University strike Manchester: staff at three universities taking part in new week of walk-outs in pay row

The consecutive walk-outs are the latest strike dates in an ongoing row involving members of the University and College Union (UCU).

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

University staff in Manchester are back on the picket line this week in the latest round of industrial action as part of an ongoing row about pay and working conditions.

Employees at three institutions in the city walked out on Monday (28 March) for five consecutive days of strikes.

There have already been a couple of weeks of strike action at universities in Manchester this academic year as the dispute goes on.

The University and College Union (UCU) said a majority of staff who responded to one of its surveys are currently thinking of leaving the sector due to a combination of low wages and high workloads.

Which Manchester universities are taking place in the strike and when is it happening?

Staff at The University of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) and the Royal Northern College of Music (RNCM) all walked out in the industrial dispute on Monday 28 March.

There are five consecutive days of strike action until Friday 1 April.

Picket lines have been set up outside the universities and there will also be a Manchester rally on Friday, with participants assembling at Brunswick Park from 10.30am then marching to St Peter’s Square to make their voices and demands heard.

Staff on strike at Manchester Metropolitan UniversityStaff on strike at Manchester Metropolitan University
Staff on strike at Manchester Metropolitan University

This is the third round of strike action this academic year involving Manchester universities, with staff walking out in December and then again at the end of February and beginning of March.

It is just part of a nationwide show of intense discontent by university staff, with dozens of unis across the country taking part in each round of industrial action. Employees at some 67 higher education institutions are involved in this week’s strikes.

In addition, all three universities where staff have walked out this week are holding new ballots for further action which could run throughout the remainder of 2022. Those votes run until Friday 8 April.

The UCU is also engaged in a separate dispute with universities over pensions, though staff at Manchester establishments have not been taking part in that as ballots did not get mandates for action.

Why is the strike taking place and what do those involved want?

The union is demanding an end to race, gender and disability pay “injustice” in the university sector, a framework to eliminate zero-hours and other insecure contracts, and meaningful action to tackle unmanageable workloads, as well as a £2,500 pay rise for all university employees.

The UCU says new inflation figures mean staff pay is now down by more than a quarter in real terms since 2009.

The gender pay gap in UK universities sits at 16%, while the disability pay gap is 9% and the race pay gap is up to 17%, the union says.

It also said that given the financial reserves universities have they are capable of meeting the staff and union’s demands.

Manchester Metropolitan University staff on the picket lineManchester Metropolitan University staff on the picket line
Manchester Metropolitan University staff on the picket line

The UCU is also warning of a staff exodus if terms and conditions do not improve.

It said that a national survey found three out of five respondents said they are likely or very likely to leave the university sector in the next five years over deteriorating pay and working conditions.

Almost nine in 10 (88%) respondents were not optimistic or not at all optimistic about the future of higher education in the UK, and 57% were unhappy or very unhappy about spending the remainder of their career in the sector.

What has the union said about the latest strike?

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “University staff are striking over falling pay and brutal working conditions. They have been pushed to breaking point again and again by vice-chancellors and are now saying that they are ready to leave the sector entirely. This is a damning indictment of the way staff have been treated.

“If vice-chancellors continue to ignore the longstanding concerns of staff, they will threaten the future of higher education in the UK. Universities generate income worth tens of billions and sit on huge reserves. They can afford to treat their staff better and would benefit their institutions by doing so.

“The toxic working culture that has been created by vice-chancellors cannot be allowed to continue, which is why university staff are on picket lines yet again.”

What have the universities said?

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.”

A Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) spokesman said ahead of the previous round of strike action: “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.

“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.”