On Monday 28 November, members at the University of Sheffield International College began a three-day strike over pay and terms and conditions. This strike is an historic first ever strike in the UK – the first strike action to take place in an outsourced private education provider.
Despite operating under University of Sheffield branding, the college is operated by Study Group – a multinational corporation. Staff at the college are employed on different terms and conditions from University of Sheffield staff, on a different pay scale, and are excluded from the USS pension scheme.
While almost every other Higher Education branch of UCU began strike action on pay and terms and conditions on Thursday 24 November, in the largest university strike in history, our branch is forced to negotiate and bargain on a local basis.
We are demanding a 12% pay increase, real pay progression, review of workload and an additional pay increase for low paid student support staff. We won an overwhelming majority for strike action, with 83% of members voting for strike action on a turnout of 84%.
Following the ballot, Study Group made a last ditch attempt to prevent strike action with an offer that included a 6% pay increase for staff earning under £44,000 per year – the vast majority of staff at the college – but our members overwhelmingly rejected this.
The pickets have been well attended, with around 30 members of our branch out picketing in total, joined by local and national trade union representatives and students from the college and across the city.
Universities in the UK outsource all kinds of workers – cleaners, caterers and teachers alike – because they want to sidestep trade unions and collective bargaining rights. Our branch has shown that they will not get away with that. Outsourcing will never stop workers from organising to fight for better pay, terms and conditions.
As we head into our third day of strike action, members are already discussing how to escalate the dispute in January.