By Zoe Kramer
The University and College Union (UCU) has recently announced 14 days of non-consecutive strike action between February 20 to March 13. The industrial action is expected to escalate on a weekly basis if the Union’s demands for improved pay and working conditions are not met. Cardiff University is one of 74 universities across the UK affected by these strikes.
UCU General Secretary Jo Grady stated, “We have seen more members back strikes since the winter walkouts and this next wave of action will affect even more universities and students. If universities want to avoid further disruption they need to deal with rising pension costs, and address the problems over pay and conditions.
“We have been clear from the outset that we would take serious and sustained industrial action if that was what was needed. As well as the strikes starting later this month, we are going to ballot members to ensure that we have a fresh mandate for further action to cover the rest of the academic year if these disputes are not resolved.”
Cardiff UCU Media Spokesperson Andy Williams emphasized that the strikes are a result of what UCU perceive to be overwhelming workloads that are detrimental to mental health, as well as fixed-term teaching contracts, cutting of pay, rising pension costs, and gender and racial pay gaps, among other issues. He said, “All these things affect students as well, either directly or indirectly. Our working conditions are their learning conditions, and which student wants university workers to be overworked, constantly stressed out, underpaid, precariously-employed, or just paid less if they’re a woman or a person of colour?”
The strikes are an escalation from the week of strikes which occurred last semester from November 25 to December 4, which were seen as largely unsuccessful by UCU members. Following the last bout of industrial action, Universities UK (UUK), the body representing universities, met with UCU and negotiated an offer, but the Union felt that it fell short of their requests.
Williams added that “This is absolutely not what we want. In fact, these strikes can still be avoided if the Vice Chancellors decide to make us a sensible offer. But if the employers let these strikes go ahead, and then still don’t take their staff’s concerns seriously, there is every chance the dispute could escalate with things like marking boycotts, mass resignations of external examiners, and further strike ballots.”
Speaking to Gair Rhydd about the upcoming industrial action, a Cardiff University spokesperson said, “Whilst we fully respect the right of staff to take part in legal industrial action our priority is providing education for our students. The University cannot resolve these issues on its own. The University will remain open throughout the days of strike action and we will continue to do everything possible to minimise disruption to teaching and learning.”
Jackie Yip, Cardiff University Students’ Union President, also spoke to Gair Rhydd. She said, “[The SU] supports the forthcoming industrial action proposed by UCU. This mandate was democratically provided by students at the Annual General Meeting in November. I encourage all to respect and show support to those who will be on strike, many of those are fellow Post-Graduate students.
“Whilst the strike action takes place, the Students’ Union will continue our efforts in mitigating the effect on students. Any student concerned can contact Student Advice for independent advice and guidance throughout this time.”
In regards to how students are affected by the strikes, Williams said, “We’d say we’re really, genuinely sorry that students are bearing the brunt of this dispute, but to assure them that we just wouldn’t be doing this if we weren’t, collectively, at the end of our tether.
“As staff, we’ve been politely engaging with our bosses for years over these problems and things have only got worse. We have to take a stand now to begin to save Universities.”