The strike took place in an attempt to get the university to attend negotiations to try to work out a fair pay rise for support staff. The university has offered a pay increase of 1%, which is below inflation rates.

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The strike by Unison on Thursday 16th January, began at midnight with picketing starting at 6am going through to 11:30pm. A meeting took place at St. Francis Hall at 12pm, which ran for an hour and had many speakers, including the secretaries of the striking unions and Guild Vice-President for Education, Hattie Craig.

'Estimates of up to 150 staff attended the strike and up to 800 took the day off of work'

The strike took place in an attempt to get the university to attend negotiations to try to work out a fair pay rise for support staff. The university has offered a pay increase of 1%, which is below inflation rates. At present, trade union UNISON estimate that up to 350 support staff are paid below the living wage of £7.65. UNISON along with UNITE challenge the university’s decision to enforce this modest pay rise at a time that the university is awarding its Vice-Chancellor a £28,000 a year pay rise, up to £400,000. Matthew Raine, UNISON branch secretary, claims that giving the living wage to these workers will cost the university £100,000 a year. An anonymous technician said that ‘it was not fair that we only get a 1% pay rise. Surely it would only be fair if the Vice-Chancellor only took a 1% pay rise this year too’.

Strikers want to try and renegotiate a fairer wage with the university.

Gisela Stuart, Steve McCabe and Jack Domey (MPs for Edgbaston, Selly Oak and Erdington respectively) all gave support for the strike, along with Ian Ward, Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council.

Estimates of up to 150 staff attended the strike and up to 800 took the day off of work. One member of staff pleaded for students to help them in their fight, saying that the university treats students like customers. According to them ‘ten of you are paying for the Vice-Chancellor’s gold bath taps’.

the university watered down all of the cleaning chemicals, which leave the university 'unsanitary'

Nineteen people were picketing at the south gate by Victoria Halls at 6am. On the picket line, one cleaner said that they were ‘all here to support each other’. They were also unhappy that if a member of staff left, the university would not replace them quickly, meaning that the staff would have to take on more work to cover their missing colleague’s shift without overtime pay.

Another cleaner explained that the university watered down all of the cleaning chemicals, which leave the university ‘unsanitary’.

At the rally, Matthew Raine declared that ‘we believe it is wrong that a supposedly leading Russel group university can give its Vice-Chancellor a £28,000 a year pay rise but refuse to pay a living wage of £7.65 to its lowest paid staff’.

Hattie Craig (VPE):

'Whilst the closing of a library a couple of hours early or a café being shut for a day may present an inconvenience for students, I feel this is far outweighed by the benefits a successful strike which causes disruption like this can bring. These are people’s lives we’re talking about: the university is not paying many of its workers the Living Wage and their pay has seen a decrease of more than 10% in real terms in the last 4 years. I’ve heard from support staff who are struggling to pay their rent and feed their families. When we leave university and enter the job market, we’ll want decent wages that cover the cost of living, it’s only right that we should demand the same for our staff.'

However, not everybody welcomed strike action. Many students were very upset and angered by the catering establishments and libraries either being shut or shut early. One student left the library explained that he thought ‘it is unfair that these support staff are trying to disrupt our learning. At the end of the day the problems are to do with the university staff and their employers. Why are they trying to make students suffer as a consequence of their dispute? The students are the losers in this situation.’

University:

'Today’s strike by Unison and Unite union members at the University of Birmingham has caused minimal disruption. We are confident that our contingency planning has been effective in minimising the effects of the strike and can confirm that lectures and other planned activity are continuing as normal. We are disappointed that Unison and Unite decided to take this action, particularly given that for the last four years our support staff pay awards have been above those negotiated nationally, because we recognise that staff at the lower end of the pay spectrum may be disproportionately affected by increases in the cost of living.'

It is unknown at current what the long-term effects of the strike action will be. However unless something is achieved, both unions said they could be declaring further action.

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