The third week of strike action in the dispute over staff pensions at the University of Bristol has seen a four-day walk-out, a student occupation of Senate House, claims that the action is also about 'deep structural inequalities in Higher Education', and a further 14 strike days sanctioned by the Universities and College Union (UCU).
On Monday 5th March, individual members from the Student-Staff Solidarity group occupied the fifth floor of Senate house, where the Vice-Chancellor's office is located. The occupation began at 7.20AM, and they did not leave until 5.45PM on Wednesday 7th March.
The occupiers were unable to meet with the Vice-Chancellor on Monday, so stayed overnight for a meeting on Tuesday 6th March that would last from 10AM until 11.15AM. The group described this meeting as 'constructive', but due to time pressure were unable to cover everything and agreed with Professor Brady to meet again the following day.
Following their meeting on Wednesday, Professor Hugh Brady sent an email to all students in which he outlined his plans to lobby government and to write to Universities UK (UUK) to urge 'fresh thinking' to solve the ongoing dispute over pensions.
A series of the occupiers' demands were also met, including assurances from the Vice-Chnancellor that staff will not have their pay docked for working to contract, or for action short of a strike and money saved from striking staff will be used to benefit student-services.
We had 'free access' to toilets unlike those in Bath and Exeter. Shame on the University of Bath and the University of Exeter for their treatment of peaceful protestors, and solidarity to @ExeStudentsUCU @Bath_Students https://t.co/igoLoyHnDZ— Bristol Uni Occupation (@BristolUniOcc) March 7, 2018
Ruth Day, 18, from the Student-Staff Solidrity group told Epigram: 'We are very happy that Hugh Brady has listened to a number of our demands.'
She added: 'We have got much more to fight for but we have definitely made some ground, and I am just so proud of all of us up there and those working on the ground.'
The Student-Solidarity group also released a template that students can use to email the Vice-Chancellor with, which can be found here. The template expresses the senders 'extreme displeasure at the way that Bristol University has handled the negotiations with the UCU and the sheer lack of respect and support that they offer members of staff.'
We have got much more to fight for but we have definitely made some ground
The strikes have also been said to be 'not just about pensions but also about the deep structural inequalities in Higher Education', after it was revealed that the University of Bristol has interviewed an all-male shortlist for the Head of School of Humanities on International Women's Day.
The Head of School interviews were postponed from Wednesday 7th March, due to active picketing, to Thursday 8th March.
@BristolUni has decided to mark International Women's Day by interviewing an all male shortlist for Head of the School of Humanities. This strike is not just about pensions but also about the deep structural inequalities in Higher Education. #IWD18 #ucustrike pic.twitter.com/GhVTYHdAvz— Dónal Hassett (@donalhassett1) March 8, 2018
Finally, a further 14 days of strike action has been sanctioned by the UCU if talks break down, which have been 'designed' to go into exam season.
UCU General secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'I want to stress that I consider all this a necessary precaution against the failure of talks to deliver an acceptable settlement.
'The union would prefer dialogue and I have given my personal commitment to Acas that UCU is serious about reaching an agreement. However, if talks fail, we are prepared to carry out the action in defence of our pensions.'
The strike action continues next week from Monday-Friday, the longest set of consecutive strike days so far in this dispute.
Featured Image: Epigram / Ed Southgate
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