Derry MLA calls on universities to redouble efforts to avoid 18 days of strikes

Derry SDLP MLA Sinéad McLaughlin has said an agreement must be reached to prevent lengthy strike action by university staff.

University and College Union (UCU) members at Ulster University (UU) and Queen’s (QUB) this week announced dates for 18 days of strike action.

Ms McLaughlin expressed concern around the impact of the strikes on students and urged the universities to work with the UCU and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) to reach a solution.

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Foyle MLA Ms McLaughlin said universities and the government had to face up to the pressures facing university staff and their concerns around fair pay, working conditions and pensions.

SDLP MLA Sinéad McLaughlin.

"The SDLP stands firmly behind staff as they fight for a resolution to these issues which they have been raising for some time.

“If these strikes go ahead, they have the potential to seriously disrupt the education of our students and this is particularly concerning after the massive disruption experienced in recent years due to the coronavirus pandemic. While I know that students will stand in solidarity with staff, every effort must be made to avoid this interruption.

“University staff are experiencing the same pressures as everyone else in our society and we need to see this acknowledged by the individual University Vice-Chancellors and the UCEA. People cannot be expected to work to the best of their ability while they are plagued with concerns around how they will pay their bills or if they will receive an extension to their temporary contracts.”

"We need to immediately see a deal reached which recognises the contribution and concerns of staff while preventing this negative impact on students’ experiences.”

A total of 70,000 staff at 150 universities across the UK who are UCU members will be taking part in the strike over February and March, with action to commence on February 1 unless unions receives improved offers.

The strike days have now been confirmed as 1 February; 9 and 10 February; 14, 15 and 16 February; 21, 22 and 23 February; 27, 28 February and 1 and 2 March; 16 and 17 March; 20, 21 and 22 March.If the action goes ahead, it will be the biggest series of strikes ever to hit UK university campuses.

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UCU has is this week holding meetings with university employer representative the Universities and Colleges Employers Association after the announcement.

"The union needs employers to substantially improve on the pay offer of 4-5% to avoid disruption. UCU is demanding a meaningful pay rise to deal with the cost-of-living crisis as well as action to end the use of insecure contracts,” a UCU spokesperson said.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “The university sector in the UK has over £40bn sitting in reserves, but instead of using that vast wealth to deliver a cost-of-living pay rise and reverse devastating pension cuts, university vice-chancellors would rather force staff to take strike action and see campuses shut down.

“A resolution can be reached, but that is in the gift of university vice-chancellors who need to urgently reassess their priorities and deliver a deal that benefits staff and students. From February, our union will begin reballoting its members to allow action to continue through the rest of the academic year, should they continue to drag their feet.”