Strikes At South Coast's Universities

31 October 2013, 07:54

There will be strike action at universities across the South Coast today (Thursday 31 October) in a row over pay.

The UK-wide strike is the first to hit universities involving all three higher education unions, UNISON, UCU and Unite.

Rallies re being held around the country, including in Southampton's Guildhall Square from 12pm - 1.30pm.

UNISON members are upset and angry at the 1% pay offer which see their pay fall by nearly 15% over the past four years. The union says:

'Over 4,000 staff are currently paid below the Living Wage while over half of vice-chancellors earn over £242,000 - 18 times more than the lowest paid.

'1% of £13,486 is just £134.86 a year, £11.23 a month - not enough to cover the latest gas bill rises.  By contrast, even if Vice Chancellors stick to a 1% increase - which would be a big surprise - they would trouser an extra £2,420 a year.'

The disruption will go much further than lectures as UNISON's members carry out a wide variety of jobs such as supporting students on campus, in libraries, course administration, catering, cleaning and security. Many of the roles, particularly the catering and cleaning are paid at salaries below the Living Wage of £7.45p.

Dave Prentis, General Secretary of UNISON, who will be joining members on the picket line in London, said:

"Taking strike action is never an easy decision, especially for those already struggling on low pay. With Christmas less than two months away losing a day's pay is even harder, but it shows just how angry and upset our members feel at this miserly 1% offer.

"Even members earning above the Living Wage are finding their incomes squeezed to breaking point.  It is a disgrace that universities are sitting on cash surpluses worth £2bn, but they are not prepared to reward their staff, who are the backbone of our world class university system.

"We know that the total wage bill is falling while staff numbers have increased - that dynamic spells misery for many thousands of families.  It is time for university employers to think again about the value that they place on their workforce and come back with a better offer."

Unite national officer for education Mike McCartney said:

“Our members are taking this action with a heavy heart, but they have endured a five-year pay drought. We are calling for the employers to get around the table urgently so that our members contribution to the prestige and reputation of higher education is recognised.

“You have the curious scenario of highly-paid vice-chancellors at UK universities travelling the world extolling the merits of their universities to attract more foreign students.

“Yet, at the same time, our members, who underpin these highly regarded institutions of academic excellence, are treated with disdain when they ask for a decent pay rise, at a time when household bills, such as energy costs, are going through the roof.

“We hope that the strike will focus employers’ minds and they realise their staff are their most important asset and reward them accordingly."

A spokesperson for Southampton Solent University said:

‘We anticipate minimal disruption to the teaching timetable, students will be informed in the usual way (text messages and e mails) of any cancellations to their schedule. The library and resource centres will be open as usual, so any affected students are being advised to use these facilities for self-directed learning.’ 

A Bournemouth University statement said:

'Following a recent national ballot by UCU (the trade union that represents academic staff) and UNISON (professional support staff), Bournemouth University has been notified both unions will be holding a one day strike on 31 October 2013.  In addition, BU has been notified that UCU will be taking action short of a strike by way of “working to contract” with effect from 1 November 2013.  

'It is not possible at this stage to say exactly how the one day strike on 31 October will affect any lectures/seminars or other services but BU is doing all it can to minimise the impact on students. We expect that the majority of activities and services will continue unaffected by this strike.

'This is a national dispute and BU does not endorse the strike action and has asked academic staff to ensure that any potential effects on students are minimised.'

The University of Southampton says it will be open, although there may be disruption to some services.

University of Portsmouth says if students are not informed of a cancellation they are expected to attend as usual, and can contact their lecturer to confirm.

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