Members of the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes staff went on strike on May 25 and 26 over a pay offer dispute.
The nation-wide strike initiated by the University and College Union (UCU) took the form of a picket outside the University Science Area and along the whole of the Old Road Campus in Headington, and was held mostly by lecturers although these were joined by other members of staff.
Oxford Mail reported the presence of approximately 30 protestors in Headington, but the total size of the walkout cannot be assessed until pay deduction forms are filled in by those who participated, which will only be done after the two days of action.
It has also been announced that staff will be working according to their contracts from this point onward, rejecting opportunities of extra working hours and stopping the usual replacement process which sees staff taking over the classes of absent colleagues for example.
The dispute is a response to the offer which was made by the Universities and Colleges Employers’ Association (UCEA) to increase pays by 1.1 per cent, which the UCU regarded as “an insult”, claiming that most universities could afford to pay their staff much more than they do. This percentage however, would not apply to staff of Oxford colleges, as these have their own pay arrangements with their tutors, and UCEA explained that staff with lower pay had been offered a 5.1 per cent increase to respond to current inflation levels.
“The situation is more drastic in Oxford because of the extremely high cost of living.”
Similar action had already been taken in November 2014, when university staff from all areas of the UK went on strike to demand a change in pension schemes. The UCU has announced that, as in 2014 when lecturers and tutors had then decided to boycott paper correction, causing a disruption in the normal timetable for exam marking, university staff may resort to such action if the dispute is not solved by a positive agreement on their side.
Garrick Taylor, vice-president of Oxford UCU who was also at the picket on Old Road Campus, told Cherwell, “The amount of picketers was larger than the last strike we had in 2013 – implying anger over pay is increasing.
“We hope the action taken will increase awareness amongst non-members about the pay dispute, in deed we had non members join UCU on the picket line today and ahead of the strike. In addition member meetings are taking place talking about specific issues.”
Commenting on the impact of the differences between Oxford and other institutions on the staff’s demands, Taylor said, “The situation is more drastic in Oxford because of the extremely high cost of living in Oxford and the house prices. This means the below inflation pay rises and extra NI and pension contributions are really causing us to not be able to get on the housing ladder and even struggle with living costs.”
While many were worried about the situation students would be left in, especially at the time of year when most exams take place, it seems that the impact of the strike on the student body was minimal.
A UCEA spokesperson told Cherwell, “Our Higher Education institutions know that the vast majority of their staff understand the current funding environment and can see that the final offer, with substantial extra for the lower paid, endeavours to be fair without putting additional jobs at risk.
“This industrial action is naturally disappointing given the very good pay offer, plus the joint work on gender pay and casual employment that is on the table.”
Oxford University said in a statement, “The University respects the right of individuals to take part in lawful industrial action.”