Student and staff solidarity

Published

Protestors outside the university of glasgow

Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Kirsten Colligan

Osama Abou-zeid
Writer

Students and staff organise in solidarity against the proposed pension changes

University staff are expected to continuing industrial action against the Universities UK’s (UUK) proposed pension reforms.

The strike began as a consequence to the proposed reforms to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which the University and College Union (UCU) estimate could leave staff up to £10,000 worse off per year during retirement.

Concerns have also been raised at the plan to change the scheme from a defined benefit scheme where a retirement income is guaranteed, to a defined contribution scheme where the pension received is dependent on changes in the stock market.

The group Glasgow University Student-Staff Solidarity has brought together students and staff on strike against the reforms, holding picket lines around Gilmorehill Campus and in the city centre, and organising various workshops.

On 27 February, the group presented an open letter to Sir Anton Muscatelli, Glasgow University’s Principal and Vice Chancellor, and Dr David Duncan, Chief Operating Officer and University Secretary.

The letter urges the University to use its influence and advance the UCU-UUK negotiations, with the end goal of preventing further strikes and putting a stop to the pension scheme reforms.

Regular updates on the progress of the talks were also requested from the University executive, although the Student-Staff Solidarity group does acknowledge and appreciate the e-mail communications that have been sent out.

The day that the letter was handed over, Sir Muscatelli briefly joined the picket lines and talked with the students and staff, a move that has been seen as a gesture of solidarity.

The University responded to the letter, saying that Sir Muscatelli “fully recognises the importance of the strike to students as well as to staff” and “will carefully review both the petition and the letters that were given to him”. He promises to work towards a “fair and sustainable” settlement to be delivered to staff.

One day prior to this, Dr Duncan responded to the open letter online, thanking the Student-Staff Solidarity group and stating that: “The University of Glasgow has made clear its position regarding the review of the USS pension scheme. We would like to retain the best possible pension provision for staff.”

“We are prepared to see a modest increase in the employers’ contribution, which currently stands at 18%. Any settlement has to be affordable to both staff and employers; it has to be enduring, so that we do not face a further dispute in three years’ time; and it has to be acceptable to the Pensions Regulator.”

Meanwhile, both UUK and UCU released separate statements on 27 February adressing the current state of negotiations between the two.

The UUK statement spoke of positive discussions, “with both employers’ representatives and union leaders showing a willingness to work together to address the scheme’s financial challenges”.

It also revealed that “further talks are being arranged”, and that “in the interest of students, we have asked UCU to stop the industrial action while talks continue to find an alternative, viable and affordable solution”.

However, while the UCU stated that they were pleased with the agreement of further talks, they also added that “the strike action remains on”.

Additionally, another statement released by the UCU on 1 March criticised universities – such as Kent, Sheffield and St Andrews – who were threatening to withhold pay from staff taking action short of a strike. The UCU warned that behaviour such as this risks prolonging the industrial action even further.

Talks between UCU and UUK will resume on Monday 5 March, under the mediation of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.

Meanwhile, the current wave of strikes continues to move ahead as planned, with the final expected date being 16 March.