What is the dispute about?

What’s the problem?

This dispute is about four interconnected issues: unsafe workloads, shrinking pay, pay inequality, and job insecurity. At Kingston, we’ve seen years of staff cuts, increasing insecurity and spiralling workloads and stress. Senior management consistently refuse to listen to staff concerns, take action over these issues, prioritise our wellbeing, or safeguard our jobs. They seem more concerned with buildings than caring for their staff.

Workloads too high to measure

Higher Education staff work far more hours than they are paid for. Nationally, the average working week is 50+ hours. At Kingston restructurings, redundancies, recruitment freezes and budget cuts have seen workloads intensify to the point of damaging staff health. A recent workload report revealed 79% staff often need to work very intensively, and half showed probable signs of depression.

Pay too low to manage

Since 2009, average pay in HE has dropped in real terms by 20.8%. Kingston staff struggle to cover housing, travel and the rising cost of living. UCU’s HE salary modeller shows what earnings would be if salaries had risen with inflation. Meanwhile Vice-Chancellors earn at least 10 x their average employee.

In 2019, our Vice-Chancellor was paid £260,000 (excluding expenses). As of July 2020, his full remuneration package was £329,000.

BAME, disabled and female staff paid less

Nationally, there is a 9% ethnicity pay gap, and 15.1% gender pay gap. In 2020 Kingston reported a 8.7% gender pay gap, with senior positions disproportionately held by men. The ethnicity pay gap has risen to 33.5%, with BAME staff over-represented in lower-grade roles. The disability pay gap is 15.2% (sector average is 8.5%) For a uni that prides itself on equality, this is unacceptable.

Insecurity as standard

Casualisation in HE is at an all-time high, with c.70% of researchers almost half of teaching-only staff (49%) on fixed-term contracts. At Kingston, many staff are on hourly-paid contracts, never knowing whether they’ll have work the following year. A HPL conversion freeze has left them stuck in this situation. The insecurity faced by temporary staff impacts their mental health and financial security.

What’s the solution?

This is what the UCU is pushing for in negotiations with the UCEA:

  • An increase to all spine points on the national pay scale of £2,500 and £10 per hour minimum wage.
  • Nationally agreed action to address excessive workloads and unpaid work, with 35 hours to be the standard weekly employment contract.
  • National, time-specific action, using an intersectional approach, to close the gender, ethnic and disability pay gaps.
  • An agreed framework to eliminate precarious employment practices by universities with staff moved from hourly-paid to fractional contracts.

These would be clear national actions and frameworks that we as a branch could hold Kingston University senior management to account on.

See the UCU Four Fights FAQs for more details

Kingston staff have had enough.

Strike action is always the last resort and UCU members want to be at work. But the conditions we face are unsustainable and threaten the future of higher education. It in the gift of the Universities & Colleges Employers Association UCEA) to prevent the disruption of strike action by coming to the negotiating table, engaging with us meaningfully and committing to real actions to address these issues.

Poor working conditions mean poor learning conditions. The National Union of Students (NUS) fully supports and stands in solidarity the UCU. NUS research has revealed overwhelming levels of support for this strike action with 73% students saying they support university staff taking part and just 9% opposed. NUS have launched a petition calling on UCEA to return to the negotiating table and meet UCU’s demands. NUS President Larissa Kennedy said:

The onus for minimising disruption for students lies with university bosses: they must come back to the table to address the clear issues in how higher education is currently run.

In the Union of Kingston Students referendum in February 82% of student voted in favour of supporting the UCU strike with a huge turnout of 1,286.

It’s not too late for the employers to reconsider their stance and seek a sustainable resolution to these issues.The UCU wants to negotiate, resolve the dispute, and avoid widespread disruption for students, staff, their families, and the community.

UCU General Secretary Jo Grady has written to the employer representative in the Four Fights dispute, UCEA and you can read UCEA’s response here.