What’s the problem?
This dispute is about four interconnected issues: escalating workloads, shrinking pay, the gender and ethnicity pay gaps, 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, recruitment freezes and budget cuts have seen workloads intensify to the point of damaging staff mental health.
Pay too low to manage
By the UCEA’s own analysis, since 2009 average pay in HE has dropped in real terms by 17.8%. The expense of living in and around London, means Kingston staff struggle to cover housing, travel and living costs on pay that doesn’t keep up with inflation.
BME and female staff paid less
Nationally, there is a 9% BME pay gap, and 15.1% gender pay gap. In 2018, Kingston reported an 8% gender pay gap, with senior roles disproportionately held by men. In 2013 there was an 11.6% ethnicity gap, with BME staff less likely to be professors. For a university that prides itself on equality, this is unacceptable.
Precarity as standard
Casualisation in HE is at an all-time high, with 51% of staff on fixed-term or ‘atypical’ contracts, including 70% of researchers. At Kingston, many staff are on hourly-paid contracts, never knowing at the end of teaching whether they’ll have work the following year. A HPL conversion freeze since 2017, leaves them stuck in this situation.
What’s the solution?
This is what the UCU is pushing for in negotiations with the UCEA:
These would be clear national frameworks that we as a branch could hold Kingston University senior management to account on.
Why is strike action necessary?
The strike sends a message to management: Kingston staff have had enough.
Strike action is always the last resort and UCU members want to be at work. But the future of higher education is under threat, and unfortunately it seems strike action is the only thing that has got the university employers to the negotiating table and taking these issues at all seriously.
Poor working conditions mean poor learning conditions. The National Union of Students (NUS) fully supports the UCU, and students have shown strong and creative support to striking staff at picket lines and on social media.
Employers are starting to reconsider their hardline stance in response to pressure from striking staff, supportive students, and MPs. They have made an improved offer but it fell far short of settling the dispute (see national negotiators briefing). It’s not too late for the employers to improve their offer in order to seek a sustainable resolution.
The UCU wants to negotiate, resolve the dispute, and avoid widespread disruption for students, staff, their families, and the community.