Unison members out on strike as new term gets under way

Union members begin walkouts at 16 universities amid calls for higher wage rises due to cost-of-living crisis

September 20, 2022
Strike placards

Strikes by university administrators, cleaners and other non-academic staff members have begun at UK universities, to coincide with the start of the academic year.

Unison members voted to walk out after rejecting a pay rise offer of just over 3 per cent for most workers, rising to 9 per cent for those on the lowest pay bands.

The union – alongside other higher education unions – have called for a wage increase of 2 per cent plus inflation to help staff cope with the rising cost of living.

One-, two- or three- days strikes are taking place at 16 universities in September and October, starting from 20 September with Edinburgh Napier and Robert Gordon universities, and the universities of Glasgow and Winchester.

The universities of Bristol and Leeds, Manchester Metropolitan University and King’s College London will all be affected as students return to classes following the summer break.

Mike Short, Unison’s head of education, said staff had “reached breaking point and have little choice but to strike”.

“For years, they’ve watched wages slip further behind living costs. Now huge price increases threaten to push many over the edge,” he added.

“Staff want to work in higher education. But if their highly paid university bosses don’t award them a fair pay increase, many are likely to head off for better paid jobs in other parts of the economy.”

Unison balloted 20,000 members at 94 branches but only 22 achieved a mandate for action. University leaders have previously said Unison members are among those most likely to be receiving the higher 9 per cent pay rise because they are more likely to be among the lowest paid currently.

The action comes as the University and College Union continues its own ballot on whether to call further strikes over the pay offer and other grievances, with thousands of academics at 150 universities taking part.

Unlike the Unison ballot, the vote is aggregated, meaning that if the union achieves more than 50 per cent turnout and the majority vote “yes”, all branches will have secured a mandate for action that could lead to much more widespread strikes than seen previously.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) implemented the pay rise in August despite the lack of agreement from the unions.

Its chief executive, Raj Jethwa, previously said “isolated strike action over already awarded pay may simply hurt students and staff for no obvious outcome”.


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