University staff strike dates: the four Manchester universities affected in February & March by UCU walk-outs

There will be walk-outs spread across two weeks in the city, as part of a dispute with University and College Union members about pay and working conditions.

Staff at four Manchester higher education facilities will be going on strike in a dispute over pay and working conditions.

The University and College Union (UCU) has announced a three-week programme of walk-outs in two separate rows, with the other one being about pensions.

The Manchester institutions are only involved in the second dispute over pay and conditions.

Over 50,000 staff across the country are expected to walk out and head for the picket line over some 10 days of industrial action.

The union says it is engaged in a “fight for the future of higher education” and said staff are at “breaking point”.

One of the universities involved said it was “extremely disappointed” by the strike action while another expressed concern about the impact on students but said it took staff concerns very seriously.

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Staff on strike at Manchester Metropolitan University

When is the strike and which Manchester universities are involved?

Staff at the University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Salford and the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) are all involved in the dispute over pay and working conditions.

Two days of strike action have been scheduled for Monday 21 February and Tuesday 22 February.

The following week three more days of walk-outs are planned for Monday 28 February, Tuesday 1 March and Wednesday 2 March.

The final day coincides with strike action by the National Union of Students (NUS), which is calling for higher and further education to be free at the point of use for students and for staff to get better working conditions, pay and pensions.

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However, crunch talks have been scheduled for 11 February to try to resolve the dispute.

This is not the first time Manchester academics and university staff have walked out over pay and working conditions, with picket lines being set up at institutions across the city as part of a wave of national action in December.

The UCU has warned universities could also be hit with rolling regional and UK-wide action and that preparations could be made for a national marking and assessment boycott.

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What is the pay and working conditions dispute about?

The UCU says there are four elements to the pay and working conditions dispute.

The union says there has been a 20% real term pay cut over the past 12 years, staff are facing unmanageable workloads, there are problems with pay inequality in universities and the use of insecure contracts, which the UCU calls “exploitative”, is rife across the sector.

The UCU is calling for action on all these points, including a £2,500 pay increase for all staff.

Manchester Metropolitan University staff on the picket line

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The union says the most recently published university finances, from the financial year 2019-2020, show institutions received £41.9bn in income and are sitting on reserves of £46.8bn.

Record levels of students are also studying at UK universities, with enrolments rising by 9% this year.

However, the union says that despite this, many university staff struggle to get by, with 90,000 academic and professional support staff employed on insecure contracts.

The wave of industrial action is also getting bigger nationally, with 10 more universities joining in following a reballoting over Christmas in the wake of December’s strikes which involved 58 places of learning across the country.

What has been said about the industrial action?

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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.”

NUS national president Larissa Kennedy said: “Students’ unions and student organisers have a proud tradition of standing in solidarity with staff, and we saw this in action up and down the country in December.

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“As students, we are acutely aware that staff working conditions are our learning conditions. The same education system that forces students into food banks exploits staff on insecure contracts, with some even having to sleep in tents while they mark our essays.

“The same system that produces awarding gaps that impact students of colour produces pay gaps that impact staff of colour.

“We will continue to stand with staff in their struggles because nothing about this broken system is inevitable.

“At NUS, we’re calling on students to walk out of the education that doesn’t work for any of us on 2 March and come together to re-imagine a new vision for education.”

What have the universities said?

A Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) spokesman said: “While the majority of our 2,200 academic staff are not UCU members, we have been working for some time to address the concerns the UCU has raised nationally about pay, casualisation, workloads and equality.

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“We have had very positive discussions with both the local UCU representatives and our wider academic staff about reviews of our approach to workloading and our ongoing project to bring associate lecturers onto more secure employment contracts.

“Therefore, we are extremely disappointed by the UCU’s decision to ask its members to strike for five more days.

“The previous strike action in December had little impact on the university and we will ensure plans are in place again to minimise any disruption to students’ teaching and learning and to reassure them that any strike action will have no impact to their academic outcomes.”

A University of Manchester spokesperson said: “We absolutely understand how important pay and working conditions, and indeed pensions, are to colleagues and we take these views and concerns very seriously.

“We also recognise the right of colleagues to take this action but continue to be extremely concerned about the impact on our whole community, particularly on our students who have suffered so much over the past 22 months.

“In particular, we’d like to reassure our students that we will do everything we can to minimise any impact on their teaching, learning and wider experience and will of course keep colleagues fully informed of any developments.”

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The University of Salford and the Royal Northern College of Music have been approached for comment.