Higher education unions have announced the date for their upcoming strike, affecting staff at both Oxford and Oxford Brookes universities.
On October 31, members of staff belonging to the University and College Union (UCU), Unison and Unite trade unions will strike, as part of a continuing row over pay and conditions, unless a solution can be found in the next two weeks.
UCU argues that, if it accepts the proposed pay rise this year of 1%, its members will have seen their pay drop by 13 per cent in real terms, following four consecutive years of pay cuts.
However, the impact of the strike on Oxford students may be small, owing to the low membership rate of the unions amongst academics.
After a ballot by UCU last week, 66 per cent of lecturers voted to strike, with nearly eighty per cent supporting action short of a strike. Following a similar ballot at Unite, 64 per cent of staff favoured industrial action.
Staff have also voiced their concerns over universities’ use of zero-hour contracts for academics, and the higher education policies of the current government.
The strike will be the first nationwide joint action by the higher education unions.
According to Unison, the pay cut coincides with a period of pay rises for university leaders, by more than £5,000 in 2011-2012, and the average pay and pensions rate for vice-chancellors coming in at almost £250,000.
Mike McCartney, Unite national officer for education, commented: “Our members have had enough of the poverty pay increases of recent years. They have suffered a 13 per cent real terms pay cut since 2008 and have been left with no option but to fight for what’s fair. There is still time for the employers to step back from the brink in this dispute. We urge them to get back around the negotiating table with the three unions to resolve it once and for all.”
UCU head of higher education, Michael MacNeil, said: “Staff have suffered year-on-year cuts in the value of their pay. Quite simply, enough is enough. We urge the employers to reflect on the fact that they are about to face their first ever strike by three unions at the same time and come to the negotiating table to resolve this dispute[…]while strike action is always a last resort, the fact that staff are prepared to take this step demonstrates just how angry they are.”
Meanwhile, contrary to some reports, OUSU has yet to voice its opinion on the strike.
An article on page two of this week’s Cherwell stated that “OUSU sent JCRs a proposal to pass a motion to release a statement of support for the strikers” seconded by Sarah Pine, Vice President (Women), and Tyler Alabanza-Behard, the Student Union’s Access and Admissions Officer.
In fact, OUSU did not create, propose or second such a motion. Tom Rutland, OUSU President, has said that the decision will be made after consulting with students.
“It is important that University academics and other staff are properly supported and fairly paid and there are clear benefits to students when staff are happy and motivated,” he said.
“OUSU’s position on the upcoming strike is one that will be made in consultation with the student body.”
Anna Leszkiewicz, the Cherwell‘s editor, tweeted “@ousunews @tomrutland really sorry to learn of our mistake, have corrected online…”. The online version of the article, written by Cherwell’s News Editor Esther Hodges, has since been amended.