Staff set to strike again over pay squeeze

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Photo: George Flickinger
Photo: George Flickinger
Photo: George Flickinger

Universities across the country face disruption once more on Tuesday when higher education academic and support staff will again go on strike as part of the continuing dispute over pay.

The strike will be a joint action between the three trade unions that took part last time – the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), Unite and Unison – as well as the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS).

Staff in higher education have received pay increases below inflation since 2008. This means staff pay has fallen by 13 per cent in real terms over the last four years.

The head of higher education for UCU, Michael MacNeil, said: “Staff have suffered year-on-year cuts in the value of their pay and have made it clear that enough is enough. We remain committed to trying to resolve this dispute and the employers now have until 3 December to sit down and positively engage with the unions. If they don’t, then our members and those from our sister unions will be out on strike again, as well as continuing to work to contract.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, added: “Staff in our higher education establishments have simply had enough after years of real-terms decline in salaries and are determined to make a stand in defence of their pay. Our members never choose to take industrial action lightly, but now feel that they have no other option in light of the current stance of their employers.”

The unions are attempting to negotiate a wage settlement with the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA), which represents universities including St Andrews. UCEA has previously been accused of failing to negotiate properly, however, proposing only an “insulting” one per cent pay increase.

Jon Richards, Unison’s head of higher education, said: “It is a disgrace that universities are sitting on billions of pounds, but are not ready to reward those who make UK universities the best in the world. The one per cent pay rise on offer is an insult to the services they deliver, especially those staff who are currently paid below the living wage. We have the ridiculous situation where a university vice-chancellor can spend £1.5 million on a work of art, but not give decent pay to his own staff. We are calling on employers to get back into talks as a matter of urgency.”

The previous strike on 31 October reportedly affected 149 universities across the country, impacting various support services such as catering, cleaning and security as well as academia. In St Andrews, 149 of 2543 staff have confirmed that they took part.

The Unite national officer for education, Mike McCartney, said: “We had a very successful joint union action on 31 October to highlight the five year pay drought that our members have endured which has meant a 13 per cent drop in their incomes since 2008.”

He continued: “However, the employers have refused to budge from their hard line in refusing to recognise the contribution that the work- force makes to the excellent global reputation that Britain’s universities currently enjoy.

“We hope that this latest strike will drive home the determination of our members to achieve a fair pay deal and focus the minds of the employers that they need to get around the table promptly to negotiate in a constructive and positive manner.”

The UCEA hit back, saying: “Ever since the initial consultation at the start of this year, UCEA’s 150 participating UK higher education employers have continued to say that, given the challenging and uncertain operating environment, the one per cent pay uplift is a good and sustainable offer and is at the limit of affordability.

“This of course sits on top of other pay elements totalling around three per cent on pay. So any announcement of further industrial action is naturally disappointing. However, less than five per cent of staff voted to support this and nine out of ten institutions reported ‘no to low’ impact from the day of action on 31 October.

“UCEA continues to say that it is willing to talk to the disputing trade unions so that we can explore together whether the dispute can be resolved.”

The University of St Andrews declined to comment on the dispute or on the amount of disruption caused by the previous strike.

The Students’ Association, which supported the strike last time, will not be officially supporting the upcoming action because the SRC has not passed a motion on the matter.

Local union representatives had not responded to requests for comment by the time of publication.

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