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10th February 2014

University staff walk out over pay dispute

Unions threaten further strike action if offer of one per cent pay increase not improved

University staff walked out on Thursday in protest at the one percent pay rise offered by employers.

The strike is the latest in the long-running dispute between staff and employers over the proposed pay deal, and is the fifth protest since September.

Around 300 members of the three campus trade unions- Unison, Unite, and the UCU- joined picket lines on Oxford Road as part of a national day of action that saw strikes take place across the country.

The unions – who represent academic staff, support staff and postgraduates who teach- say that the offer would represent the fourth year in a row that university staff have been given below inflation pay rises.

Andy Cunningham, Unison Assistant Branch Secretary at MMU and former Campaigns Officer at UMSU, told the Mancunion, ‘the short term issue is around pay, we’ve had a 13 per cent pay cut in the last four years.

“What it means is everybody, from cleaners all the way up to fairly high-paid technicians, is finding it hard to make ends meet – as prices go up and wages stagnate.

“So, this year they’ve offered us another pay cut and they’re justifying it on the basis that we have to make changes and things like that, but the sector is really rich, universities are richer than they’ve ever been before and that money at the moment is going to fill the pockets of vice-chancellors and senior managers.”

Commenting on the length of the dispute, Mr Cunningham warned that while student support for the unions appeared to be growing, there was a continuing risk to student’s education.

“I think [the employers] felt like it would be over by Christmas. Today shows that it’s not, and if anything student support today has grown massively.

“So, I’m hoping today puts a bit of pressure on them to bring a pay increase back to the table, otherwise it is going to be further disruption, that means staff losing money, students losing out on their education, all so they can protect their privileges.”

Current UMSU Campaigns Officer, Clifford Fleming, said that the protest was about “us students standing in solidarity with staff and saying that us as students recognise that staff need good pay.

“Students are coming here expecting obviously a good standard of teaching, they are wanting a good quality education, but the staff are being asked to do more and more and more for less and less and less.

“And it’s not like the University don’t have the money to pay for it, they’ve got like £36 million in profit and they’re spending £1 billion on capital investment, that’s a hell of a lot of money and they aren’t willing to pay staff.”

In response to these allegations a University spokesman said, “The University is a charity, so it does not make any profit. Any surplus is put back into the University, for example into things like scholarships.”

Rosie Dammers, UMSU Education Officer, said, “I think the University should stand up for what is right – to pay their staff a decent wage. I think it is absolutely disgusting that we don’t pay our staff properly, there’s still staff in this university on minimum wage – we need to make sure, first of all, that we are paying everyone a living wage, secondly we need to think about what we value and we value education.”

However, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association said it was clear that the strikes were having a minimal impact on education and that support was “visibly dwindling”.

A spokesperson for UCEA said the institutions it represents “would like see trade unions turn their attention to constructive negotiations for this year’s pay, which begin next month. All HE institutions are consistently clear that there is no scope for further pay increases beyond those already paid last year, and all are united in their commitment to protect students’ education.”

While negotiations for the pay offer for the next academic year are due to begin next month the UCU have plans for further strike action.

Commenting on student support for any further strike action, Ella Milburn, a Spanish and Japanese student, told The Mancunion, “I spoke to a lot of students who: A. weren’t interested; or B. who said they were interested and then haven’t come.

“If everybody who was even slightly interested came for like half an hour it would make such a big difference, there would be fuck loads of people here. Because loads of people do actually care when you speak to them, and I think more people would start to care if you actually explained it to them.”

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