Strike over ‘phantom pay rise’ leaves universities and colleges resembling ghost towns

Many universities and colleges across the country resemble ghost towns with UNISON members in Higher Education staging a one day walkout in a protest over a phantom pay rise.    

Widespread support from both staff and students and swelling picket lines has caused major disruption in 21 towns and cities. UNISON members carry out a wide variety of jobs including course administration, catering, cleaning and security. 

In many locations security teams walked out at midnight, and postal workers have refused to cross picket lines. Libraries, fitness centres, food courts and swimming pools are closed, with several universities cancelling classes before the industrial action started. 

Staff pay in higher education has fallen by nearly 15% over the past four years, with members rejecting the latest offer by cash-rich universities of a miserly 1%. More than 4,000 staff in Higher Education are currently paid below the Living Wage, which stands at £7.45 an hour or £8.55 an hour in London. 

UNISON General Secretary Dave Prentis, who is standing alongside workers on picket lines at University College London and the University of Wesminster, said:

“Today’s action shows that universities rely on the dedication, flexibility and goodwill of our members. 

“We are sending a clear message to cash-rich but morally bankrupt employers that they must stop behaving like the worst private sector employers. 

“Our members in higher education deserve a better standard of living for their hard work and the contribution they make to the success of UK universities.”

Voices from the front line:

Steve Torrance, UNISON regional organiser in Yorkshire and Humberside, said:  

“At Hull University we are picketing at every entrance and most staff have stayed away. The strike has attracted really solid support right across the region.” 

Sam Leigh, UNISON regional organiser in Norwich, said:

“UNISON members’ support for the strike has been so strong that the public gallery and museum at the University of East Anglia has been closed for the day, and we have workers lining up to join the union.” 

Theresa Griffin, UNISON regional organiser in Manchester, said:

“We have had great support from students who have not crossed the picket line. The campuses are deserted compared to a normal week day with the libraries, fitness centre, swimming pool and food courts all closed.”