UCU Strikes: What you need to know

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Joanne Krus
Deputy News Editor

Over a million students could be affected by strikes, as UCU members voted to support strike action over pensions, pay, casualisation, equality, and workloads.

The University and College Union has announced eight days of strikes which will affect 60 British Universities, including the University of Glasgow. Strikes will start on Monday 25 November and finish on Wednesday 4 December.

UCU members voted overwhelming in favour of strike action in two ballots; one against the pension scheme Universities Superannuation Scheme and one on pay, casualisation, equality and workloads.

UCU balloted on the USS as new analysis showed that since 2011 university staff are paying much more for pensions while also losing tens of thousands of pounds because of this scheme.

A study done by First Actuarial, a provider of pension services, revealed that under USS, an average member will pay an extra £40,000 and yet get £200,000 less for their retirement, meaning that they lose out on £240,000 in total.

The results showed that 79% of UCU members backed strike action against USS, with a 53% voter turnout.

74% of members who voted to support strike action over pay, casualisation, equality and workloads. UCU research concluded that university staff pay has dropped by 20% in the last decade. Their research from 2016 also showed that over half of university staff have temporary contracts. Staff workloads are piling up while salaries are not, meaning that on average staff do two days of unpaid work per week.

A spokesperson for UCU Glasgow told The Glasgow Guardian that staff at the University of Glasgow are doing more work than they are actually being paid for: “In the last years, we have seen our workload increase, with the majority of our members working far beyond their contracted hours every week, with no extra pay.

“Casualisation is a prominent issue across HE insitutions, and many of the staff who teach you are on fixed-term contracts with no job security. Our pension scheme is under attack, and there is a gender pay gap at the University of Glasgow of 16.2%.”

UCU Glasgow made it clear that they would prefer to not have to strike but that this is the last resort in what they call an “unsustainable situation”.

They added “We now hope that the employers and our UCU negotiators can find a solution to the two disputes as soon as possible, in order to avoid industrial action taking place later in November and December.”

Union members will also be starting “action short of a strike”, meaning they will only work their contracted hours, refuse to cover absent colleagues or rescheduling any classes that will be cancelled because of the strike.

These actions are meant to put pressure on University employers in hope that they will respond quickly to the union’s demand and avoid any further disruption.

Jo Grady, the UCU general secretary, told The Independent that the union has strong support for strike action and reflected how angry university staff are with the current state of higher education.

She also released a statement saying: “The first wave of strikes will hit universities later this month unless the employers start talking to us seriously about how they are going to deal with rising pension costs and declining pay and conditions.

“Any general election candidate would be over the moon with a result along the lines of what we achieved last week.

“Universities can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on these issues and we will be consulting branches whose desire to strike was frustrated by anti-union laws about reballoting.”

A spokesperson for Universities UK, which represents USS, said that the resolution to the 2018 USS dispute was “fair” and “reasonable”.

They added: “We are hopeful that the dispute can be resolved without industrial action; but plans are in place to ensure that any potential disruption to students and staff is minimised.”

In an email sent to all Glasgow students, David Duncan, the Chief Operating Officer and University Secretary, said that the university will try to minimise the impact on students. He added that students should attend class as normal unless told not to by their School or Research Institute.

However, members of UCU Glasgow hope that students will show solidarity “If industrial action goes ahead, we are calling on all students to show their solidarity with striking workers, and not to cross the picket lines from November 25th onwards”.

They added that if students have any questions or would like to support their lecturers and support staff on strike, please send an email to: [email protected]