Have you heard?
Beginning Monday Nov. 25th, staff at nearly 60 universities in the UK will be going on an 8-day strike. UEA is one of those. The strike action is being taken by members of the Trade Union UCU (University and College Union).
Your lecturers, tutors and support staff DO NOT want to strike or to cause upset and worry to students. Striking always and only ever a last resort. Our working conditions are your learning conditions, so the things we are fighting for affect your future and the future of Higher education.
Why the strike?
First, let’s get the elephant out of the way. No, this is not a paid holiday.
All striking members will lose pay for every day they strike.
If the strike lasts all 8 days, striking employees would lose about 40% of their monthly income. The sacrifice and stakes for striking employees are high.
So why bear this hit?
The strike at UEA is about Pensions:
Sadly, this is a continuation from the 2018 strike. As one of the outcomes of the last strike, it was agreed between the Union and the Pension Scheme Provider that a Joint Expert Panel would be set up to determine a fair level of contribution from employers and employees. Both sets of negotiators agreed to abide by the evaluation of this panel. However, despite the conclusions from the Joint Expert Panel that the increases in payment that the pension scheme has imposed are unnecessary and unfair, they – along with support from university management teams – have decided to press ahead anyway. Despite attempts to resolve the issues since the last strike, we have lost faith in the leaders of our universities to put people before profit. We’ve lost faith in Universities UK (the organisation who represents all UK Universities) to engage in good-faith negotiation with our union UCU on the future of our pension scheme.
All UK employers are required, by law, to provide a workplace pension plan to their employees. This is a way to help people save a sufficient amount of retirement income. Without adequate savings, people are required to stay in employment longer and/or are likely to face financial hardship if and when they do retire. This situation may also have a detrimental effect on overall employment rates.
Pensions are not a freebie or an arbitrary perk. They are part of earned income. Pension savings are made up of direct contributions from employee pay as well as contributions from the employer as earned benefit.
All UK universities have a responsibility to ensure staff have a decent pension for when they retire. Our last strike action was to do with to the UUK’s attempt to restructure the pension scheme from a defined benefit to a defined contribution scheme. This means that our Employers want to end guaranteed pension income, so our final pensions would depend on how the stock market performs. That means huge uncertainty and a reduced retirement income for all.
Having now rolled back that proposition, the UUK has demanded that employees bear a substantial increase in contribution to keep defined benefits – despite an evaluation by a Joint Expert Panel that such an increase was unnecessary and unfair. This is especially true for younger and newer employees who stand to pay £40,000 more in contributions for £200,000 less in retirement. Higher contributions from employees also means that staff on insecure contracts and/or lower pay will be priced out of the pension scheme. We have to take action again now, to protect our pension scheme for all levels of staff now and in the future.
But why should students suffer?’
The ‘suffering’ argument relies on pitting the wellbeing of students against the wellbeing of staff – as if the two are in conflict. Employers continually appeal to, or question our sense of duty towards students while simultaneously eroding the conditions under which we can fulfil these duties.
It also assumes that students have narrow interests – that they care only about classes and grades; that they don’t think about the world outside and beyond their role as students, or that they are uninterested in and unaffected by the wider social and political world. We know this isn’t true. If we allow unfair and unreasonable conduct by employers to go unchallenged, then this also affects your experience and rights as future workers too.
So what can you do as students before the strike?
There is another way. UUK can chose to change its position before our strike action takes place. Our VC feeds directly in to UUK. If you wish to support our action and avoid this strike, please email D.Richardson@uea.ac.uk and let him know that you support our cause and want pension justice for UEA employees. Our employment conditions are your learning conditions. Whatever happens in the upcoming weeks, we want you all to know that we have the long-term interests of this University at heart. People make UEA, not buildings. We understand the difficulties that universities are facing in the current climate, but we do not believe that students are a “unit of resource”. We do not agree that any 20-year plan at UEA can be achieved if it comes at the expense of the staff who make this University what it is. Let’s Do Different and encourage our VC to do the same.
What can you do if strike action does go ahead?
The most important thing students can do in the event of strike action is to send messages of solidarity to staff members who have chosen to take action. Staff on strike will not be reading their University emails, but messages of solidarity can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org, tweeted to @UEA_UCU, or passed on in person to those who attend the daily pickets. Choosing to go on strike is often an agonizing decision, and the support we received last year from students was invaluable in raising morale and keeping our minds focussed on the end goal – to improve learning conditions at UEA.
With our thanks and best wishes,
The UCU@UEA Committee