By Milan Perera, Deputy Editor
UNISON members at the University of Bristol embarked on a morning of strike action on Thursday, June 1, demanding improved pay and better working conditions.
Dozens of UNISON members, including support staff, librarians, cleaners, administrative personnel, and other workers, gathered outside various university buildings such as the Arts and Social Science Library (ASSL) and the Senate House.
Carrying placards with slogans such as ‘Fair Pay Now’ and ‘We’re Worth More’, they expressed their frustration over what they perceive as years of underpayment and undervaluation.
UNISON has rejected the University's current offer of five per cent pay rise but demanded that any proposed pay rise should be in line with the current inflation rate of 11.4 per cent.
The striking UNISON members argue that their wages have failed to keep pace with the rising cost of living, making it increasingly difficult to make ends meet. They claim that their salaries have remained stagnant for far too long, while the University's revenues and budget have continued to grow.
Unlike their sister organisation, The University and College Union (UCU) which represents large number of academic staff, UNISON represents University's professional services staff – including some of the lowest paid employees.
Speaking exclusively to Epigram, Mia Smith, library assistant and UNISON Young members representative pointed out:
'Bristol University has proven again and again that it cares more about its profit than its people - not just academic staff, but professional services staff too, especially young employees.
'I'm striking because I went to this university, and in return this university used me for cheap labour.
'As a precarious intern, I wasn't even on our pay scale. I would walk home from work because I couldn't afford the bus; I'd get home and couldn't afford to put the heating on either. Inflation continues to rise, house prices continue to rise, food prices continue to rise, yet our wages don't.'
A group of protesters who gathered outside the Arts and Social Science Library was seen chanting slogans demanding 'fair pay' immediately.
A UNISON spokesperson pointed out:
‘In the space of a year the branch’s membership has grown by 44 per cent. The strike [has had] some traction [so far], with the current offer of a 5 per cent increase for most staff.
‘This however remains insufficient to keep up with the current cost of living, particularly in a city with such an expensive rental and housing market as Bristol.
‘Nationally, UCEA represents different Universities in different financial situations, but locally the University of Bristol has the option for a solution for their own institutional circumstances. They can reassess their own pay grading and where staff members reside on these pay scales, as a means of increasing pay for staff, this could help bridge the gap between inflation and the current pay offer.’
The University of Bristol UNISON Branch has scheduled five more days of strike action for June 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19, if no resolution has been reached before this point. If the scheduled industrial action to go ahead, it will coincide with the University’s open days for prospective undergraduate students on June 16 and 17.
Charlie Gadd from the Socialist Worker Student Society who was also present at the picket line pointed out that:
'University staff are taking strike action over pay after over ten years with no increases in line with inflation. Now when food inflation is nearing 20 per cent it really shows where the university’s priorities are.'
Regarding the latest UNISON industrial action, a University of Bristol spokesperson said:
‘We are very sorry to see colleagues represented by Unison taking part in industrial action today but, at the same time, we respect the rights of our staff to act where they feel strongly about issues which affect them.
‘Unison advised that they had a mandate for strike action in relation to the pay award in September last year. We are one of only nine universities affected by this latest action.
‘We remain committed to continuing discussions. The University is part of national HE collective bargaining so we cannot unilaterally change the pay award of between 5-8%– agreed for the 23/24 academic year, therefore we need to find better ways of resolving this dispute nationally.’