University staff walked out on Thursday as part of a continuing quarrel over pay, accusing the universities’ representative body of making “derisory” offers and failing to negotiate properly.
The nationwide action was the first strike over pay involving St Andrews staff since 2006 and included members of all three staff unions: the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU), Unite and Unison. Staff formed picket lines throughout the morning at College Gate, the library, St Mary’s Quad and on the North Haugh, handing out leaflets and stickers. Other staff simply did not turn up to work.
The unions are unhappy with the way that the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA) has handled talks over pay. Higher education staff have received pay increases below inflation since 2008, equating to a 13 per cent decrease in real terms. This year UCEA has offered a one per cent increase – well below the rate of inflation, which is currently around 2.7 per cent.
Chris Hooley, president of the St Andrews UCU branch, explained: “Nationally we are calling for UCEA to come back to the negotiating table. We had a bunch of meetings in spring which were really not meetings at all; they sort of walked in, spoke for 95 per cent of the time and then put a piece of paper on the table which was the offer, and that was it. And that’s really of concern, because if the negotiating meetings aren’t negotiating then it’s just going to be like this year after year.
“We’re really calling on UCEA to come back to the table and engage in proper negotiations over the pay settlement. We’re calling on the university locally a, to support the action as the Students’ Association has done, which we’re really grateful for, and b, to put pressure on UCEA, because really it represents the universities and so if it can pressure them to return to the table we’ll get this sorted out sooner rather than later.”
UCU represents tutors and lecturers and around 400 of St Andrews’ 1,150 academic staff are members. Members of Unite, which supports embraces technicians, laboratory assistants, administrators and facility management staff, and Unison, which represents other support staff such as cleaners and estates workers, were also present.
Gareth Saunders, one of several Unite members to join the picket lines, said: “We’ve been balloted every year on whether we should take industrial action and for the last four years the response has been no. This is the first year in five years that the Unite response has come back yes. It feels like […] enough is enough.”
Moira MacKenzie, the St Andrews branch secretary for Unison, said: “We’ve had derisory pay offers over the past five years and eventually we decided we have to take a stand at some point. We now feel we’re 13 per cent behind where we should be. And there are a lot of people at this university that are not much above […] a living wage. Bills are going up […] and people are struggling. They really are.
“St Andrews is very proud of its ratings in the Times top 100 or whatever, but it gets there because of the staff. And we’ve got a staff here that go the extra mile, from the cleaner that takes care of the people they are seeing every day, to the lecturers that do give extra. They are depending on us to do this and they just expect us to keep on doing it. And really we don’t want to hurt the students, this is the last thing we want. We are really glad that the Students’ Association came behind us. That means an awful lot to us because glad that they realise that we’re not doing this to hurt them, we’re really not.”
Later in the day a rally was held in Church Square. Speaking at the event, Professor Steven Reicher challenged the University’s assumption that docking staff 1/260th of their annual wages was the same as docking a day’s pay.
“You see, universities depend upon goodwill. They depend upon what we do which goes way beyond what we are paid for. How many people here have worked early in the mornings and in the evenings for the University? How many people here have worked weekends for the University? How many people here have worked over the holidays for their University? Everybody. Because the system could not work without our goodwill.
“And yet when we go on strike here the University decides to take away not 1/365th of our pay because we work every day of the year, they will take away 1/260th, telling us that we don’t work on weekends; that they don’t value, they don’t recognise that work. But we say to the University: good will cuts both ways. If you want us to work as we have always worked for the good of this institution, for the good of our students, for the research that we believe in, then you need to recognise that as such.”
There will be no way to know how many staff walked out until their pay is docked from the next round of wages. At the time of publication the University had not responded to a request for comment on the amount of disruption caused by the strike. The Saint understands that some classes had to be cancelled or rescheduled, however. No disruption was caused to the Students’ Association.