University staff begin three days of strike action

Protestors on the picket line in Colchester

Three days of strike action is planned as part of nationwide action from the University and College Union. - Credit: Tom Flynn

Staff at the University of Essex have started a three-day strike, claiming university bosses have failed to stop pension cuts, as well as address falling working standards and conditions.

The strike is a part of a nationwide campaign by the University and College Union (UCU), involving 58 universities taking industrial action.

The status of the staff's pension scheme is one of a number of points the action is highlighting, with concerns over how the scheme is being assessed.

Professor Irene McMullin explained that "the methodology used to asses the health of the pension scheme was absurdly overly-cautious, to keep the same benefits we would have to pay much, much more".

Professor McMullin also revealed that staff were looking at pension cuts of between 20-25%.

Another point of contention that has led to strike action taking place is around pay and the working conditions that staff are having to deal with. Professor McMullin described how she "hadn't had a pay rise in line with inflation for a long time". 

The use of insecure working contracts has led to "very few people" having secure jobs, which is another worry being raised by the strikes.

Essex Uni picket line

Pensions, pay and working conditions are amongst the factors that have led to the strikes. - Credit: Irene McMullin

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The action is taking place over the next three days and will involve a picket outside the campus in Colchester. 

Professor McMullin also explained that the problems have caused "really difficult working conditions for people in higher education", and that there is "a huge problem with workload".

These issues have also caused some staff members to be "working 50-55 hour weeks" and not having enough time to take a break during the day.

While the strikes will cause disruption to normal life at the university, Professor McMullin, who was out on the picket, said that the action has been "extremely well-received" and "the local student union has expressed their solidarity", with some students joining the staff on the frontline.

Professor McMullin added: "We both have a stake in making the university a better place for them to learn and us to work"

The UCEA, which represents employers in the pay dispute, said early reports from universities suggested "low levels of disruption" to lessons.

UCEA chief executive Raj Jethwa said: "We are disappointed that UCU is encouraging its members to take action which will impact on students who have endured so many recent disruptions.

"While early reports from HE institutions are of low levels of disruption to teaching, it does of course take time for these large organisations to find out exactly how many scheduled classes have not taken place on a given day."

He added that any further strike action in the new year "will cause damage" to students in an "unrealistic attempt" to force all employers to reopen the concluded 2021-22 national pay round.

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