University staff and civil servants stage fresh strikes over pay and conditions

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University staff and civil servants staged more walkouts on Tuesday as figures revealed the UK recorded the highest number of working days lost to strike action for more than a decade in December.

Tens of thousands of University and College Union (UCU) members across 150 universities began the first of three days of strike action this week as part of a dispute over pay, pensions and working conditions.

Students from across the UK face missing lectures and seminars on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as the latest wave of industrial unrest continues to sweep across the country.

Janet Farrar, president of UCU, said students can write to their universities to request tuition fee refunds as a result of the disruption, adding that “anger and frustration” should be targeted at vice-chancellors.

Her comments came as the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that 843,000 working days were lost to labour disputes in December 2022, which is the highest since November 2011.

Picket lines were set up outside universities across the UK and at the British Museum in London, on Tuesday.

Around 100 members of the Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union at the museum, working in visitor services and security teams, are striking all week as part of a dispute over pay, pensions, redundancy terms and job security.

The UCU has said it will re-ballot its members to allow university staff to take further industrial action through the rest of the academic year if their demands are not met.

The union entered the second day of talks with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), which represents 144 employers, on Tuesday via the conciliation service Acas.

PCS members strike
Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) general secretary Mark Serwotka says many staff at the British Museum are on minimum wage (PA)

Ms Farrar told Sky News: “We’re very glad that university bosses have agreed to sit down with us with Acas and we remain hopeful for a way out of this dispute for everyone.”

When asked by LBC news whether students should be given compensation for the strike disruption, the UCU president said: “If the students want to write their vice-chancellors and write to UCEA, who are our employment body, and ask them for a refund to their fees then they are perfectly entitled to do that.

“But that is where that anger and frustration needs to be directed, not at our members.”

British Museum stock
General view of the British Museum in Bloomsbury, London (PA)

“If students feel their studies have been negatively impacted and alternative arrangements are inadequate, they should contact their university in the first instance. All universities have complaints procedures in place and the processes will be explained on their websites.

“If students are not satisfied with the response from their university, they are able to escalate things.”

PCS members are also on strike this week at the Department for Work and Pensions, DVLA and the Animal and Plant Health Agency.

They will be joined by Border Force staff in Dover, Calais, Coquelles and Dunkirk on Friday.

Mass UK strike action
Paul Nowak, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) speaks at a rally by striking members of the National Education Union (NEU) in Westminster (Jordan Pettitt/PA)

“People working here some of them are on the minimum wage, people are claiming benefits because they are so poor. That cannot be allowed to stand.

“British museum workers need a proper pay raise, so do all public sector workers, and we are determined to fight until we get it.”

TUC general secretary Paul Nowak told PA: “This is part of a wider wave of strike action across the public sector and ultimately whether it is the British Museum, whether it’s our health service, whether it’s in our schools, we have public sector workers saying they can’t afford another year of a real-terms pay cut, so it is really important that the Government listens to the concerns of their workers, listens to the concerns of their unions and delivers on pay.”

Teaching union leaders are due to meet with Education Secretary Gillian Keegan on Wednesday in a bid to resolve a pay dispute which threatens further walkouts in schools across England in February and March.

The National Education Union (NEU) suspended its planned strike action in Wales this week after a new pay offer was made by the Welsh government.

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