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University staff strike in pay row
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said staff are trying to reverse some of the most sustained pay cuts since the Second World War
Students across the country are facing disruption today as university staff stage a one-day walkout in a bitter row over pay.
Lectures, workshops and tutorials were being cancelled and postponed as members of three unions - the University and College Union (UCU), Unison and Unite - joined picket lines.
The strike action centres on a 1% pay rise offered to university staff - including lecturers, technicians and administration workers - which the unions insist means there has been a 13% pay cut in real terms since October 2008.
Union leaders said that tens of thousands of their members were taking part in the walkout and early reports suggested strong support across the UK for the action.
But the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), which represents and negotiates on behalf of institutions and has expressed "disappointment'' at the move, said the early indications were that the strike was having minimal impact.
Today's walkout is affecting 149 universities across the UK, according to the unions, with support services such as catering, cleaning and security also hit.
Liverpool Hope University has tweeted a message to say that all lectures, workshops, tutorials and seminars are cancelled for the day.
At Loughborough University, chemistry laboratory sessions have been postponed. The institution insisted that students would have the chance to complete the work at a later date and it would not affect their marks.
Rallies organised by the unions are taking place around the country, including in Birmingham, Liverpool, Leeds and London.
And picket lines formed outside university buildings in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Dundee.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "Staff, from porters to professors, have walked out this morning in protest at some of the most sustained pay cuts since the Second World War. Nobody wants to be on strike, but a 13% real-terms pay cut as vice-chancellors' pay continued to increase and universities' surpluses built up simply is not fair.
"Although still early, we are already hearing news of closed departments and buildings with some universities' entire teaching cancelled for the day. If the employers try to spin the action as having little impact, then it merely shows how out of touch they are with what is really happening on the ground at universities.
"We are disappointed and annoyed that the employers are still refusing to talk to us and have wasted the past few weeks trying to undermine their staff's actions and, once again, ignored their concerns."
UCEA said that on top of the 1% general pay rise, many university staff get other contributions that will increase pay by 3% overall.
A spokesman said: "Institutions tell us that the vast majority of staff understand the reality of the current financial situation and do not support action which would harm their institutions, and especially their students.
"Today's action is passing off with only minimal disruption but since fewer than 5% of staff voted to support this strike, this was not surprising. Nonetheless, we are all disappointed that, after six months of extended talks and what we believe is a fair pay offer, these trade unions remain on a path to cause disruption.
"The trade unions claim that higher education institutions' operating surpluses should be diverted to fund further increases in pay. This ignores the fact that, with central capital funding no longer available, institutions now have to generate at least this margin for essential re-investment in student facilities and campus infrastructure.
"These pay increases will be seen as generous by many looking into the sector. HE (higher education) employers value their staff and provide a good reward package to attract and retain outstanding staff. Pay in HE is keeping pace with comparable sectors and institutions are not experiencing recruitment or retention problems."
UCEA said that according to the latest data available to them, 378,250 people work in the sector and of these 29,538, or 7.8%, voted from the three unions. Around 17,800 voted in favour of strike action.
Southampton University said it was "inevitable" that there would be some disruption to teaching and services as a result of the strike, although a spokesman said the institution was trying to ensure that there was as little interruption as possible.
Two of the university's libraries are closed, as are five catering outlets on its Highfield campus.
Samantha Martin, media relations manager at Liverpool University said: "The University is open for business as usual and arrangements are in place to minimise any inconvenience to students and staff who are working. The Sports Centre is open but the swimming pool and fitness centre is closed."
A spokesman for York University said the early indication were that there would be minimal disruption, while at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London, students have been advised to check with lecturers if classes are taking place.
University College London (UCL) also said they anticipated minimal disruption, with individual departments advising students where there are issues.
Sussex said that almost all of its campus services were running as normal, with most staff at work.
Some individual activities have been cancelled, the university said, and any student assessments due in today have been deferred until Monday.
Bangor University said it is doing all it can to ensure students are not affected by the walkout, while Bath said there was currently no major disruption.
Warwick said some of its staff were striking and heads of departments had made plans to ensure there was minimal disruption to teaching.
Nick Sheppard, head of communications and events at Bedfordshire University, said there were "not many" people at the institution taking part in the walkout.
He said: "We are talking about a very small percentage. And of those striking, less than half are academic staff. So the impact on lectures, classes, etc has been minimal. I am aware of only one lecture that has not happened today, and that has been rearranged to next week. All libraries and cafes continue as normal."
An Oxford University spokesman said: " The university respects the right of individuals to take part in lawful industrial action. Contingency plans are in place aimed at minimising any disruption or inconvenience such action may cause to students, staff and visitors to the university."
Queen Mary said it was working to minimise disruption, while Worcester said that all of its sites were open and it anticipated that a "great majority" of scheduled activities will continue as normal.
Wolverhampton University vice-chancellor Geoff Layer said today's strike had not been disruptive.
He said: "Today's industrial action has resulted in very little disruption to our services and we are continuing to provide all our services as normal. The unions have chosen a day on which many staff had already booked holiday, given that this week is half term for many schools in the area."