Working Conditions, Pay Gaps: University of Kent Staff on Strike

Image courtesy of InQuire Photography | George Knight

The University and Colleges Union (UCU), the main union representing the majority of academic staff in the United Kingdon, announced on the 5 November that they will be engaging in strike action across 60 UK univerisites.

The strike is expected to last right working-days, beginning on Monday 25 November and lasting until Wednesday 4 December.

UCU members will be engaging in “action short of a strike” which includes such things as refusing to work outside of contracted hours and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.

At Kent, staff have said they only intend to strike over working condi- tions as they were unable to reach the fifty per cent majority required to strike over the changes to the pension scheme.

Many staff cite issues surrounding the failure of universities to increase pay in line with inflation, with many pointing out that since 2009 this has led to a net pay loss of 20.8% for academic staff.

Statistics published by UCU also claim 78% of staff work more hours than they are contracted; and that 73% of staff feel they do not have enough time to complete their marking within paid hours.

Furthermore, some PhD students only receive one hour of paid time to plan for seminars.

The gender pay gap is rife at UK universities, nine out of ten univer- sities pay their male employees more on average according to a BBC investigation. The University of Kent has a pay gap of 13.7% in favour of men.

Moreover, students might wonder where their money is actually go- ing, if not into staff pay, despite the recent tripling in university fees. Vice-Chancellor, Karen Cox, is reported to be taking home £277,100 a year, while each of the six members of the executive group are said to earn £100,000 each.

Despite these high rates of pay, the University has made cuts among admin services and introduced pay freezes and pay reductions.

InQuire spoke to three professors on the condition of anonymity and found they all had differing views toward the strikes.

Two were on the side of the strikes, one of which said that as they taught a foreign language module, they did not think it was appropriate for them to not provide students with lessons, given the nature of the course. This professor also said they viewed the university as a business and that students should receive the hours which they pay for. They went on to say they also viewed strike action as an outdated way to protest for reform.

The other two staff members however were very sympathetic to the strike action. They mentioned planning to take part in the strike them- selves. They were keen to point out that the strike action was not for the detriment of students but rather necessary to change the working conditions which staff face.

One of the staff members, a PhD student, was keen to point out that striking will result in a pay loss for them but they feel the reasons for doing so outweigh the costs. They also argued that the strikes are not only for the benefit of academic staff.

The salaries of the people who help keep universities going such as the cleaning staff and library support, are both equally stagnant and important to that of the academic staff.

On 21 November, Kent Union released a statement in support of the strike action, after a vote by the Union Executive Committee.

“We stand in solidarity with UCU and staff striking, including post- graduate students who teach. We recognise the seriousness of the cur- rent situation for staff and are committed to supporting the aims of the strike in fighting for fair pay and tackling race and gender pay gaps as well as the casualisation of staff,” Kent Union stated on their official statement.

On the effects of strike action for students, Kent Union stated: “we commit to working towards mitigating the implications and effects on students’ education, access and welfare in this time, including actively lobbying for students to receive fair compensation”.

This article is part of our one-off edition of IQ Magazine, out from November the 29th 2019. Pick up the magazine on campus in our InQuire distribution bins in Keynes, Co-op, the Templeman library and other locations on campus.