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This is what the Durham lecturers who are striking want students to know

If an agreement isn’t reached with the university, staff say there will be a marking boycott


Wednesday 1st February marked the first day in 2023 of the UCU’s (University and College Union) industrial action, and staff university-wide will be taking part in strikes over the next two months.

Picketers have been gathering in Market Square, outside Elvet Riverside, and by the Billy B to voice their concerns and demands. The scenes have been attracting students, staff and the public alike in a show of support.

The Tab Durham spoke to members of staff who chose to strike, who explained the three key causes of the strikes: job certainty, pay and pensions.

The protest at Market Square on the first day of the strikes

Job certainty

Dr Henry Jones, from the Law School, was one of the lecturers at the rally on the first day of strikes. He told The Tab Durham that he chose to strike for “pay, pension, working conditions, staff inequality, and for the future of the university and higher education”.

Dr Jones stressed the importance that students “know who to be angry with”. He says the disruption caused by the strikes is ultimately the “fault of university management, Vice and Pro-Vice Chancellors, and heads of faculties”.

Dr Jones also highlighted that “staff working conditions are student learning conditions”. He explained how placing staff on “precarious contracts” diverges their energy away from education, and on to worrying about “if we will have a job come September”.

A UCU picketer

The strikes come after a host of cuts last year saw employers of UCU members cut their employees pensions by 35 per cent, and refused to increase their pay offer of four to five per cent. There has not been an inflation-aligned pay rise in over ten years, meaning some members of staff cannot even afford to pay into their pensions.

Pay

Dr Jon Warren, the Durham UCU branch Vice President and Vice Principle of Cuth’s told The Tab Durham:

“The dispute on pensions is very long running. Last year pensions were cut especially badly for new staff and joiners, as the pensions were improperly valued due to the valuation of the pension being done at the end of March 2020 when the stock market was bad. We were told these cuts to pensions were necessary and the scheme was in deficit, but now it’s in surplus. There’s no reason our pensions shouldn’t be restored. Thanks to the cost of living crisis, our wages are worth 25 per cent less than in 2010. Employers are offering a per cent pay rise and that’s just not good enough, and we’re also concerned about gender pay gap. There are 9000 staff on temporary contracts, and lots of staff at Durham don’t know whether they’ll have a job in September.

“There will be a marking and assessment boycott, unless employers have serious conversations with us, that will be inevitable. The threat of action isn’t something we want to do, but we’re not being paid properly and students are being charged even more. Neither staff nor students are getting enough.

“Expansion has affected the university’s reputation. Karen O’Brien the new Vice Chancellor has been better at talking to us, but she’s not visible to the staff or student population. Durham likes to talk about the ‘Durham difference’. It needs to be different and champion staff and students. In the Russell Group Durham isn’t a leader, it’s a follower. We’d like to change that. Mary Foy has been very supportive, but the university, Cathedral and council control everything. Thanks to all the students who’ve supported us and shown solidarity.”

Protesters outside the Bill Bryson Library during the November strikes

Pensions

Iain Lindsey, Durham UCU Pensions Officer and Associate Professor in Sport and Exercise Science, spoke to The Tab Durham in more detail about pensions:

“Our pensions were downgraded in 2022, based on a near-sighted view of the health of the pension scheme when the stock market crashed due to the start of Covid in 2020. The financial health of the scheme has improved significantly since then, but staff haven’t seen benefits from that improvement.

“Our pensions were downgraded in 2022, based on a near-sighted view of the health of the pension scheme when the stock market crashed due to the start of Covid in 2020. The financial health of the scheme has improved significantly since then, but staff haven’t seen benefits from that improvement.

“Last year, Durham University management signed a joint statement which indicated that they would prioritise restoring the pensions lost due to the 2022 cut. Fulfilling that promise will not actually cost the university anything – now is the time for them to get together with management at other universities and follow through on that promise to staff.”

@thetabdurham

Sol Gamsu, Sociology lecturer and branch President of the Durham UCU explains why staff are striking and that there are likely to be marking boycotts next term if their demands aren’t met. Some staff can’t afford to pay into their pensions as they haven’t received an inflation-meeting pay rise in over ten years. They’re also campaigning for safer working environments #durham #durhamuniversity #durhamuni #ucustrikes #student

♬ original sound – The Tab Durham

More information about the UCU and its aims can be found on their website, https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/12759/University-strike-dates-in-February-and-March-confirmed.

In a statement on 25th January 2023, Durham University said:

“We have been officially notified of further strike action dates by University and College Union (UCU).  Strike action will be discontinuous and will take place on:

  • Wednesday 1 February 2023
  • Thursday 9 February and Friday 10 February 2023
  • Tuesday 14 February, Wednesday 15 February and Thursday 16 February 2023
  • Tuesday 21 February, Wednesday 22 February and Thursday 23 February 2023
  • Monday 27 February, Tuesday 28 February, Wednesday 1 March and Thursday 2 March 2023
  • Thursday 16 March and Friday 17 March 2023
  • Monday 20 March, Tuesday 21 March and Wednesday 22 March 2023

There is continued dialogue between Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), Universities UK, UCU and other recognised Trade Unions in an attempt to reach a resolution to the dispute. This includes a pay negotiation meeting taking place on Wednesday 25 January 2023. The University welcomes that ongoing dialogue and hopes a resolution can be found that avoids the need for industrial action.

We understand that our students may feel concerned about this announcement. We would like to reassure you that detailed mitigations are in place to support our students so learning opportunities continue to be met.”

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