Ben Hayward November 25th
2019

Universities have been accused of using ‘strong-arm tactics’ to undermine the current strike action taking place at 60 campuses across the UK.

Over 40,000 staff will walk out for eight days starting today (Monday November 25th) in the continued row over pension, pay and conditions.

The move will impact the studies of an estimated one million students, although many staff members involved will reportedly be offering alternative teach-outs for their students, reports The Guardian.

University Staff Strikes

However, there has been outrage over attempts by universities to put students off joining picket lines and instead report any of their lecturers who join the strike.

According to the University and College Union (UCU), staff at some universities have been warned that action short of a strike could result in heavy reductions to pay, on top of strike deductions, while other institutions have been hunting for cover staff to minimise disruption for students.

Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) was accused of asking students to fill in a form entitled Industrial Action: record of teaching activities not taking place, which asked students to give details of the course, module, date and time of lecture affected.

The form was shared on Twitter, prompting a number of angry responses including one stating: “We are not your surveillance tools.”

The University of Liverpool has also been criticised after managers sent an email to undergraduates warning them it was ‘unlawful to join pickets’. In the same email, international students were informed that if they didn’t cross picket lines to attend classes they risked jeopardising their visa.

Ché Spencer Pote, the women’s officer for Liverpool University Labour Students said the university’s response was ‘extremely worrying’.

Ms Spencer Pote said: “If a student doesn’t cross the picket line they risk their attendance falling below the expected threshold, which can lead to being kicked off courses for subjects like nursing.”

A spokeswoman for the University of Liverpool said: “We undertake regular monitoring of all undergraduate student attendance. This is not only to ensure we fulfil our duties on international student visas to UK Visas and Immigration, but is also vital as attendance is an important indicator of student wellbeing.

Strikes

“We respect our students’ rights to support the industrial action, should they wish to do so. However it is important that they have the necessary information to do so lawfully.”

The UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: “Universities should have been putting their efforts into trying to resolve the disputes, not scouting for scab labour, threatening staff with over the top pay deductions and other strong-arm tactics.

“We have heard of department heads walking around campus demanding to know who is in the union and asking others to cover their classes. It appears they have learnt nothing from last year’s action where this sort of behaviour solidified strikers’ resolve and angered students.”

The latest action comes after many universities were effectively brought to a standstill by unprecedented strikes last year (2018) over changes to employee pensions, with some institutions forced to compensate students for the hours of teaching that were lost. 

strike11

Increased contributions as well as other changes to the universities superannuation scheme (USS) mean that many employees are suffering substantial losses - especially once they enter retirement. 

The UCU says its members have resorted to strike action as pension reforms mean university staff will pay roughly £40,000 more into their pension, but will receive nearly £200,000 less when they retire.

The UCU is also taking action over pay which it says has fallen 20% over the past decade, as well as casualisation and increased workload. It is also calling for action on the pay gap for women, ethnic minorities and the disabled.

Chris Sayers, the chair of the Committee of University Chairs, said: “Against a backdrop of unprecedented uncertainty and financial pressure, the role of university boards and councils has to be to ensure the long-term sustainability of their institutions, and therefore they have to balance the investment they want to make in people against all the other calls on their resources.”

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