Over 100 University of Lincoln staff began strike action on Thursday over pay, pensions and conditions, saying this is “the shot across the bows to say that we are serious”.
Over 70,000 staff at 150 universities across the UK, including the University of Lincoln and Bishop Grosseteste University, began three days of strike action over ‘attacks on pay, working conditions and pensions’.
The strike is the biggest in the history of higher education, with action planned for November 24, 25, and 30.
There were four picket lines within close proximity of each other at the University of Lincoln, including next to the bridge by the Engine Shed. With staff out on the picket lines, it does also mean that there will be some impact on education and lectures and seminars.
However, the University said that most staff are not participating in the industrial action, and only a third of the academic staff are UCU members.
Among those on strike was Dr Owen Clayton, Branch Chair of the UCU at the University of Lincoln. He told The Lincolnite: “This action that we’re taking right now is the shot across the bows.
“This is the warning shot to say that we are serious and to gather our strength and build solidarity, because if the employers don’t get around the table soon and make an acceptable offer then there’s going to be significantly more strike action from February onwards.”
He said they are striking for four main reasons, including pay which he claims has been cut by a quarter since 2009 in real terms, as well as the increase in staff on temporary or zero hour contracts, and the gender, racial, disability pay gap.
Another of the reasons is excessive workload with Owen saying: “53% of academics at universities are suffering with depression, many of them work two extra days for free, work seven days a week and don’t get paid for that.”
Dr Clayton said it meant a lot that some students came out to support the strikes, adding: “It’s (disruption to learning) kind of in a way the last thing we would ever want because we care about our students so much, and that shows you just how serious this is.”
Martin Lang, Senior Lecturer of Fine Arts at the University of Lincoln, said he’s only had “positive reactions” from his students about the strikes.
He said: “I’m striking because we’ve had below inflationary pay rises since 2009, which is coincidentally when I started teaching in universities.
“I’ve got a family support and I need to get a new mortgage and I can’t afford it. I’ve got a kid on the way and I can’t have enough bedrooms.
“I had to train for 10 years to become a university lecturer. Many university lecturers, unlike other professions, don’t go straight into full-time work. I’ve had to do part time work, zero hours contracts, very kind of unstable work.
“I didn’t get my first full-time permanent teaching job until I was 37. I’m still paying £190 a month student loan. I think that lecturers have spent so long training and working hard to get into a job, and deserve a fair pay rise and deserve to be able to have a home for their family.”
According to graduate Prospect’s website, salaries for higher education lecturers typically range from around £33,797 to £49,553, depending on the university and your experience. At senior lecturer level, they typically earn between £39,152 and £59,135 depending on the same factors.
In response, Mr Lang said: “I think that the amount I’ve put in means that I should be able to afford enough just to get a family home and that’s not too much to ask I don’t think.
“The idea that lecturers earn too much money or a lot of money is just a bit of a myth. I think if students really knew what we’re earning they would be sympathetic.”
The strike was also supported by students including Alex Thumwood who was in attendance and wanted to illustrate that “students and staff are on the same side”.
He said: “As a student, I’m paying a lot of money to the university with the expectation that, at the bare minimum, the staff that are teaching me and certainly the staff that supervise me will be fairly compensated for their work.”
In response to the strike action, a University of Lincoln spokesperson said: “The University of Lincoln’s priority will always be to put students first. Our focus will be on minimising disruption to teaching and the student experience
“Timetabled teaching will go ahead in most areas and key services like the Library and Student Support Centre will be open. We will ensure students’ learning outcomes are safeguarded if teaching sessions are impacted – e.g., by adapting assessment methods.
“We cannot guarantee that there will be no disruption to teaching or the student experience, but we encourage all students to plan to attend university as normal on the dates of the planned strike action.”
In an email to staff the University in which it stated that “participating in any industrial action, including action short of strike (ASOS), is considered to be a breach of the contract of employment. As a result, the University will make a deduction to salary of staff who participate in strike action and ASOS.”
The University has since clarified that it “will not withhold pay from staff participating in ASOS that does not breach either the express or implied terms of the contract, as we will expect all necessary duties to be carried out. The University does reserve the right to withhold pay if normal business is affected through this action.”
Bishop Grosseteste University issued a statement saying: “Throughout this strike action, the student experience at BGU will remain our number one priority.
“Working closely with our Students’ Union, we will strive to minimise the impact on our students, and will ensure they are kept fully informed as to how strike action may impact teaching over the planned three days.”
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