University February strikes in Liverpool - everything you need to know: disputes, dates, who’s affected

Sixty eight universities across the countries are taking industrial action in February, but how will Liverpool’s students and institutions be affected?

Students across the country can expect disruption to their studies as ongoing workplace disputes are still to be resolved.

Three weeks of industrial action have been penned in by the University and College Union (UCU) for February in what they call a “fight for the future of higher education.”

The union say they are looking to force the hand of university employers in an attempt to improve working conditions, workplace equality, falling pay and claims of a decade of cuts to staff pensions.

The nationwide dispute will not circumvent Liverpool, and staff from three of the city’s four universities are to take strike action, or industrial action ‘short of strike.’

Those involved are the University of Liverpool, Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA), and Liverpool Hope University.

The University of Liverpool responded to the looming industrial action by saying: “Whilst we recognise and respect the right of staff to participate in legitimate, mandated industrial action, we are also of course mindful that such action creates a risk of adverse impact on our students, and our priority is to minimise such disruption.”

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Historical buildings in University of Liverpool. Image: rabbit75_fot - stock.adobe.com

Why are staff striking?

These strikes have been organised as a response to two ongoing disputes between the UCU and their employer counterpart, Universities UK: one over pension cuts, the other over pay and working conditions.

The UCU say that university staff have had their pension fund massively and falsely devalued. They say that new members of the scheme will receive half of what was previously offered.

A Branch Officer of the University of Liverpool’s UCU said: “It’ll go from something like twenty thousand to only nine or ten thousand pounds per year in retirement.”

The second dispute, named the ‘four fights’ dispute by the union, is targeting pay inequality and pay devaluation over the last ten years, an increase in workloads, and the increasing precarity of work across the sector.

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“We’ve got some universities using things like zero hours contracts, which you don’t expect to see in education, you’d more expect to see that in places like Amazon warehouses,” the UCU say.

“There was a survey that UCU did last year that found four in five academics struggled with their mental health because of their workload.

“More than half of academic staff said they worked more than 50 hours a week regularly, obviously that basically just working all week without having the weekend off.”

What’s happening at Liverpool Universities?

After balloting, the UCU gained a majority mandate for strike action and what they call ‘action short of strike’ or ASOS.

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It was then up to separate ballots held internally by branches in universities across the country to determine the industrial action they would take, on both the four fights and the pension disputes.

This included Liverpool’s universities, who voted for differing actions:

Liverpool John Moores University did not receive a mandate from their staff, and therefore will not be partaking in this industrial action, meaning that LJMU students will be unaffected unless they have further commitments.

Staff at Liverpool Hope University will be joining the ‘four fights’ dispute with strikes and ASOS planned.

These will take place on the February the 21, 22, 28 and March 1 and 2.

Staff at the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts will only be performing action short of a strike, meaning that partaking staff will work strictly to the demands of their contract without doing overtime or working during required breaks.

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This means that student contact with tutors will be more limited than usual, and tutors will likely only be contactable during their working hours, however, it will avoid the more widespread disruption of a total strike.

They are striking as part of the ‘four fights’ dispute.

Students at the University of Liverpool can expect more disruption than their counterparts, as staff at the university have balloted for ten days total of combined strike action and action short of strike for both disputes.

The dates students need to be aware of are from February 14 until 22, and from February 28 until March 2.

How will my studies be affected?

As unionised staff are not legally required to state whether they will be joining the picket lines, it is difficult to determine in advance how student life will be disrupted.

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As unions often also encourage silence on the matter, to create the desired disruptive impact, students’ tutors and lecturers may not be forthcoming with the information.

However, even so speaking to them would be the best way to determine how your personal schedule will be disrupted.

With action short of strike students can expect normality within working hours, so lectures, tutorials, and labs should not be affected.

However, as staff will be sticking strictly to their contract, they will be hard to reach outside of their contracted hours so students should be weary of this if requiring additional help.

How have students reacted?

Some students have come out in support of the strikes, over semester one last year the University of Liverpool Guild of Students held a ‘preferendum’ asking students if the Guild should support the planned industrial action.

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After 1902 votes, the result was for the Guild to support the planned industrial action.

However, with a student population of some 70,000 across the city, it is hard to determine if this vote is indicative of the overall student attitude, and as the planned industrial action is varied, it is likely the reactions of students will be too.

The universities’ response

The University of Liverpool have said: “Whilst we recognise and respect the right of staff to participate in legitimate, mandated industrial action, we are also of course mindful that such action creates a risk of adverse impact on our students, and our priority is to minimise such disruption. 

“We know that colleagues are dedicated to the education of our students, and would like to thank all colleagues for their commitment and professionalism at this time.”