the eight days of strikes, union members will begin action short of a strike, by working for contract and not covering for absent colleagues. UCU said further strikes would take place in the new year if “universities fail to make improved offers” and it was consulting with branches at other universities about being balloted again to join the action.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Employees on picket lines ‘fighting for future of higher education’

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