Lecturers from British universities who are members of the University and College Union (UCU) walked out on a two-day strike this week, with the action following a proposed 1.1% pay raise for the upcoming academic year. Sally Hunt, the UCU's general secretary, branded the offer as "an insult" to hard-working professionals:
"Members have made it clear that they won't tolerate a continued squeeze on their income, pay inequality and the increasing job insecurity blighting the sector."
The UCU is planning more protests across the country in the autumn, writes Jack Grove of the Times Higher Education. The next rallies will be in Liverpool, London, Belfast, Newcastle, Cambridge, Glasgow, Leeds, and elsewhere, the union confirmed.
As Judith Burns of the BBC notes, UCU members have suffered a real-terms pay cut of 14 percent since 2009. At the same time, the union complains that the decrease in real staff salaries has come as university leaders have enjoyed considerable increases.
Sadie Robinson of the Socialist Worker also points out that the educators are also fighting for equal pay for women in academia. Ioanna Ioannou, a female scientist and member of the UCU's national executive committee, protested in front of the University College London:
"We face fixed term and casual contracts, and we are paid less than male colleagues."
Ioannou also commented that the pay gap was probably because were are more men in positions in higher pay grades. She concluded that she felt poor all the time and was unable to plan her life ahead.
The union also confirmed concerns about the insecure nature of employment in universities in the UK. Data have shown roughly 75,000 staff on casualised contracts.
According to recent data, the men in academia were earning on average 12.6% more than the women, writes Sally Weale of the Guardian. Hunt concluded:
"It's time to invest properly in the teachers, researchers, and administrators who are the backbone of our universities. If the employers wish to see a swift end to this dispute and avoid further disruption they need to come back to the table with a much-improved offer."
Members of other labor unions came to the picket lines to support the lectures, and graduate students interested in pursuing a career in academia also joined the protests.
The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) said member institutions were confident that the strike would not lead to disruption, and after the strike they reported few problems. Students currently facing final exams were not seriously affected.
However, the UCEA spokesperson expressed concern that further strikes may have a negative impact on the students. He recommended UCU to consult its members on the final offer, rather than taking actions.
Unite, another labor union, having more than 12,000 members confirmed it was discussing the possibility to join the strike as well. A ballot closes on June 6. Mike McCartney of the Unite stated that it would call all its members to reject the government offer over pay.