Campus staff strikes: everything you need to know
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The University and College Union (UCU) announced on 3 February that universities will strike in early 2020 for the second time in six months.
According to the UCU website, the strikes “will start on Thursday 20 February and escalate each week, culminating with a week-long walkout from Monday 9 to Friday 13 March.”
Students at the University of Kent interviewed by InQuire worry what this will mean by way of their lectures, exams, and marking.
A student who requested to stay anonymous said: “It’s just frustrating. We pay over 9,000 pounds to the University, but we don’t get reimbursed for the hundreds of pounds lost during the strikes.”
“I want the staff to be paid well and have proper working conditions,” another anonymous student assured, “but I wish that the university could listen to their demands without it affecting the students who want to do well.”
Students noted that there was little communication after the strikes ended concerning the resolution or lack thereof of their disputes.
InQuire reached out to Roger Giner-Sorolla, Professor of Social Psychology, to find out more about the upcoming industrial action.
Professor Giner-Sorolla, when asked to explain the issues faced by staff to prompt the strikes last year, explained that “we are looking at a pay package that has not kept pace with inflation over ten years, that is further being eroded by increases in pension contributions, and that is poor compared to academic salaries in other countries.”
He also mentioned how the University has lost staff to private institutions that offered higher salaries. InQuire asked him to elaborate on the concept of “poor working conditions”. He highlighted the two-year contracts that provide little long-term stability for staff, pay gaps between male and female staffers, salaries that have not been updated to keep up with inflation over the past decade, and over-40-hour work weeks resulting in occupational health referrals for stress skyrocketing at Kent over the past 5 years. The UCU website states that UKC will not be protesting pensions at the upcoming strike, but this is merely due to the fact that votes fell short of the 50% participation threshold. InQuire asked Professor Giner-Sorolla to shed some light on what happened between December 2019 and now. He stated the employers made “few meaningful concessions,” with no improvements to pay. “Recommendations” were made to institutions, with no mandatory enforcement of them. He also clarified that the pay issue is a national one and the University cannot make a decision to raise salaries independently. They can, however, follow in the footsteps of Bristol University to improve gender pay-gap issues. Giner-Sorolla made clear that the Union is unhappy to be disrupting the students’ education. “If we do not do this now, conditions in the sector will get worse and the effects will ultimately be felt by students, who will be worse taught, worse supported, and will have to rely on people working under a load of stress, as is happening now.” He also advised students to voice their discontent to the University board, as otherwise, they will profit from two weeks of salaries being paid out. Both students and staff will continue to suffer.
InQuire also spoke to an anonymous source within the School of English about why they were striking, and how they felt concerning the effects on the students. They spoke about how difficult it is to reconcile with the impact the strikes will have on students, but also mentioned how students will be affected by similar issues in the future if they are not resolved now. “[The £9,250 fees] haven't led to better conditions for staff and students at universities. They have led to overworked staff, which in turn has a detrimental effect on students. In choosing to go on strike, I am also fighting for the working conditions and fair pay in all sectors of work, which my students will go into upon graduation.” They also mentioned 300 staffers being made redundant in addition to 250 “voluntary redundancies” over the next three years, a worrying prospect for students under the impression that a university qualification would provide better job stability.