Marine Saint, Deputy Editor and Features Columnist
Strike action is taking place this week by UNISON Professional Services members across the university campus. Campaigners are striking due to the disputed three per cent pay offer for all University of Bristol staff, which in the context of the nine per cent plus inflation is a pay cut.
Picket lines began yesterday and are due to continue until tomorrow, where there will be a post-action rally. The thousands of university staff striking across the UK include administrators, cleaners, library and catering employees.
Universities will be disrupted as these workers campaign for a wage increase of two per cent above inflation, after rejecting a three per cent pay award from the University and Colleges Employers Association in May. UNISON members voted on strike action in July following last term’s strikes regarding pension issues and low pay. They are continuing to campaign for higher wages amidst the cost-of-living crisis.
Epigram spoke to Oscar, Executive Committee Member of UNISON’s Bristol University Branch and workplace contact for the Queens Building. Oscar explained the reasons for strike action to Epigram: ‘The issue with the three per cent pay rise is that with inflation, it’s effectively a pay cut of at least six per cent for us.’
‘With the cost-of-living crisis, it isn’t good enough. We haven’t had a pay rise to match inflation in around thirteen years, so we’re all striking because we deserve a pay rise.’
‘We are hoping to get senior management to negotiate a fair pay rise for all of us, which would be one at least matching inflation.’
Oscar emphasised how the university has an option to move jobs up the pay scale but are using the national pay scale as an excuse against meeting UNISON’s demands. Those striking have chosen picket lines at the buildings where they work in order to make their presence felt.
One student noted that they were ‘Glad the staff were striking for a good cause, but equally that the action is not disrupting our welcome week.’
Systems Support Team member Barry said there was potential for further strike action next week depending on the university’s response. The picket lines are also recognisable across campus due to their music, which Barry explained was chosen from a collaborative playlist of UNISON members taking action.
UNISON is the UK’s largest union with more than 1.3 million members providing public services in education, local government, the NHS, police service and energy. The three per cent pay rise applies to all staff earning £25,627 and above a year.
Mike Short, UNISON Head of Education said: ‘Staff have reached breaking point and have little choice but to strike. For years they’ve watched wages slip further behind living costs. Now huge price increases threaten to push many over the edge.’
As a result of a Student Council Motion in November, Bristol SU supports and respects the rights of the striking staff, whilst recognising the impact it may have on students. They offer more advice on mitigation and support here: Student guide to industrial action - Office for Students
A University of Bristol spokesperson said: “UNISON advised that they had a mandate for strike action in relation to the pay award and we met with them on September 20 ahead of the strike action which is being undertaken this week. The University of Bristol is part of national HE collective bargaining so we cannot unilaterally change the pay award.
“We have been in discussion with all three trade unions, which includes UNISON, about pay and reward and remain committed to continuing those discussions. We next meet in October at our Joint Negotiation and Consultation Committee (JCNC) where we will discuss what options we have at Bristol to support our staff with the cost-of-living crisis.”
Featured Image: Marine Saint/Epigram
Have you seen the picket lines across campus? Let us know your thoughts on Twitter @Epigrampaper