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Striking University staff ‘ground down’ by unfair pay and pensions says Senedd Member

17 Feb 2022 3 minute read
Sioned Williams with striking Swansea University staff

A Plaid Cymru Senedd member has said that university staff have been “ground down” by unfair pay and pensions, as she joined a strike at Swansea University.

Staff at both Swansea University and the Open University in Wales are on strike over what the University and College Union say are devastating cuts to pensions and deteriorating pay and working conditions.

This week 44 institutions are striking over pensions while next week they will be joined by 24 further universities striking over working conditions.

Sioned Williams said it was right to “demand fair pay and pensions for our hard-working staff in the higher education sector.”

As a former UCU committee member and former Swansea University employee she said that she knew “from my own experience, the conversations I’ve had and the numerous emails I’ve received that these staff members are passionate and dedicated people, committed to their work, their students and their university”.

“They did not want to be out on strike,” she said. “But in the face of pay awards being outstripped by inflation, precarious contracts, unsafe workloads, detrimental changes to pension schemes and continued race and gender inequalities, they feel they have a duty to speak out and take action.

“I fully support them and will be writing, along with my colleague Luke Fletcher, to the Vice-Chancellor of Swansea University on this matter.

“At a time when so many are facing a cost of living crisis and the enormous strain that is bringing, we should be looking to supporting more secure, better paid and fairer employment practices in every sector, including the higher education sector. We cannot level up while many are being ground down.”

‘Unsafe workloads’

The dispute oncerns the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which the UCU claims could see the average guaranteed retirement income of a university staff member reduced by 35 per cent.

Staff are also unhappy about a 20 per cent decrease in pay in real terms in the last 12 years, as inflation has outstripped pay rises.

Some UCU members are also engaging in Action Short of Strike, meaning that they are working strictly to contracted hours and not taking on any additional work.

The final day of strike action on 2 March coincides with the National Union of Students (NUS) strike, which is both in support of the UCU’s demands and calls for further education to be free at the point of use for students.

In a statement, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “It is a damning indictment of the way our universities are managed that staff are being left with no option but to walk out again. For a sector that is worth tens of billions of pounds and enjoys record levels of student growth it is beyond disgraceful that in return staff get vicious pension cuts, falling pay and are pushed to breaking point under deteriorating working conditions.

“Time is quickly running out for vice-chancellors to avert strike action, but it can be done. Staff need a proper pay rise, action to tackle insecure contracts, unsafe workloads and pay inequality, and for devastating pension cuts to be revoked. Any disruption that occurs will be the clearest indication yet that university bosses don’t value their staff.

“This wave of strike action is a fight for the future of higher education and staff are proud to stand alongside students in the fight for an education system that treats students and staff with respect.”

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