On 31 October academic, administrative and technical staff across the whole of Higher Education in Britain took successful strike action in their dispute over pay. UCU, Unison, Unite and the EIS in Scotland are all taking action. A further strike day is planned for 3 December unless progress is achieved by that date.
Classes were cancelled all over the country and regional rallies were held with speakers from all unions. One of the largest rallies, in Conway Hall in London, showed members in the mood to fight. Many speakers angrily described how their institutions had accrued surpluses in recent years with the rise in student fees, while suppressing staff wages to give those surpluses the extra boost. Speakers also emphasised the need for resolve and discipline on the part of the unions, pointing out that the employers had clearly been communicating with each other and organising their strategy of keeping wage rates low, continuing the use of hourly paid academic staff on zero hours contracts and using the constant threat of outsourcing areas of university services.
Since the 31 October all academic staff have been working to contract. This entails: staff not working more than their contracted hours where those hours are expressly stated or are stipulated in a workload agreement; not performing any additional voluntary duties, such as out of hours cover or covering for colleagues; and not attending meetings where such attendance is voluntary on the part of the member.
One effect of the work to contract has been staff realising just how much unpaid overtime they had been working. At St Andrew’s University the academic staff have taken the interesting step of writing individually to human resources asking for any documentation in relation to their contract and this has, in itself, been an effective education campaign.
A big boost to the campaign has been the huge local and national support from the National Union of Students and local student bodies. The National Union of Students has contacted ministers calling for “a speedy resolution to the ongoing pay dispute, and in such a way that provides a fair and sustainable settlement to higher education staff”.
As Workers went to press, the unions were awaiting ministers’ response to their call for a return to the negotiating table ahead of the planned strike day on 3 December. ■