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Southampton UCU Branch Statement to Students about Strike Action

Branch officers recently met with the SUSU Vice President Education and Democracy, Emily Bastable, to discuss our upcoming strike action on 24, 25 and 30 November.  Emily confirmed that there would be an all student vote on the action that would run from Friday 11 November to Friday 18 November.  Southampton UCU provided a statement for students giving information about the UCU Rising campaign and why we are striking.  We do hope that the students at University of Southampton support the action, which already has the full support of the National Union of Students (SUSU are not affiliated to the NUS).

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You may have heard that university staff across the nation will be taking strike action for three days on 24, 25 and 30 November. With great sadness and reluctance, UCU members at the University of Southampton will be participating, to fight for better working conditions. None of our members chose a career in higher education because of greed. Rather, whether lecturer, librarian, researcher, technician, administrator, or something else, we chose our professions because we are passionate about developing and sharing knowledge – both for the good of society and for the benefit of you, our students. Why, then, are we going on strike? We would like to explain our reasons for doing so.

Staff are taking action because of the relentless and continual erosion of our pay, conditions, and pensions, and because workloads have increased year after year, to a level that jeopardises our mental and physical wellbeing. We have reached a point where the quality of your education is being diluted, and where many staff are now financially insecure, and those who are not yet in that position face financial uncertainty in retirement.

  • Equality: Southampton has a mean gender pay gap of 19.9%. It does not report figures for ethnicity or disability pay gaps. This is totally unacceptable in 2022. Inequality is embedded in the sector by casualization, falling pay and pensions cuts.
  • Workloads: A recent UCU report reveals that university staff work on average and extra two working days each week. Many staff report suffering from depression and are considering resigning. Our local survey found that our members are struggling with crippling workloads that have only increased since the pandemic. Most recently, our complaints about the unbearable pressure being placed on staff during the summer assessment period have been ignored.
  • Casualization: At Southampton, around 41% of staff who provide teaching and academic support are casualized. Many of the staff that teach you or support your learning will not know if they have a job next academic year and may not even be entitled to sick pay. Staff turnover is high, expertise and experience are lost, and students suffer as a result.
  • Pay: Our pay has fallen in real terms by 25% since 2009. The latest pay offer we received was 3%, yet RPI in July 2022 was 12.3%, which means our pay has been cut again. A new lecturer’s starting salary today is about £6,000 less in real terms than it was in 2008. This is unsustainable. Let’s be clear: your fees are not going towards our wages, they are going towards senior leadership pay, shiny new buildings, consultancy fees and other vanity projects.
  • Pensions: Universities have forced through devastating cuts to our pensions. Staff are losing up to 35% of their pensions following a seriously flawed valuation that took place two years ago, which claimed that our pension fund had a deficit of £14.1bn. Yet the latest data (30 June 2022) suggests that there is actually a surplus of £1.8bn. Many staff now face financial insecurity in old age and the University admits that the cuts they supported will damage younger staff, women and part-time/casualized workers the most.

The leaders of some universities have claimed that fair workloads, conditions, equality, pay and pensions are unaffordable, but UCU has offered to explore alternative options for such institutions, on the condition that they open their books to our accountants so that their claims can be verified. The University of Southampton is clearly not in this position, as public accounts confirm its finances are healthy (e.g. surpluses of £18m in 2020-21, and £103m in 2019-20). Yet the leaders of this University have decided to support below inflation pay rises and the unjustified slashing of pensions, and have yet to take effective action on casualization and equality. These attacks on staff are also attacks on students, because our working conditions are your learning conditions, and we all deserve better.

How can you help? We ask that you support UCU members by voting in favour of supporting our strike action in SUSU’s All-Student Vote. SUSU will then be able to work with us to put pressure on the University to do all it can to resolve our disputes. We need your support to save higher education.

Thank you.

Southampton UCU, 11 November 2022

 

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