Staff at three North East universities begin five-day strike

A five-day strike by staff at three of the North East’s top universities in a nationwide dispute over pay, working conditions and pensions begins Monday.

The strike involves workers at universities in Newcastle, Northumbria and Durham and lasts from March 21 to March 25.

They belong to the University and College Union (UCU) and they will join members from 40 universities across the UK taking part in the release, the first of two action phases.

Read more: ‘We are at breaking point,’ say Newcastle University staff as they begin strike over pensions and wages

The second phase involves another five-day outing from March 28 to April 1 involving UCU members at 27 other universities, but none in the North East.

Newcastle and Durham staff are on strike over what they describe as pension cuts and worsening pay and conditions. Northumbria UCU members only act on wages and working conditions.

More than 50,000 staff from 67 universities are taking part and it follows a previous 10-day strike, from February 14 to March 2.

UCU General Secretary Jo Grady said: “The UK Vice-Chancellors have the power to put an end to these disputes.

Jo Grady, UCU General Secretary

“The money is there to pay staff properly, tackle harsh working conditions and undo pension cuts that will devastate pensioners’ incomes.

“Instead, university bosses are choosing to sit on reserves worth tens of billions of pounds and make their own staff suffer. That’s why we are once again on the picket lines.

“By continuing to ignore the serious and long-standing concerns of staff, the Vice-Chancellors are not only pushing their own staff to the breaking point, but also seriously damaging the future of higher education and preventing it from be the best you can be.”

A spokesman for Northumbria University said: ‘It is deeply regrettable that some UCU members voted for industrial action in a national dispute.

“Our students have suffered enough during the time of the pandemic and deserve no further disruption. Northumbria University is determined to minimize the impact on our hard-working students and will continue to deliver the education they deserve. “

Durham University staff go on strike in February
Durham University staff go on strike in February

A statement from Durham University said: “As a member of Universities UK (UUK) and the University and College Employers Association (UCEA), we are bound by industry decisions on wages and pensions, and our university’s pension response has been reviewed and approved by our governing body, the Council.

“We cannot solve these conflicts locally; all negotiations take place between representatives of the UUK, UCEA and UCU and our influence in this dispute is therefore limited.

“We can only seek to mitigate any impact on students, which is our main objective. However, we have regular meetings with UUK and have used them to lobby on issues that concern our staff.

“Durham University offers a generous set of rewards and benefits, to attract and retain the best candidates. The package remains highly competitive, and we regularly review and improve our benefits and practices to ensure we remain a responsible and attractive employer for our staff. Our joint work with the UCU on casualization is an example of this.

Industrial ballots also opened at 149 universities last week, including Newcastle, Northumbria, Durham and Sunderland, and will run until April 8. Successful ballots will pave the way for additional actions to be triggered throughout 2022.

The UCU said last month that university employers had imposed pension cuts from the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which would result in a 35% reduction in a typical member’s guaranteed retirement income.

In the dispute over pensions, the UCU is asking employers to reverse their cuts and resume negotiations.

In dispute over wages and working conditions, UCU calls for an end to wage injustice on race, gender and disability; a framework to eliminate zero hours and other precarious contracts; and meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads; as well as a pay rise of £2,500 for all university employees.

It says the new retail price index inflation rate of 7.8% means that staff compensation has now fallen by around 25.5% in real terms since 2009.

The union also said more than 70,000 academics are employed on precarious contracts while the gender pay gap in UK universities is 16%, while the pay gap for people with disabilities is 9 % and the racial pay gap reaches 17%.