Students and staff marched through campus last Friday in support of striking university workers.
Members of the trade union Unite, which represents technical staff, had walked out over changes to their pension scheme. They are set to take further action every Friday for the next three weeks in a bid to bring university management to the negotiating table.
The striking technical staff formed a picket line at the main campus entrance from 8am, holding placards demanding “decent pensions for all of us.”
Unite said its members were being treated “like second- and third- class citizens.” While academic staff are offered a final salary pension, university management is trying to move support staff to an inferior ‘defined contribution’ pension, which would leave them vulnerable to inflation that could wipe the value off their pension by the time they retire.
Mike Robinson, Unite national officer, said, “The pensions of the management at Sussex are safe but the university is trying to force detrimental changes on other staff to create a three-tier workforce.
“The university’s senior executives may have read George Orwell’s Animal Farm that claimed some are more equal than others. If they did, they did not learn the valuable lessons that the book had to offer,” said Robinson.
At lunchtime the strikers marched to Library Square, joined by hundreds of other staff and students. Unite used the rally to launch a petition to university management calling for fair treatment for all staff. Laura Tazzioli, USSU President, called on students to sign the petition. She said, “It is in students’ interests that the people we rely on for essential services are properly looked after.”
The strike by technical staff – mainly computer technicians, lab assistants and estates staff – caused limited disruption to university services. Traffic was congested entering campus as motorists stopped to offer their support to the picket. Brighton & Hove Buses suspended services on campus to prevent delays, instead dropping off passengers outside the university entrance.
Unite has started a strike fund to help workers cope with the cost of taking time off work and was appealing for donations.
Members of Unison, the trade union representing clerical staff, would also be affected by the change to pension schemes. Unison is conducting a straw poll of its members on their willingness to take industrial action. UCU, the lecturers’ union, has offered its support.
Correction: An earlier version of this article, which appeared in the print edition, stated that Unite picketed the university open day. In fact Unite called off the open day picket, saying their fight was with management, not prospective students or academic staff. The Badger apologises for the confusion.