Fourth week of strikes: employers back at the negotiating table

Adam Price AM
strikes 13.3.jpg
Adam Price AM

By Emma Videan

This week, beginning 12th March 2018, is the final week of the University and College Union strike that has affected 4 weeks of teaching at Cardiff University and many other universities across the country. The strike, as previously reported by the Gair Rhydd, was put into effect due to the extreme pension cuts of lecturers that employers had announced.

So far, the UCU strikers have forced employers back to the negotiating table, as well as pressuring Cardiff University Vice-Chancellor Colin Riordan to join the growing number of ‘dissident’ University managers supporting their cause. The new pension scheme would cause staff to loose between 40% and 60% of their pensions. Financial experts have, however, shown that the employer’s proposals, and claims of a huge pension deficit, are based on flawed assumptions and poor methodology, and are based on an overly severe assessment of financial risk.

Participation in the strike has been extraordinary, with many thousands of teaching hours cancelled. Despite the disruption, over 6,500 Cardiff students have now signed a petition in support of University staff, urging Professor Riordan to work to settle the dispute and compensate them. After a grilling by employees in a tense Question Time session, the Cardiff University chief softened his previous hardline stance on the issue.

During the grilling, Sam Veal, the creator of the 6,500 signature petition, asked why he had never heard back from the vice-chancellor. Professor Riordan apologised saying that they had now drafted a response and that there are attempts being made to reply to all staff and students. He then went on to explain that the university wants to ensure that students will demonstrate that they have been able to achieve their potential learning outcomes.

Cardiff UCU is now calling on Riordan to: fully back the retention of fair and just pension scheme for employees; withdraw threats to punitively dock pay of staff taking “action short of a strike”; and not to deduct pay from striking workers on their return to work because of lack of due diligence in accepting a faulty valuation of their pension in the first place.

Cardiff UCU Vice-Chair Paul Brennan said: “We’re pleased our strike action has forced our employers back to the negotiating table, and pressured the Cardiff University Vice Chancellor to join other University bosses across the country in backing his staff.

“Work at four Welsh Universities has ground to a halt, and the learning of many thousands of students in Wales is being disrupted. The UCU, both in Wales and the wider UK, is committed to resolving this dispute, and many Welsh Assembly Members and MPs are fully behind our cause.

“The Welsh Government has stepped in on behalf of workers before, and this dispute is affecting some of the biggest employers in the country. We call on the Welsh Labour Government to back us, and help end this dispute fairly, and in a way which guarantees our pensions and our students’ education.”

On Tuesday 13th March, hundreds of staff and students have planned to lobby politicians at the National Assembly for Wales. They will appeal to the Welsh Government to use its influence with Welsh Universities, and employers’ organization Universities UK, to end a month-long strike and guarantee fair incomes in retirement for employees.

After a morning of picketing, members of the University and College Union (UCU), along with supportive students, will demonstrate outside the Senedd at 12 noon. They will then meet Welsh lawmakers to appeal for support in their bitter dispute, in an event hosted by Welsh Labour AMs Julie Morgan and Jenny Rathbone. They will urge the Welsh Labour Government to step in and support Welsh workers against this attack on decent pensions.

They have also gained backing from Welsh politicians across parties. Cardiff UCU currently has the support of: Labour’s Jo Stevens MP, Anna McMorrin MP, Kevin Brennan MP, Carolyn Harris MP, Stephen Doughty MP, Mick Antoniw AM, Julie Morgan AM, and Jenny Rathbone AM; Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood AM, Adam Price AM, Bethan Sayed AM, and Llyr Gruffydd AM; and the independent AM, Neil McEvoy.

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