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18 Days of University Strikes to come as Vice Chancellors Laugh off Workers’ Demands

By Archie Thomas – BA Politics and International Relations

University staff will go on strike for 18 days between February and March after vice-chancellors refused to meet demands over pay, conditions, and pensions. This round of strikes called by the UCU (University and College Union) will see 70,000 staff from 150 universities across the UK, including SOAS, take to the picket line. The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) have ‘laughed off’ the demands branding them an ‘April fool’s joke’.

UCU’s demands span many areas. On pay, staff are demanding a rise of 2% above RPI (retail price index) inflation. RPI is currently around 13.8%. University staff are also wanting an end to the use of insecure contracts in the sector. Currently, around 90,000 university workers are on temporary contracts; many have to reapply for their jobs every year. Pay gaps are also an issue, with a 16% gender pay gap, a 17% race pay gap, and a 9% disability pay gap. Another issue is pensions; last year, the average university worker had their retirement income cut by 35%.

The first confirmed date for this round of industrial action is Wednesday 1st  February. Joining four other unions on the Trades Union Congress’  ‘Protect the

Right to Strike’ day. Designed to bring maximum disruption and resist the Government’s plans to introduce new anti-strike legislation. The UCU has also committed to a marking boycott from April onwards, disrupting summer graduations. All 18 days of strikes are listed below:

Week 1 – Wednesday 1 February  

Week 2 – Thursday 9 and Friday 10 February 

Week 3 – Tuesday 14, Wednesday 15, and Thursday 16 February 

Week 4 – Tuesday 21, Wednesday 22, and Thursday 23 February 

Week 5 – Monday 27 and Tuesday 28 February and Wednesday 1 and Thursday 2 March 

Week 6 – Thursday 16 and Friday 17 March 

Week 7 – Monday 20, Tuesday 21, and Wednesday 22 March

On the 19th of January, the joint unions representing university staff (UCU, EIS, GMB, UNISON, and Unite) met with the UCEA for negotiations. The UCEA made an offer of up to a 7% pay increase and a minimum of 5% for those earning up to £51,000. The UCEA claim that their offer ‘recognises that cost-of-living pressures fall disproportionately on the lower paid staff,’ adding that ‘these are significant financial risks for many HEIs [higher education institutions] who are unable to forecast with certainty their income for 2023-24’. The association that represents university employers also criticised the fact that tuition fees have not risen. UK universities have £40 billion held in reserves and have recently spent £3.4 billion on new buildings.

‘demand for an inflation matching pay offer was labelled an “April Fools’ joke” by vice-chancellor body UCEA’

UCU general secretary Jo Grady responded to the pay negotiations by saying that: ‘[the] UCU went into pay negotiations yesterday hoping university employers would look for ways to help staff through the cost of living crisis. Instead, our union’s demand for an inflation matching pay offer was labelled an ‘April Fools’ joke’ by vice-chancellor body UCEA. Employers might find over a decade of falling wages a laughing matter, but we don’t, and nor will the students who are faced with the prospect of 18 days of strike action in February and March.’ In a tweet, the UCU pointed out that while staff pay has fallen by 25%, the average vice-chancellor has seen an increase in pay of £315,000.

This new round of industrial action follows a three-day walkout in November which was the largest-ever higher education strike. It also comes in the context of an unrelenting wave of strikes across sectors. This wave of strikes is a result of 14% inflation and stagnant wages in many sectors since the 2008 financial crisis. Additionally, the casualisation of work and privatisation of public services are also issues of contention. In response to these strikes, Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government has sought to introduce more severe anti-union measures, despite the UK already having some of the strictest anti-union laws in Europe.

University strikes will take place between February and March, and marking boycotts after April unless unions and university vice-chancellors can come to a settlement.

Photo Caption: University staff on strike back in November (Photo Credit: Sam Landis)

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