STUDENTS living in Coventry and Warwickshire face disruption to lectures over the next two weeks as staff strikes affect the city’s two universities.
Lecturers and staff at the University of Warwick are taking part in eight days of strike action from today amid disputes over pensions, pay and working conditions.
It is one of 60 UK universities, including Aston University and the University of Birmingham in the West Midlands, where staff will be walking out after no agreement could be reached between university representatives and the University and College Union (UCU).
At Warwick University striking staff will be on picket lines outside Warwick Arts Centre from 10am today (Monday, November 25), Wednesday and Friday and from 8am on Tuesday and Thursday.
UCU West Midlands official Anne O’Sullivan said: “Strike action is a last resort, but universities’ refusal to deal with these key issues have left us with no alternative. It is staggering and insulting that universities have not done more to work with us to try and find a way to resolve these disputes.
‘We hope students will continue to put pressure on university vice-chancellors to get their representatives back round the negotiating table for serious talks with the union.”
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner has called on both sides to get round the table for talks and the National Union of Students says students stand shoulder to shoulder with staff in the disputes.
A spokesman for the University of Warwick said: “The university is is saddened to be part of this national strike action.
“As in previous such national strikes we will work hard to minimise the impact on our students.
“It’s literally the first day of the strike as so we won’t know for some days yet how many staff will declare that they have taken strike action or what the impact of that will be.”
Teaching staff at Coventry University continue to take action in a separate dispute over the university’s controversial appraisal system.
Last Thursday’s walkout was the first of five strike days, with staff also due to take action tomorrow on Tuesday (November 26) and Friday November 29, followed by a two-day strike on Tuesday December 3 and Wednesday December 4.
UCU members will be on picket lines outside the university’s main entrances on Gosford Street from 8am on Thursday, before heading to a rally outside the Graham Sutherland Building at 10am with speakers including UCU general secretary Jo Grady.
Teaching staff will begin action short of a strike on Thursday December 5 following the strikes. This will see them boycotting the university’s appraisal system and refusing to undertake any marking or assessment of students’ work.
In a recent ballot at the university, three quarters of UCU members (75 per cent) who voted backed strike action, while nine in ten staff (88 per cent) voted for action short of a strike.
UCU regional official, Anne O’Sullivan, said: ‘”Staff at Coventry University are sick and tired of being treated as a cost to be minimised. The current appraisal process is even worse than the one it replaced, holding down pay and creating extra paperwork for already overstretched staff. It’s an unsustainable approach that will make it harder for the institution to recruit and retain staff.
‘We are deeply disappointed that the university has failed to negotiate with us, leaving members with no option but to take strike action. The hardline threat to dock full pay for partial performance has only made staff more determined to fight for change. If the university wants to avoid disruption in the run up to Christmas it needs to scrap the current appraisal system and work with us to agree a fairer alternative.”
A Coventry University spokesperson said: “The fundamental link between incremental pay awards and the appraisal system has existed since 2006 and this has not changed under the new online appraisal process. Incremental pay awards are on top of the annual pay rise automatically given to staff and we believe most people would find it common sense, reasonable and fair to link them to performance.
“The revised online appraisal process was introduced in response to concerns raised by our staff in a thorough consultation exercise. It requires staff to complete significantly less paperwork than the paper-based system it has replaced. It has been introduced over a two-year transition period to allow staff and their line managers to adapt.
“We welcome the opportunity to talk to Coventry UCU about some of the inaccurate beliefs they have expressed about the staff appraisal system. We have made repeated offers to meet them and on Friday last week they confirmed they would now like to meet this week.
“We understand UCU are committed to strike action. While disappointed that strike action comes during students’ graduations, we respect the decision of some staff to vote to strike.
“We do not wish to make any financial gain from industrial action and recognise the impact the UCU action could have on our students. Therefore, any amount collected from pay withheld will be put into the Student Hardship Fund.
“We have communicated to staff clearly and in good time that they will not be paid while on strike or while not fulfilling their contractual obligations.”