The focus of the UCU strike has shifted from 2018 to include precarious contracts and the poor working conditions of non-academic support staff.
On 22 February 2018, UCU members went on strike for an unprecedented 14 days over changes made to their pension benefit. However, the current action also comes in response to a separate ballot against an increase in casualised teaching contracts and excessive workloads.
Students were “quite shocked, once they found out about why we’re striking and what the working conditions were”.PhD Student
Exeposé spoke to a PhD student who is on one of these contracts, and felt the current round of strikes had a different purpose to the historic 2018 action.
“We’re basically on ‘guaranteed minimum hours contracts’ – where we were initially going to be given a minimum of 10 hours per year to do our work, and we’d have to claim for all the hours we then did.
“The adding of the casualisation stuff to this strike ballot has meant, I think, increased support.
“The senior staff have been really kind to us about this. They say, ‘it’s not just about our pensions; I was on a contract like you a few years ago… now I want to support you.’”
Students were “quite shocked, once they found out about why we’re striking and what the working conditions were”.
The Students’ Guild’s VP Postgraduate, Sunday Blake, confirmed that if students are reimbursed for the strike action out of teachers’ wages, it will be at a value of 87 pence for each seminar disrupted.
Commenting on this, another PhD student said “we’re all in it together.”
The new round of strikes has also seen a new focus on the experiences of professional service staff. Professional service staff are non-academic employees, such as library technicians and porters, who do not teach but provide essential maintenance and administration work.
One Library Technician said: “For me, the pensions issue is a really important issue, but all these other areas have been neglected or degraded over a long period of time.
We’ve had lots of cuts to funding and staff numbers and professional services – which has led to big increases in workload, particularly with student increases.Exeter University Library Technician
“Pay and workload are real issues, especially for those of us who work in professional services and not academic roles.
“I work in the library and we’ve had lots of cuts to funding and staff numbers and professional services – which has led to big increases in workload particularly with student increases.”
Since 2007, the University of Exeter student population has increased by over 10,000 students. The council forecast that there will be a need for over 20,000 bedspaces in the city by 2020.
Another Library Technician suggested:
“If we had a proper union and the cleaners and the IT went out that would be very different, but those positions are discouraged from joining this union. Unite, Unison and UCU are the three. If all the porters, cleaners, people who unlock the buildings came out, that would be a very different kind of strike.”
The UCU Industrial Action is ongoing and is currently scheduled to continue until 4 December. Follow @exeposenews for daily updates from the Streatham picket lines.
The Exeter UCU are running a hardship fund for those affected by loss of pay from industrial action. You can donate to this fund via bank transfer here.
Additional reporting by Aaron Loose and Neha Shaji.
Editor: Harry Caton