Deputy News Editor and Editor-in-Chief
The eight days of strikes over pensions, pay and working conditions have now ended, though the UCU warns that there may be further strike action in the new year.
The UCU has announced that they have received £100,000 in donations to their hardship fund, which is used to help vulnerable members whose salary is being withheld during the industrial action.
Jo Grady, the UCU general secretary, released a statement thanking people for their encouragement: “We are overwhelmed by the support we have received from students, sister trade unions and the general public, both on the picket lines and through their generous donations to our fighting fund.
“It is greatly appreciated and will only help to strengthen members’ resolve in the fight for fair pay, secure work and decent, affordable pensions”
Grady also attended the picket lines in Glasgow at the start of the strike, as did Richard Leonard, the leader of Scottish Labour. Leonard also refused to appear on the Today programme held at Edinburgh University as he did not want to cross any picket lines.
Jeanette Findlay, president of the UCU Glasgow branch and a senior lecturer in Economics at Glasgow, made a speech on the last day of strike action, saying that although the pensions dispute is always going to be a national issue, the concerns over pay and working conditions can be addressed on the local level.
UCU Glasgow released a statement to The Glasgow Guardian, saying they had started negotiations with university management and thanked students for their support:
“We had a fantastic turnout on all eight days that saw around 150-200 picketers on each day. We received fabulous support from the students and our fellow trade unions. We also saw a very solid turnout at the Dumfries campus on each of the eight days.
“Our actions were successful in bringing the employers back to the negotiating table after previous talks had ended in an impasse which led to the dispute. These new negotiations are ongoing and we hope for a speedy resolution or agreement before next semester.”
They added that if there is no resolution, they are prepared to continue striking, though they hope that it will not come to it.
They also thanked the students and student societies who supported staff on strike and handed out teas and coffees on the picket lines, which had been donated by the QMU and SRC.
The Glasgow Guardian spoke to the University’s Chief Operating Officer, David Duncan, about what the University was doing to support students and staff over the striking period, and what resolutions the University looked to offer.
“We have a good relationship with local representatives of UCU Glasgow and we will try to resolve local issues wherever possible. While we respect the democratic right to strike, we do not support the industrial action.”
He continued: “On pay, all staff were awarded the 1.8% increase and more than half also benefited from an automatic annual increment which took their salary increase to just under 5%. Inflation is 1.7%. Could the University have afforded more? Probably yes; but pay is negotiated at the UK level and we have to go by the pace of the sector nationally, where many universities are in deficit.”
When asked about the worries of postgraduate students who are active GTAs and rely on this as a source of income, Duncan said, “Two years ago we moved away from casual employment and created formal working contracts. Not every University across the sector had done this, however.”
In relation to the practical help the University were going to offer students over the strikes, he commented that “we will make sure that no student is examined on material they have not been taught – so the December exam diet will be safe. There is also an appeals process if people are unhappy or feel they have been examined unfairly following the industrial action. Staff who are taking industrial action do not want to harm students and will do everything they can to ensure they are not disadvantaged by the dispute.”
On the desired outcome of the strikes, “The University would prefer discussions and agreements rather than the industrial action. The ideal outcome would see UCU and employers nationally coming back to the table to discuss the 2020 pay award, but we don’t see much movement possible over pensions. We believe the recent increases in pension contributions – 0.8% for staff and 1.6% for employers – were the best way to protect defined benefit pensions, and local UCU agreed with this.”
He also wanted to assure students that the University will be putting the money saved on lecturer’s wages over the striking period back to students. He stated that they will work closely with the SRC to decide how the money is spent, be it on the availability of more hardship funds or into student services provided by the University.
The eight days of UCU strikes are now over; however, union members and employers have yet to reach a resolution, which may lead to further action next semester.