University and College Union (UCU) industrial action over pay, pay equality, pensions, and workloads will commence today, November 24. The UCU has also announced further staff strikes on November 25 and 30, 2022.
The UCU has also called for their members to take action short of a strike (ASOS) from Wednesday 23 November. ASOS may include actions such as working to contract, not covering for absent colleagues, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strikes, or marking boycotts, according to the UCU.
As staff are not under obligation to inform students if they are striking, the University has warned students that classes may be cancelled at short notice.
On why staff are striking, the UCU St Andrews President Dr Kirsty Graham said, “We are striking because we care – we care about our colleagues, we care about our students, we care about our university. This care leads us to fight against real term pay and pensions cuts, pay inequality, soaring workloads, and casual contracts. We are fighting for a Higher Education sector that recognises the value of our labour and that makes our well-being a real priority. Our Principal holds influence in national governing bodies, and we urge Professor Dame Sally Mapstone to support our St Andrews community and our sector as a whole”.
In their press release, the UCU said that over 81 per cent of their national members have voted for strike action over pay, and over 84 per cent voted for strike action over pensions.
In an online presentation for students expected to be affected by the strikes, the UCU claimed that “in real terms, university staff pay has gone down by 25 per cent since 2009” and that they are “asking for a pay rise that reflects inflation”. The UCU also claims that the gender pay gap in St Andrews is 18 per cent.
The UCU claimed that university staff pensions have “massively reduced” since 2020 and that an independent review has shown that the pensions could be restored while keeping the pension fund in surplus. The UCU also said that 36 per cent of academic staff in St Andrews are on fixed-term contracts, with the percentage rising to 59 per cent of BAME staff.
At present, it is unclear how many staff are expected to strike, and whether the numbers will be greater than in February 2022.
The UCU has said it expects 70,000 university staff members across the UK to join in the industrial action later this month. They have claimed the strikes will be the “biggest ever” to hit the UK.
In response to the strikes, the University noted that it would stay open on strike days and said, “We hope that colleagues who choose to take industrial action do so in ways which minimise the effects on students after two years disrupted by the pandemic and previous strikes.” The library and all learning facilities will remain open.
In an email from the Proctor, Professor Clare Peddie, she stated, “These are national disputes which can only be resolved by negotiation at a national level. Universities cannot negotiate their own settlements locally.
“In St Andrews, we have consistently called for national settlements which are fair to staff and sustainable for institutions, and this will continue to be our position,” Professor Peddie continued, “We acknowledge the right of UCU members to take industrial action, their concerns about pay and pensions, and the fact that those who choose to take action in St Andrews will do so with a heavy heart.
“Not all St Andrews staff are UCU members and not all UCU members in St Andrews will necessarily take industrial action. The University has more than 2000 staff, approximately 600 of whom are members of UCU.”
The email also noted that “as is normal practice in these circumstances”, the University will be withholding pay from UCU members for each day of strike action taken. “[100 per cent] of pay withheld will be used to support student welfare”, the University stated, and that it “does not stand to gain financially from industrial action”.
The University has stated that they currently expect all exam marking and results reporting for Semester 1 modules will be completed. Submission deadlines for continuous assessments continue to apply “unless you are contacted by your School to inform you otherwise”.
Further, the email from the University noted that they are encouraging Heads of School and Units to “take all reasonable steps to mitigate the impact ofaction on students.”
The University Rector, Dr Leyla Hussein, addressed the strikes in an email to students, stating, “Many students will be familiar with the strikes in St Andrews. Being part of strike action is not something that staff undertake lightly. Our staff are the backbone of this institution, and they dedicate so much energy for their students.”
Barry Will, the Director of Campaign for Affordable Student Housing (CASH), said that “as a campaign which advocates for access to affordable housing in St. Andrews, [CASH] stands in full solidarity with University staff members who will be participating in strike action”. Mr Will cited the housing crisis, about which CASH has previously taken action, as part of why staff have been “severely” affected by the fall in real wages.
Some members of the student body are opposed to staff strikes due to disruption to teaching and staff support, especially in light of Covid-related disruptions to teaching over the past few years.
Regarding such opposition, Mr Will commented, “Across the country, workers are standing up and voting against pay and pension cuts and increasingly insecure working environments. The University sector is no different, and support should not be dependent on whether you are personally impacted by strike action or not. If you’re feeling the effects and you’re worried about your education — direct any frustration towards the University and the USS who have placed staff in such an untenable situation they feel no option but to cause disruption”.
Mr Will confirmed that CASH will maintain a presence on the picket lines during the strikes. Regarding how CASH will support the striking staff, Barry told The Saint that “striking UCU members will be collecting for our student food larder, Food4Students, at the picket line to ensure struggling students have access to essential items when they need them”.
During UCU strikes earlier in 2022, students affiliated with the Labour Society, Socialist Society, Democrats Overseas, and Liberal Democrats Society supported striking staff by preparing tea and offering biscuits for the striking staff at picket lines. The Saint also understands that a similar response from the Union-affiliated societies is expected this term.
The UCU has suggested that students who are in agreement with striking staff should inform management that they support the demands of the staff and the UCU. The UCU also suggests that students visit picket lines to show support to staff in person.
The UCU has also revealed that “There are plans for future strike days in place, as well as an escalation to a marking and assessment boycott in 2023, if employers are unwilling to negotiate”.
Illustration: Lauren McAndrew