In our region Durham and Newcastle have already taken eight days of strike action in December last year which brought the employers back to the negotiating table. However, this has not proved enough to settle the disputes and they are now about to start another 14 days of strikes beginning this week.
I was proud to stand alongside and support UCU members at the Newcastle rally in December and I’m disappointed the issues could not be resolved.
Nobody wants to take strike action; with the disruption it brings but when your employer refuses to listen or sit down and negotiate it leaves you with no choice.
I find it quite staggering that in modern day industrial relations educated leaders within universities are refusing to engage with the unions.
I don’t think university staff are being greedy, they are asking to be paid properly and given fair terms and conditions.
There are multiple issues that need addressed in this dispute, including pay, working conditions, equality and pensions.
Pay for university staff has plummeted in real-terms in the last decade, even according to a report released by universities late last year. Their figures showed a drop of around 17% in real-terms since 2009. UCU argues the actual figure is closer to 20%, but whichever method is preferred, staff pay has dropped in real terms by a minimum of 17% since 2009.
Black and minority ethnic (BME) staff in universities are less likely to hold senior jobs and are paid less than their white colleagues. One in nine white academic staff are professors, compared to one in 33 black academic staff. There is a pay gap of 9% between white and black and minority ethnic academic staff
There is a persistent pay gap between men and women in universities of around 15%. In 2018 university leaders came under fire after the first official gender pay gap data showed that women in UK universities were paid a mean hourly wage that was, on average, 15.9% lower than their male colleagues. Analysis by Times Higher Education in early 2019 showed that figure has changed little, with it now standing at 15.1%.
Across all academic jobs, one-third of staff are on fixed-term contracts. However half (49%) of teaching-only academics and two-thirds (67%) of research-only staff are on fixed-term contracts. Forty-nine universities still use widely discredited zero-hours contracts for employing academic staff.
University staff are not being greedy, they are asking to be paid properly and given fair terms and conditions. A recent survey suggested that staff put in 40 million hours on extra-curricular activities a year; the equivalent of almost 25,000 full-time jobs.
These disputes demonstrate how broken our higher education system is. There is a lot workers are complaining about; but a lot needs fixing.
What was loud and clear to me in December was that students, staff and unions were united, united for fairness and pension justice, united for equality, united for education. Good luck with the dispute.
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