University strike: pensions, pay and casualisation

Strikers enduring the rain in front of Goldsmiths College. Image: Hailey Choi

Across the UK, members of the University and College Union are striking.

The UCU is a British trade union which represents over 120,000 people who work in further and higher education.

The University and College Union (UCU) is in dispute over two issues.

One relates to pension funds and the other relates to equal pay and working conditions.

They say that over the past ten years, pay in the higher education sector has fallen by almost 20%, while workloads have increased and the number of workers employed on precarious, zero-hour contracts has risen.

Under the proposed changes to pensions, university staff will lose an average of £240,000 in retirement.

While its thought that one third of academics in the UK are currently on casual contracts, BME staff are even more likely to be on temporary employment.

The union says there is a pay gap of 14% between BME and white staff.

According to the UCU, the average working week in higher education is above 50 hours, with 29% of academics averaging more than 55 hours.

Meanwhile more than 100,000 teaching staff on casual contracts report that they are only paid for 55% of the work they do.


Strikers on the picket line in front of Deptford Town Hall. Image: Carrie Morrison

The strikers emphasise that employers have failed to take effective action to tackle the persistent gender and race pay gaps that exist within the sector.

The strike follows industrial action undertaken by the UCU in 2018 against reforms to the pension scheme.

The reforms, which according to the UCU leave lecturers with approximately £10,000 less per year in retirement, were implemented despite the high-profile strike action.

The strike action is planned to end on the 4th of December.

Undertaking industrial action is a breach of contract and a risk to those employees involved as they possibly face disciplinary action.

Striking staff are forfeiting eight days of pay.

‘Just before christmas that’s quite a big toll for people to take,’ comments one striking staff member at Goldsmiths.

The National Union of Students (NUS) has declared full support for the strikes.

‘The wider picture here is that Universities are now being run as businesses, whereby there’s a profit motive,’ says Joe Leam, president of the Goldsmiths’ Student Union.

‘What the SU believes is that we must band together with our lecturers to essentially turn back time to when University was for education’s sake rather than the mechanisms for management being driven by money.’

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