18 December, 2019
Eight days of strike action began on Monday affecting over 60 universities throughout the UK as teaching staff take action over pensions, pay and working conditions. Alongside eight days of strikes, members of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) are taking other forms of industrial action including working strictly to contract, not covering absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures lost during strikes.
In an open letter to his students, Dr Alan Greene (Senior Lecturer in Public Law and Human Rights at the University of Birmingham) explained that with regard to salaries, pay has not kept up with inflation for the past 10 years. He states that someone at his stage in their career in 2010 was earning 17% more in real terms than he was today. He also points to significant pay gaps for women, disabled and black academic staff. On the issue of pensions, he states that a typical member will pay around £40,000 more into their pension, but receive almost £200,000 less in retirement, leaving them £240,000 worse off. Dr Greene also explains that many lecturers and teaching staff are on temporary contracts, creating a lack of stability and security for university staff. He stresses that he will be at a financial disadvantage as a result of striking as he will lose pay for each day he is on strike.
Overall, 79% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions. In the ballot on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads, 74% of members polled backed strike action. The UCU warned that if universities failed to make improved offers then strike action could continue into 2020.
Dr Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary states that the higher education sector had "made a lot of money over the past 10 years" but that spending on staff in that period had gone down and that there had been "an attack on working conditions in the sector".
Universities have stressed that strikes are not the way forward and have promised to take action to minimise the impact of industrial action on students.