University staff are voting on whether they should strike this term

The dispute surrounds poor pay and pensions

University staff around the UK will vote on whether or not they should strike this term following a dispute over pay and pensions.

Earlier this month, University and College Union (UCU) general secretary Jo Grady said that strikes were now “inevitable” after talks broke down with university employers.

Unsafe workloads, equality failings and the casualisation of contracts are also reasons behind the proposed strike, UCU say.

At a meeting last month Universities UK (UUK), the body that regulates universities, voted to cut staff pensions leaving many out of pocket.

While Universities UK raised alternative proposals, these were dismissed. Pay for university staff has also decreased significantly, by 20 per cent between 2009 and 2019.

The gender pay gap currently sits at 15.5 per cent while under a third of professors in the UK are women and just one per cent are black.

UCU is therefore demanding: “A £2.5k pay increase; an end to race and gender pay injustice; a framework eliminate the use of precarious contracts, such as zero-hours employment; and meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “University staff propped up the entire sector during the pandemic, but they are now being thanked with huge cuts to their pensions, unbearably high workloads, and another below-inflation pay offer – all whilst universities continue to generate a handsome income from tuition fees.

“The truth is that very well paid university leadership, who manage institutions with bigger turnovers than top football clubs, are choosing to exploit the goodwill of staff, repeatedly refusing to address the rampant use of casualised contracts, unsafe workloads or the shocking gender and ethnicity pay gap in the sector.

“Our members across the UK know that working in a university does not have to be like this and are clear that they are ready to take action to stand up for their dignity, defend pensions and win long overdue improvements to their pay and working conditions. There is still time for university chiefs to resolve a situation which is entirely of their own making, but they must return to negotiations and make credible offers.”

The National Union of students has also come out in support of the vote. NUS national president Larissa Kennedy said: “As students, we regularly witness how staff and student’s conditions are intertwined.

“University management forcing staff onto casualised contracts, cutting their pay, and now trying to cut thousands of pounds from their pensions cannot be divorced from the fact that one in 10 students has needed to access a foodbank to survive the pandemic – these aren’t the actions of a university leadership or an education system that have the interests of staff or students at heart.

“Staff working conditions are student learning conditions and we stand shoulder to shoulder with our educators in fighting for a more just education system. We demand fully funded, accessible, lifelong education where our spaces of teaching and learning belong to the students, staff and communities they exist to serve.

“Until then, it is entirely in the gift of vice chancellors and employers to come to a negotiated settlement and address the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by staff. If they don’t, students will hold employers responsible.”

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