By Waseem Mohamed
A Durham University spokesperson has said that the University is “disappointed” about strike action from the University and College Union (UCU) after the first walkouts from Durham UCU members took place on Wednesday.
Members of Durham UCU are striking due to the ongoing dispute over proposed changes to pension providers, and a set of issues dubbed the ‘Four Fights’ of “pay inequality, job insecurity, rising workloads and pay devaluation”. The first picket lines sprang up across the University campus on Wednesday between 8.30am and 10.30am.
A University spokesperson told The Northern Echo that “we are disappointed by this outcome given the impact this will have on our students, many of whom may have been impacted by the last round of industrial action and/or the pandemic.”
The spokesperson went on to say that the University’s “key objective is, as far as possible, to ensure our students can achieve their learning outcomes and maintain their access to learning.”
The University has also come out in defense of their current policies towards pensions, with the spokesperson stating that “pay and pensions are subject to national negotiations, and as one of many employers, we have limited influence.”
The spokesperson continued to defend University policies, stating that “the USS (University Superannuation Scheme) will continue to be a very good pension relative to other schemes”, and that “we are currently paying more into the USS pension scheme than ever before.”
The University also hit back at claims that their pay settlements were inadequate, saying that “the 2021 national pay settlement was at the limit of affordability for many institutions”, but that “the University has continued to reward academic and professional service colleagues with merit and discretionary awards.”
The spokesperson concluded by saying that “our wider benefits structure remains highly competitive, and we regularly review and improve our employee benefits and practices”, stressing that “where there is need to make improvements… we will continue to do so, and our joint work with UCU on casualisation is an example of this.”
After the December strikes were announced, UCU President Jo Grady warned about further action “which will escalate into spring with re-ballots and further industrial action”, with members allegedly keen to push for further walkouts in Epiphany term.
The strikes so far have received warm support from some, including Durham City MP Mary Foy and the Durham Student’s Union, who voted to support strike action in an emergency meeting earlier this term. The wider student community remains more divided, according to statistics from Durham Polling, which found that 53% of respondents were not supportive of strike action.
The final day of disruption will be today, meaning that hundreds of scheduled contact hours and face-to-face teaching sessions will be cancelled, with the University warning that staff members are “not obliged to inform the University in advance” about their intentions regarding the scheduling of lessons.
Durham UCU have had picket lines at five sites across campus. There has also been a daily rally from 11am each day on the entrance of the Lower Mountjoy site (outside the Bill Bryson Library), as well as an online teach-out scheduled from 3-5pm each afternoon and a daily virtual meeting of members at 2pm.
Image Credit: Waseem Mohamed