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Union leader Jo Grady gets 'singing picket' welcome as tutors go on strike at Queen Mary University

PUBLISHED: 16:00 27 November 2019 | UPDATED: 07:55 28 November 2019

Tutors and staff are joined by students on the picket line at Queen Mary University's Mile End campus. Picture: UCU

Tutors and staff are joined by students on the picket line at Queen Mary University's Mile End campus. Picture: UCU

UCU

Lecturers and support staff went on strike today at Queen Mary University over pay and pensions.

Rally staged by University College Union members outside Queen Mary's Mile End campus protesting at short-term contracts with shrinking salaries. Picture: UCURally staged by University College Union members outside Queen Mary's Mile End campus protesting at short-term contracts with shrinking salaries. Picture: UCU

They walked out as part of a nationwide industrial action by the University and College Union at university campuses across Britain.

The union's national general secretary Jo Grady paid a flying visit to east London this-afternoon to meet 100 strikers on the picket line at Queen Mary's Mile End campus who included many students coming out in support.

She was met by "a singing picket line" belting out a modified version of the Pet Shop Boys' hit Go West, then addressed a rally in front of the university's east gate.

She highlighted "the disconnect of university bosses" who she claims have failed to understand what it was like to "try and build a meaningful academic career on the back of precarious work".

Staff at east London's Queen Mary University are on strike until December 4 calling for better working conditions. Picture: UCUStaff at east London's Queen Mary University are on strike until December 4 calling for better working conditions. Picture: UCU

The university's principal and president has a total salary of almost £325,000 a year, according to most recent university accounts, the rally heard.

Tutors gave testimony one by one about their struggles working for years on short term contracts. One who had recently been robbed said it was "easier to deal with being mugged than the constant uncertainty of work".

The union's Queen Mary branch chair, Dr Darryn Mitussis, said: "Universities as public institutions should be setting the standard for employment, offering staff the terms and conditions that our students deserve when they start their careers.

"Queen Mary, like other universities, plays an important role in the community through employment and education."

But fewer than one-in-10 academics at Queen Mary's are on fixed-term contracts, according to the university. Most of these are to cover maternity or paternity leave, to cover others doing research or are students being paid for part-time work. This average pay rise for staff this year was 3.5 per cent, with lowest paid getting 4.7pc.

A university spokesman said: "We are a 'living wage' employer and don't out-source key services."

The union is also campaigning to improve pay rises that are below inflation which result in real earnings diminishing year on year, as well as tackling gender pay gaps, increased workloads and pension contribution increases. The strike is set to run until December 4.

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