UCU members are once again out on strike, and we want to recognise that this will mean some of our network members will be out on strike, or impacted by strike action.
The strike action last year focused on the planned changes to staff pension schemes, an issue which is still unresolved. However, this strike action also concerns a further dispute. The sector has failed to commit to fair rates of pay, to tackle the gender and race pay gaps, or to deal with rising workloads and casualisation all of which has led to an increasingly stressful working environment for staff that will impact on the quality of education for students.
An estimated half of all academics are on temporary contracts, and since 2009 pay has fallen by 17% in real terms. A joint statement from UCU and NUS has noted concern for students who are also working in the sector, such as PhD teaching staff, and overall the demotivating impact of increased casualisation and overwork. We believe they are rightly critical of the failure to address ever higher salaries for vice-chancellors and principals, while attacking pensions, which sends a hugely damaging message to both students and staff.
A UCU survey found that 90% of BAME staff members report having faced barriers to promotion in colleges and universities, and over two-thirds (71%) said they had ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ been subject to bullying and harassment from managers. Nationally, the gender pay gap means women are on average paid 15.1% less than men (although in some institutions this is as high as 22%) and In the sector BME staff face a 9% pay gap, and Black staff a 14% pay gap.
The network would like to state our solidarity with the difficult choice that staff are making to strike on the issues, which disproportionately impact on women and BAME staff. We also recognise that the institutional climate created by these discriminatory approaches also contributes to issues such as the prevalence of transphobia on campus, and discrimination on the grounds of disability, and that we stand in solidarity with workers and students experiencing any form of oppression as part of this increasingly marketised and profiteering system.
We strongly believe that those who are have made a choice not to strike, for whatever reason, should not experience pressure, taunting or discrimination. This situation is nuanced and complicated; the choice not to strike, or to carry out certain work responsibilities during strike times is a very personal and difficult choice; we must support each other. We recognise the imperfection and exclusionary nature that necessary forms of resistance, such as strike action, take. Women and other marginalised groups provide a disproportionate burden and invisible labour of care during such times. The most vulnerable members of academia should not shoulder the largest burden of strike consequences.
We recognise how exhausting and stressful strikes can be, whether you are striking or not. We urge our network members to put pressure on Vice-Chancellors in striking institutions to go back to the negotiating table to find a resolution and avoid this action if possible. We would also like to remind network members that the staff striking are not just teaching staff, but also include professional services staff, IT and student support staff, who were frequently under-represented in the media and discourse of previous strikes.
We encourage PhD teaching staff that want to strike to join UCU to ensure you are protected, this is free while you are studying: https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/5143/Can-students-or-postgraduates-join
There are many local strike funds that are available to staff on casual contracts if you are concerned about the loss in wages, please contact your local UCU branch for details of what is available at your institution.
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