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UCU claims casualization victories in Cambridge and Sussex as Lincoln staff votes to strike

The University and College Union (UCU) has claimed “major victories” after helping to secure a pay rise for college supervisors at the University of Cambridge and doctoral lecturers at the University of Sussex.

The union’s multi-year campaign in Cambridge sought “justice” for supervisors who provide tutoring but are often precariously employed by colleges and paid an hourly rate.

The deal between Cambridge colleges and UCU will result in an average 15 per cent pay increase for supervisors from October, and will require colleges to tackle gig economy contracts by the end of 2024.

A campaign spokesman said the victory was a “step closer to fair pay for supervisors,” although it does not fully take into account the preparation time required.

“The work done so far is a great effort in the fight against the casualization rampant in higher education, and we are pleased to see employers committing to contract negotiations starting next academic year,” they said.

The campaign demanded that supervisors’ training be paid for, that pay packages reflect the full number of hours spent preparing, and that supervisors be moved from hourly gig economy contracts to secure jobs.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, said the union has now won “major victories” on two of its three demands, with regulators also on course to secure secure long-term contracts.

“These workers are the cornerstone of the University of Cambridge’s academic education system, and our work means they receive wages that reflect their invaluable contributions,” she added.

In response, Cambridge said the new methodology was part of a long-term review of undergraduate supervision payment rates, which began in 2021-2022, and that wages for supervisors have since risen faster than nationally agreed university salaries.

The union is campaigning on behalf of doctoral lecturers in Sussex, who also provide much of the teaching for students. More than 95 percent of members voted in favor of accepting a new agreement, which for more than half of them equates to a 14 percent pay increase.

The move to a higher grade in the university’s reward system also means that PhD supervisors will now have immediate access to full sick pay, 10 hours of paid training per year and better pay for preparatory work and marking.

UCU said other universities should now follow the example of the University of Sussex and work with their local trade union branches to improve the pay and conditions of casual staff.

Dr. Grady said it is “outrageous” that basic rights are being denied to a huge group of staff who teach and support students at many universities, and called on others to emulate Sussex.

“After two years of intense campaigning, negotiating and bargaining, our members have secured a life-changing victory for doctoral educators,” she said.

“There is still more to do, but this new agreement provides a solid foundation to provide safe, well-paid jobs for casual academics.”

Meanwhile, at the University of Lincoln, 80 percent of UCU members voted to strike over the threat of cuts to 220 jobs – on top of the eight staff who have already lost their positions in modern languages.

UCU regional support officer Joe Rooney urged Lincoln management to halt cuts which he said would impact students, damage the university’s regional education role and hit the local economy.

“In a small city like Lincoln, these massive cuts threaten to undermine the fabric of the region, exacerbating existing challenges and inequalities,” he added.

The dates for the strikes have not yet been announced, but could be next month.

Sussex and Lincoln have been contacted for comment.

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