Zacchaeus Hayward/ Contributor
The University College Union (UCU) has announced 18 days of strike action across February and March, meaning more than 70,000 members of staff across 150 universities will walk out as part of a dispute over low pay, poor working conditions and cuts to members’ pensions – including several staff at Cardiff. This follows three days of strike action in November, prompted by a pay increase offer of just 3%, equivalent to a 6% real-terms pay cut. The UCEA (the body responsible for negotiating university staff’s pay) has made a revised pay offer in light of this upcoming action, an increase of between 4% and 5%. The UCU described this offer as falling “well short” of their demands in a press release on January 26th. The union’s General Secretary, Jo Grady, argued that the offer “will do little to protect our members in a cost-of-living crisis”.
Representatives from UCEA have supposedly likened the UCU’s conditions to an “April Fools’ joke” as negotiations continue.
The UCEA, by contrast, has claimed any increase in pay will put jobs at risk, and that this limits any offer they can make. Furthermore, the pay body has suggested that the structure of their proposed pay increase – which favours larger increases for those on the lowest salaries – is fair and equitable. Representatives from UCEA have supposedly likened the UCU’s conditions to an “April Fools’ joke” as negotiations continue. Grady has responded to this, saying that the current offer is not “the limit of what a sector with over £40bn in reserves can afford.”
Furthermore, UCU spokespeople have argued that universities’ failure to address widespread use of temporary contracts and the consequences of below-inflation pay rises for over a decade mean that the offer simply does not address the union’s concerns. Data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) reveals that over a third of academics are working on fixed-term temporary contracts, with no guarantee of security or stability. Additionally, a report commissioned by the UCU found that university staff are working an average of two unpaid days a week to meet the goals universities are demanding of them. These factors combine for a tangible frustration from staff, many of whom feel overworked and underpaid in their unstable employment.
What does all this mean for students? In short – cancelled lectures and disrupted learning. However, while some students have criticised the strikes, many have been more supportive.
What does all this mean for students? In short – cancelled lectures and disrupted learning. However, while some students have criticised the strikes, many have been more supportive – the Student’s Union AGM voted to back striking staff in December. In a powerful speech to a UCU rally on the steps of the Senedd, Cardiff student Nathan Mintz captured this supportive spirit: “this cycle of universities demanding more and more from their lecturers and their staff without providing the benefits and the means to warrant it – it’s time that ends”. It appears many students are willing to stand by their lecturers, on the principle espoused by National Union of Students Vice-President Chloe Field – that “teaching conditions are learning conditions”, and that well paid lecturers in good conditions provide a better education than they could on the proposed pay deal.