Staff on strike: question and answer session

Senior Lecturer speaks out about strike action

Today, Exeter University lecturers participated in a two-hour strike which ended in a 12pm lunch at the Dinosaur Cafe.

Barrie Cooper, senior lecturer and branch secretary for UCU at the University, said: “It was either here or the Imperial, but we didn’t want to give off the wrong impression!”

We grabbed Barrie for a quick Q and A.

What is the strike for?

We’re campaigning for fair pay. In the last five years, employees in the higher education sector have seen their salaries cut by around 13%, causing our living standards to decline. The sector has vast surpluses it’s choosing not to spend on staff salaries. We know from newspaper reports that those at the top have been getting large increases in the last year – for example, the average Vice Chancellor’s pay has gone up by 8% and they have the check to give us only a 1% pay off payment.

So it’s about making sure there’s a fair discussion about our pay. Universities have imposed a 1% increase for this year, which is below inflation, but are refusing to negotiate further.

The Guild had a statement that indicated they were in support of all parties working towards a solution – is the Guild in support of the strike?

The Guild want everyone to get back round the table and talk things through, but will remain neutral at Exeter. Thats what our message is for, though – we’re campaigning to get back in negotiations.

How long will you hold strikes for?

We had two one day strikes in October and December, and plan to hold three two hour strikes over the next month. Pay negotiations broke down at the end of last summer, and since then UCEA have refused to improve their offer. All we can do is come out and make our voice heard.

Would you say students should get involved if they’re in agreement with the strikes?

Yes, it would be the easiest way to resolving the dispute and ensuring we get a fair deal.

How long will you continue to hold strikes for?

This action is a step up from one day strikes, now we’ll be holding more or less weekly strikes. We need to be prepared to keep that action going and keep escalating things if employers aren’t coming back to the table. It’s important we don’t end up in this cycle of repeated below inflation offers meaning our living standards are being eroded day on day. Who knows where our action will lead?

Staff assemble in The Dinosaur Cafe