University staff walk out for second strike

Lectures and seminars are likely to be cancelled across the UK as university staff hold a second national walk-out over pay.

December 3, 2013

Members of four unions operating in higher education – the University and College Union, Unite, Unison and EIS – will join picket lines across the UK on 3 December in protest at a “miserly” 1 per cent pay offer from employers.

It follows a day of action on 31 October, which was the first national strike by lecturers over pay since 2006.

Strike rallies are due to take place in 11 cities across the UK, including London, Leeds, Sheffield and Edinburgh.

One higher education institution, the University of West Scotland, has already announced that it will close for the day, the UCU has reported.

But the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which negotiates pay on behalf of institutions, sought to downplay the impact of the latest strike, saying October’s action “caused very limited disruption” as “less than 5 per cent of staff voted for industrial action”.

Only 6 per cent of staff took part in the October strike, with nine out of 10 institutions reporting “no to low” impact on their activities, it added. But UCU claimed it had effectively shut down at least five universities, including Liverpool Hope University and Liverpool St John Moores University.

The strike follows the failure of talks between unions and Ucea at the conciliation body Acas last week, with universities refusing to improve their 1 per cent offer.

“Nobody wants to take strike action and lose a day’s pay, but we feel we have been left with no alternative,” said Michael MacNeil, UCU head of bargaining.

“Staff…have seen their pay slashed in real terms since 2009 and this year’s miserly pay offer, at a time of rising bills, was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he added.

Unions are claiming five years of below-inflation pay rises, including several sub-1 per cent deals, have led to a 13 per cent pay cut in real terms over the past five years.

A spokesman for Ucea said “higher pay increases are neither affordable nor sustainable” and that most staff “have no wish to cause any disruption to their institutions, and especially their students” by striking.

With many staff receiving incremental pay increases, higher education salary bills were rising by 3 per cent on average, he added.

Universities’ strong surpluses, which currently stand at an all-time high, did not mean money was available for pay rises, he added.

“Surpluses are vital margins and needed to make up for cuts in capital funding so that institutions can reinvest in high quality teaching and research facilities for students and staff,” the spokesman said.

Lecturers in Scotland have been backed by students unions, with Gordon Maloney, president of NUS Scotland, calling for a “reasonable pay rise” for staff.

Calling for an improved pay offer, he added: “We’re clear that the disruption caused by this erosion of conditions is infinitely worse than one or two days of missed classes.”

jack.grove@tsleducation.com

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