UCU strikes continue into second day

Ian Johnston 26 May 2016

Teaching staff continued their strike over pay, gender inequality and zero-hour contracts today. Cambridge staff are among thousands of members of the University College Union (UCU) who are striking across the country.

The Cambridge UCU Strike Committee have stated repeatedly that none of the picket lines will disrupt examination sites. They admit that strikes may affect students whose markers, teachers or invigilators are on strike. In the coming weeks, the strikers will work ‘to contract’, refusing to work unpaid overtime. This will also affect students. However, the Committee were quick to assuage doubts. An email sent to JCRs and MCRs on Tuesday informed students of the action, in an attempt to minimise disruption.

The strikes are part of a nationwide initiative, in an attempt to address growing problems for the profession.Since 2009, university staff have had a 14.5% pay cut in real terms. Cambridge is the UK’s third most expensive city to live in. The impact of this pay cut is therefore particularly acute. Gender inequality is also greater in Cambridge. The 17.4% pay gap between women and men in Cambridge, is significantly higher than the national 12.6% figure.

Carol Holliday, a lecturer in Psychoanalytic Counselling, picketed on King’s Parade. She believes zero-hour and casual contracts are the most pressing issues facing staff. Teachers and lecturers are unable to know how many hours they will work per week, creating insecurity and forcing them to leave the profession.

"An esteemed colleague from another university has had to give up her job as a lecturer to work in a shop, because she wasn’t earning enough money to live. It’s such a waste. I think it is outrageous that people are unpaid for work which requires so much talent."

Olivier Tonneau, a member of the MML Faculty, spoke of a friend in the Mathematics department who had been forced to work 50 hours per week.

"This raises serious questions about the quality of teaching for students. The zero-hours contracts mean that many are working too many hours, and have no control over their timetables."

The strikers on King’s Parade were few in number. However, the group of ten stated that the reception from students had been very warm. They added that examinations had not been affected by the strikes, but that many lectures and classes had been cancelled.  Strikers at an unplanned picket at the Newnham entrance to the Sidgewick Site were encouraged by the support. They believe that turnout at the picket lines has been higher than expected.    

Students can support the strikers by wearing purple felt squares. These are available on picket lines on Pembroke Street, the Sidgewick Site and the Old Schools site. Staff will return to work tomorrow. University officials did not respond when contacted for comment.