Support staff on Thursday by staying in bed

On Thursday, the trade unions represented at Aberystwyth University have balloted to undertake a national strike. We’re asking you to show support for your lectures by not going on campus.

Photo by Greg Dash

Photo by Greg Dash

Earlier this week lectures were cancelled due to storms and I anticipate the feeling emerging when students will learn that further disruption will affect them this week. It’s important though that we keep these two issues separate whilst recognizing that they both emerge from decisions made by University management.

Staff are striking this week over pay and working conditions. Despite being offered a pay rise of 1% by the university, this in no way compensates for the pay decrease faced by staff since 2009 (in real terms this is around 15%). Other impacts of Higher Education policy has led to an increase in gaps between managerial and staff salaries, gendered pay divisions and the rise of zero hour contracts. The university has refused to enter into negotiations with the unions and staff have been forced to strike. This really isn’t something that happens lightly, and in this case it has involved a national democratic ballot of Trade Union members.

To support your lecturers and the support staff that work at the University, we’re asking you to not go in. That means not going in for lunch, or to pick up books from library or to attend classes. You can also come and chat to us on the picket line at the front of the campus where we will be handing out leaflets. Some students may be looking to get a job at some point in higher education; come and chat to the staff on the picket and find out what it’s like.

I know some of you will be sympathetic to the conditions of the people working at the university and will agree with this strike action; but it’s essential to remember that if you cross a picket line you are undermining their efforts, you are working against the strike. The effectiveness of strike action is dependent on the support it receives from students and staff at the university, by crossing the picket you’re actively working against the strike action (even if you are not a member of a union) and the people that are giving up a days pay to stand out in the rain on Thursday.

Contrary to what you might think, many people who work in universities are on flexible, temporary contracts and are poorly remunerated for the work that they do. As tutors we are paid around £21 per seminar that we teach, with no extra remuneration for office hours, preparation, marking, or the time I spend answering emails and responding to your queries. This amounts to less than minimum wage for the time I spend dealing with the responsibilities of teaching. Other PhD students are less fortunate, receiving no pay for their teaching, because their teaching is expected of them as part of their PhD scholarships.

Whilst I expect some will suggest that PhD students should be grateful for their scholarships, the time pressures and financial constraints we face make it increasingly difficult for us to provide the quality of education that we want to provide our students. Although tuition fees have recently increased to £9,000, there has been no corresponding improvement in the educational experience that students receive. On the contrary, students are taught by staff being paid progressively less, facing higher workloads, and increasingly difficult working conditions.

This is the third day of industrial action that we’ve seen in the past two weeks and unless the University shows willingness to enter into a dialogue with staff we can only assume that it will continue. Despite this, we’re seeing increasingly oppressive and intimidating tactics employed by the university, not unlike those seen in response to the Pant Y Celyn protests and community concerns over the Arts Centre that was featured in Y Byd ar Bedwar. Anonymous complaints from worried staff members fearing prosecution for exposing their experiences can be found here.

I hope you agree with and support the action that staff and students are being forced to take. Together on Thursday we are standing against an ideological driven attack on education that is eroding the foundations of the working people in this town that set up this University.

There is money in the sector – it’s just not going to the people that work in it.

The facebook event for the strike is here.

EDITORS NOTE: It is important for readers to understand that these negotiations are UK wide and the University is one of 150 higher education institutions represented by The Universities & College Employer Association.