Group of protesters with banners at university.

University Strike Continues

Unison members at University of Birmingham working in a variety of support staff roles took another three days strike action in their months-long campaign against contract changes which would see more evening and weekend working for less reward, with the lowest paid earning less than £12 an hour.

Socialist Party members visited the picket lines and head the staff’s side of the story:

Catering workers said they had a decent system pre-pandemic with a mix of full time workers and term-time workers, the latter of which were usually parents with young children at school. Following the disruption to working patterns with the pandemic, management attempted to force through a number of permanent changes.

A lot of people were made redundant by default and those who remained were presented with a "choice": sign a contract that would effectively make their conditions and hours worse or get kicked out. Since then their salaries have been annualised and most of the budget is spent on expensive managers who the university believe can salvage the situation, as opposed to spending the money on staff who can actually run it effectively or on replacing a broken IT system for managing rotas and payroll which has been used for at least a year despite it not functioning properly for shift workers.

Security staff told us how they had a decent deal when the new contracts were first proposed, but they were out striking for two main reasons. Firstly, in solidarity with the catering and library staff, and secondly because the university changed their deal after it had already been presented! Then the university broke off talks with the union instead of continuing negotiations which again didn't sit well with security staff.

Library staff told us how management tried the divide and conquer tactic with them, offering one-off payments to anyone who signed a sketchy contract, several of whom had to do so because they were that desperate financially for the modest pay rise offered. Fortunately the union rep didn't fall into the trap of alienating anyone who signed the contract and welcomed them onto the picket line.

Many drew comparisons between their treatment by management and how international students get exploited. They were also conscious of how their hours would be affected moving into exam season as more students try to utilise the library.

The workers remain determined to win fair contracts, with a rally on the first day of strike action bringing together 70 workers who had been picketing around the campus that morning. Many were there for the first time, having joined in the course of the strike – clearly if UoB management thought they could bully staff into signing away their pay and conditions, they had another thing coming!

Written by workers for workers.

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