By Lara Holly Gibbs, MA Gender Studies
Monday 14 February marked the start of 10 days of industrial action this term. The action was announced by UCU SOAS and described as the ‘most sustained and ambitious period of industrial action’ in their history. UNISON called for strike action across the final 5 days. The strike was carried out from 14-18 February, 21-22 February and 28 February until 2 March.
“since 2009 there has been a 20% pay drop”
Staff at SOAS were striking for five key reasons; cuts to pensions, cuts to pay, precarious employment, pay inequality, and unsafe workloads. According to UCU, UNISON, and SOAS Students’ Union, ‘the average worker on the USS pension scheme is set to lose around 35% of their pension.’ They went on to explain that this will either lead to poverty in retirement or not being able to retire. In terms of pay cuts, the three unions state that since 2009 there has been a 20% pay drop. In addition, they state that there is a 9% ethnicity pay gap as well as a gender pay gap of 14.8%.
A series of teach outs and events took place on the picket line over the course of the strike. Including talks on decolonising SOAS, reading groups, and a Justice for Workers rally. A booklet created by UCU, UNISON, and the Students’ Union suggested ways students could support the strike. They asked students not to cross the picket line, but instead use off-campus facilities and join the picket line activities. They also suggested alternative study and faith spaces.
SOAS Deputy Director and Provost, Claire Ozanne, addressed students in an email. Ozanne spoke of aims to reduce the impact of the strike by extending deadlines that fell within the strike period and moving all teaching online on strike days. In addition, attendance was not recorded during the strike.
In a statement on the strike action, SOAS said ‘We have made clear to the SOAS community that we are disappointed that strike action has been called.
‘At SOAS, the executive team do not have the power to change the outcomes of the national discussions. Changing the outcome is beyond the power of any individual executive team in HE in the UK. We are committed to the principle of fair remuneration and a decent pension for all of our staff, as we set out in our position on USS and to UUK. But strike action at SOAS cannot change the circumstances we all face, which have to be resolved at national level.
‘In place of this industrial action, we would wish to see continued national discussion and resolution to reach agreement in the interests of staff and students. However, we do recognise the right of staff to take properly constituted action. At the same time, we seek to do all we can to support our students’ learning and progression.
‘We are especially focused on protecting the learning and wider student experience throughout the course of this dispute.
‘Our overall approach is to mitigate the impact of industrial action to ensure that students can successfully progress and complete their studies.’
Photo Caption: Posters lined the picket reminding passers by of the reasons behind the strikes (Credit: Lara Holly Gibbs).