In an announcement made on 17 January, universities across the UK will be hit with strike action starting on 1 February. It is expected that the strikes will happen across 18 days in February and March, with 70,000 university staff taking part.
Previously, university staff, this academic year have taken three days of strike action due to management only granting pay rises of 3% this year after years of raises being below inflation rates. Now, the University and College Union (UCU) is demanding adequate pay rises that will support university staff with the cost-of-living crisis – similar to workers in other sectors who have been striking recently.
Rising Costs Continue to Become a Concern
Rising inflation which leads to increasing overall costs has impacted individuals in all sectors, and university staff are now demanding pay rises to help them through the declining economy. Last week, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) offered a 4-5% increase in pay but it is not enough according to UCU.
On top of pay rises, UCU is also striking to end the use of insecure contracts. The concern over job security is also seen in the UCU demands, which are shared with workers in other strikers who are striking. Currently, there is also a pension dispute in which the UCU demands employers remove cuts and reinstate benefits. Clearly, the economic downturn has severely impacted the livelihood of workers across industries – and they are now doing what they must to continue to afford their needs.
Response to the Strikes
In an online news release on 12 January, UCEA expressed that they have made an offer that meant an uplift of up to 7%, and a minimum of 5% for those earning up to £51,000. They further noted that this offer is the highest higher education pay offer that has been made in 20 years.
UCEA further stated that this current offer has considered that the cost-of-living crisis disproportionately affects employees on lower pay. Despite the financial restraints they are currently facing, they have committed to handing in this offer – but they have admitted that matching close to inflation rates is impossible.
However, industrial action by the UCU is still going forward as the offer handed was for the upcoming 2023-23 pay round and not the 2022-23 pay round which is the point of concern. As it stands, there are no improvements to the 3% pay increase allocated for 2022-23.
University students across the UK have expressed their solidarity with university staff. Although there will be disruptions in teaching and studies, the National Union of Students (NUS) has expressed that these strikes are a necessary fight to ensure a fairer and healthier education system for all.
The disputes on fairer working conditions for university staff have been going on for five years now, as financial cuts continue to be experienced in higher education. Students have voiced their concerns, calling for employers and universities to have meaningful discourse to end the disputes at hand.