Students occupy building site in strike and rent protest

Posted On 15 Mar 2018 at 2:57 pm

A half-completed new student accommodation block on Falmer has been occupied by students in support of striking university staff – and in protest at the level of proposed rent for the new halls.

About 40 students broke into the site, which is managed by Balfour Beatty, in the early hours of this morning, temporarily bringing work to a halt.

The action came after the University of Sussex announced it would be cancelling all teaching today because of a demonstration which began at 1pm.

The occupiers are making three demands – firstly, that the university gives in to the demands of the University and College Union, whose members are striking over changes to their pension schemes.

They are also demanding that the rents for the new halls are pegged at the same level as the existing halls they are being built to replace, instead of being 75% higher.

And they are demanding that the Unite union is given access to the building site to talk to workmen and help them organise.

One of the students said: “The result of this strike will determine the future of UK universities. If students and staff win, we can look forwards to a future of free education for the good of the many, not the few. If we lose, prospects are bleak. It’s time to take on the bosses.”

A University of Sussex spokesperson said: “We are in constant contact with Balfour Beatty, who are taking all of the appropriate measures to ensure the safety of the students and their own staff. The students have unlawfully entered the site.

“We are aware that a national demonstration is being organised by a group of students at Sussex, in relation to the industrial action on pensions.

“Those involved have been asked to ensure that other students, staff and visitors to the campus are treated with respect.

“However, our primary responsibility is to our community, and we must therefore plan for different eventualities. As such we have had to regretfully cancel teaching for today.”

A spokesman for Balfour Beatty said: “We respect the rights of people to protest peacefully. However, we would like to stress that construction sites can be dangerous places for the general public. The students have unlawfully entered the site.

“Safety is our number one priority and we are taking all of the appropriate measures to ensure the safety of the students and our own staff.

“Balfour Beatty does not engage in any form of blacklisting and we are committed to ensuring that robust internal controls and processes are maintained which ensure that this practice is never used by any Balfour Beatty Company.”

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