University strike: Picket lines at Sheffield University and Hallam University over pay and pensions
Picket lines formed at university sites all across Sheffield today as hundreds of employees walked out on strike over pay, pensions and conditions.
Staff took placards to their places of work and manned the lines throughout the day for what will be three days of action by members of the University and College Union (UCU).
Lecturers and support staff at both Sheffield University and Hallam University are involved in the dispute which is due to run from today (Wednesday, December 1) until the end of the week.
Ian Sudbery, a molecular biologist at the University of Sheffield, was among those protesting on the picket line outside the landmark red brick Firth Court building on Weston Bank.
He said: “Really, there are two issues. One is that we are facing a continual deterioration in our working conditions, particularly the more junior staff, who are seeing an increasing use of fixed term and casual contacts, not having the stability to be able to get on with their lives and plan for their futures. That’s combined with a big wage disparity between gender, a wage gap. Those are two issues which I really care about.
"The other issue is that universities are threatening to cut 40 per cent of our pensions, and that would see us 40 per cent worse off in retirement than we would otherwise have been.
"None of us want to be here, but the university is so far refusing to even talk to us about these issues. We hope to be able to encourage them to talk to us so we can have a dialogue about how to go forward.”
Research fellow Luke Dunning was also on the picket lines. He said: “One of the big issues at the moment is the reduction in our pensions. We pay quite a lot. We pay quite a lot, and contributions are staying the same, but actually it's going to cost about 35 per cent of our pensions, which are going to be reduced by the time we retire, There’s also increased work casualation, work loads and the gender pay gap.
"Each department is picketing outside its own building, Each department, maths, physics, geography etcetera is out in force. Students seem pretty supportive – they go past,take a flyer, and we discuss what’s going on.”
Post doctoral research assistant, Barbara Dobrin, had joined them. She said: “I think it's very important to stand up to bad policies and if necessary, to stand up to the university if they’re raising these bad policies, and that would include things like management of the pension.”
James Cranch, Sheffield branch committee member for the UCU, said: “Today and for the rest of the week we’re on strike, related to two of our disputes at the moment. We’re out because of pay and conditions, as we’ve had many consecutive years of below inflation pay rise, and we’re also out because of our pensions. The proposals at the moment to cut pensions are quite serious. Younger staff might be seeing a total cut in pensions that is more than a quarter and in some extreme cases getting close to a half, and this is not OK. I think the pension scheme is quite well funded, our universities are quite well funded.
"We’ve got picket lines all over the campus from the management school up at Conduit Road down the the ELTC at Shalesmoor, and most of them are staffed by the people who work in the buildings. There tends to be a dozen or more in each. I think what they are seeing is a big show of support for what we’re trying to achieve.”
Sheffield’s universities are putting plans in place to minimise disruption when academics strike next week over pay.
Staff are taking action for three days , until Friday
Of 1,655 UCU members affected at the University of Sheffield, 732 voted to strike, over pay and pensions – 73 per cent of the 1,007 who voted.
At Hallam, of 819 UCU members affected, 270 voted to strike over pay and conditions – 61 per cent of the 441 who voted.
The city’s universities are part of a group of 146 universities who negotiate through the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association and are among 58 universities facing strikes.
A University of Sheffield spokesperson said: “The upcoming three days of strike action are unlikely to affect the majority of students at the University of Sheffield. Our priority is to minimise disruption for those students affected to ensure that learning and teaching continues to be delivered.
"Student support services will continue to be available and we will be communicating regularly with our students and staff to let them know about any changes that may occur as a result of the strike action.
“We will continue to work with our local trade unions and encourage them to work with UCU at a national level to explore ways to resolve these disputes.”
A Hallam spokesperson said: “As a university, we will make every effort to keep students and staff informed of the latest information regarding the national UCU dispute.”
"Our overriding priority during industrial action will be to minimise potential disruption for students and the wider university community.”
Sheffield Hallam University has approximately 4,000 staff in total while the University of Sheffield has around 8,000.
The UCU is demanding a £2,500 pay rise for all staff, claiming wages of university staff have fallen 20 per cent in real terms since 2009.