Cambridge staff strike in pay rise row

Hazel Shearing 31 October 2013

14:30 UPDATE:

Sidgwick Site attracted the greatest number of students to the picket line this morning, while a rally held outside Senate House was attended by around two hundred people. Speeches were made by members of UNISON, the Firefighters' Union, and a National Union of Teachers (NUT) representative, as well as Cambridge students past and present, including 2011-12 CUSU Education Officer Morgan Wild and former Graduate Union President Arsalan Ghani.

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Staff employed by the University of Cambridge go on strike today in protest against this year’s pay rise.

University and College Union (UCU), UNISON and Unite have called for industrial action after members working in higher education received a 1% pay rise this year despite a UK inflation rate standing at 2.7 per cent in September, according to the Office of National Statistics. Staff at the University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University will join members across the country for this national strike under the slogan ‘Strike For Fair Pay’.

According to the unions, this year’s increase means that staff have actually seen a 13 per cent decrease in their pay in real terms in the last five years, since October 2008. However, at the other end of the scale leaders at universities saw their pay and benefits packages increase by over £5,000 in 2011-12.

This is the first time that higher education employers will face a strike by three unions at the same time, as a result of what UCU head of higher education Michael MacNeil has described as “one of the most sustained pay cuts since the Second World War”.

Last week it was decided that picket lines will be held at Sidgwick Site, Downing Site, New Museum Site and Addenbrookes Site, with the strike commencing at 8:00am. Those taking part in the industrial action will also attend the ‘Rally For Fair Pay’ at 12:00pm at Senate House, where speakers include representatives from the three unions, as well as from the National Union of Teachers and Daniel Zeichner, Labour Parliamentary Candidate for Cambridge.

Speaking to The Cambridge Student, Zeichner explained why he will be speaking: “I don't think it is sustainable for staff to go on taking what is a real terms pay cut, year after year. After 4 years of below inflation increases they are 13% worse off – bad for them, and bad for the economy as it reduces demand.

“The coalition found money earlier in the year for a tax-cut for people earning over a million pounds per year – paid for by the people taking action this week. I'm with them and others defending their standard of living against Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who have lost touch with people struggling every week to make ends meet.”

Cathy Yearsley, the Branch Secretary for the UNISON Branch of the University of Cambridge and Colleges, told TCS, “We are striking on Thursday as we are left with no other option. We have tried to persuade our employers to tackle the problems of falling pay by talking, negotiating and campaigning but they still refuse to use any of their amassed money for a fair pay deal. At a time when Universities have more than £1 billion in reserves, a 1% pay offer is unacceptable.

“We are expecting a good turnout on the day and hope the University realise that this has been a big decision for the staff to take to strike. Staff at the University of Cambridge are loyal to their employer and I hope now the employer will start being loyal to its staff.

“We urge the Universities to start talking to the Trade Unions again and pay the staff a wage that we deserve, a wage that the Universities can afford to pay.”

Staff have been told that they do not have to inform the University of their intention to strike beforehand.

When contacted, a University spokesperson said, “The numbers of Cambridge University staff involved are relatively small and the University will be working hard to ensure that students’ studies are not affected.”