GSA Student Council Blog – Industrial Action
On behalf of the council of the GSA, we would like to communicate that we have decided to actively support staff members at university in their dispute pursuing better living conditions through pay and a better future via an affordable pension. We want to show solidarity with the University and College Union members in their decision to take industrial action to address falling standards of living, pay equality, precarious employment practices, and unsafe workloads, as we understand this is a decision to face the continuous uncertainty for the higher education sector.
We recognise that a strike is always a last resort, but financial insecurity and precarious conditions of employment need to be approached, addressed and discussed. We would like to see further dialogues take place between UCU members and University leaders to work onwards how to minimise the impact of industrial action of students, staff, their families and the community. We will monitor the situation and revisit our position if circumstances deteriorate considering that there is no way to know how long the dispute is going to extend for.
As stated in the statement released on Friday, the GSA Council would like to show their support to UCU members while also prioritising student welfare. That is why, staff and services in the GSA will remain impartial to the dispute, offering independent advice services and support to any student that would like to approach us. We understand that the University will be seeking to minimise the effect of the strike on students and we look forward to collaborating to that end.
What is happening and how we came to this position?
UCU members backed strike action in two separate legal disputes, one on pensions and one on pay and working conditions, including the gender and ethnicity pay gaps and reducing casualisation. The USS pension scheme and pay and equality disputes are distinct and involve UCU negotiating with two different bodies – UUK and UCEA respectively. Overall, 51.98% of the University of York UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions. In the ballot on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads, 51.98% of University of York UCU members polled backed strike action.
After the last industrial action in 2018, the dispute over pensions resulted in USS and UCU agreed to take advice from an independent panel of pension experts. The USS method of calculating pensions is now in dispute again after the expert panel reached a different conclusion, based on a different method of calculating costs. The negotiations over pensions includes claims such as guaranteed pension benefits or whether the pensions should depend on the investment of professors or other ways to finance them.
GSA Student Council believes that these are reasonable demands that should be addressed and we would like to encourage both sides to get back to the table to negotiate. We recognise that most of our postgraduate students evaluate the possibility to pursue an academic position professionally and that this issue will affect those students in the future.
The dispute over equal pays and against casualisation has different demands that comprehend different claims gathered in the Joint Higher Education Trade Union Pay Claim 2019/20, a document supported by five trade unions where they present a series of demands related to the loss in value of pay -meaning that pay had not kept up with the increasing costs of living-, the continuous rise of senior pay in higher education, issues related to the workload and the stress related to precarious work, and casual contracts and outsourced workers. This document proposed a series of changes in the University structure such as:
To achieve £10 per hour to be the minimum rate of pay for directly employed staff and Foundation Living Wage the lowest wage to be paid on campus (i.e. by contractors). The joint unions are calling for a pay rise that recognises the increases in the cost of living (3% on top of an RPI increase).
Action to close the gender pay gap, and to work on closing the ethnic pay gap, taking into account the ways in which intersectionality affects pay and grading. This includes a proposal for University leaders to work alongside the trade-unions to create an action plan that addresses the ethnic pay gap and the impact of intersectionality on staff earning in HE.
To achieve a 35 hour working week (for full-time employees) for all staff working in Universities.
To agree a framework to eliminate precarious employment practices by Universities. This includes the ending of zero hours contracts, moving hourly paid staff onto fractional contracts, and for outsourced staff to be brought in-house to direct university employment.
GSA Student Council strongly supports the position of staff members to reclaim over the shameful and persistent pay inequality. We believe that UK universities have to commit to the Equal Pay Act since the sector still has huge gaps: the average pay gap across the UK HE sector standing at 15.9% and thirty institutions have reported gaps in excess of 20%.
Furthermore, GSA Council is aware on how casual contracts remain entrenched in higher education, be harmful to staff and students. We fully support the need for all postgraduates who teach to be engaged in teaching on a regular basis and for them to be on employee contracts. We agree with the need to end the use of zero-hours contracts, to transfer more hourly paid staff onto fractional employment contracts, to commit to move research staff onto open-ended contracts, and to agree strategies and timescales to bring contracted out services back in-house.
For all the above-mentioned reasons, we would like the University of York to be an example of good practice in the sector by joining the call from the trade-unions to national Universities to commit to a new institution-level action plan to address equal pay and outsourcer and casualised work. We believe this will show that the University of York is working in line with the principles of good work, proactively acting to eliminate the gender and ethnic pay gap and create greater security of employment.
How are we going to support the strike?
The GSA is organising additional on campus space for students to take a break and relax when their lectures are disrupted. The room available is the common room of Vanburgh VGCR, next to the GSA offices. Tea and coffee will be available from 10 to 16 everyday of the strike, but no members of the GSA will be there. If you need to have a word with us you are welcome to come to our office (down the hall).
The GSA commits to inform students on the developments of the dispute via social media and via the newsletter.
The GSA Student Council would like to support to students who want to show solidarity on the industrial action by sharing the relevant materials and information on the best way to do so. This will be done in the sabbatical officers’ on social media promoting the spaces where UCU members are informing of the dispute and publicising the organised teach outs.
The GSA Student Council would like to stand in solidarity with members of University of York staff that are taking strike action after staff reporting ever increasing workloads and working hours, increased work-related stress and casualisation. This will be done by the sabbatical officers who may show their solidarity in different ways such as attending the picket lines, attending students inquiries, and attending teach outs.
Materials for further info:
These are some of the link that you may find useful:
UCU/NUS statement on the current HE disputes: https://www.ucu.org.uk/UCU-NUS-jointstatement
Video UCU/NUS statement: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cnVe-aXan8Y
Information on the USS pension scheme dispute: https://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforuss
Information on pay and equality in the Joint Higher Education Trade Union Pay Claim 2019/20 document: https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/10185/UCUBAN54-HE-pay-claim-2019-20/pdf/UCUBAN54.pdf?utm_source=lyr-ucu-members&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=members&utm_term=he-full-jnches&utm_content=Higher+education+joint+unions+pay+claim+2019-20
What UCU says to students who want to support the strike?
Visit the picket lines to express your support using the hashtag #UCUstrike
Email the vice-chancellor to ask for fresh negotiations – you can do this online at www.ucu.org.uk/studentvoice by entering your institution name .
Support striking staff and donate to the UCU fighting fund at www.ucu.org.uk/fightingfund
How the GSA suggest you support the strike?
Tell all your lecturers you support their fight
Complain to the University about the changes to pensions/pay and conditions and how the strike has impacted you – www.ucu.org.uk/studentvoice.
Follow the student-led FB Group ‘York students support staff’ https://www.facebook.com/StudentsSupportStrikes/
Postgraduates who teach can join UCU for free as student members – www.ucu.org.uk/free
Email the local UCU branch expressing your support – http://york.web.ucu.org.uk/local-executive-committee/
You can also attend UCU’s Strike On, Teach Out events as this is an opportunity to learn different contents that may not be necessarily related to your course.
We would encourage any students who need to cross the picket lines to take the opportunity to talk to the members of staff who are striking.