The Glasgow Guardian speaks to University of Glasgow staff on their decision to support UCU strikes.
The University and College Union (UCU) have announced that 76% of their members voted in favour of taking strike action over pension cuts.
A strike ballot held by the University and College Union (UCU) saw University of Glasgow staff vote on the prospect of industrial action before the end of the year. The ballot opened on 18 October and closed today. The UCU’s higher education committee (HEC) will meet on 8 November to discuss the results and decide on the next steps of action. Academic staff from 152 institutions are balloting across the UK. The Glasgow Guardian spoke to staff from the University of Glasgow on why they decided to vote “yes”.
Dan Cruickshank, a graduate teaching assistant (GTA) in Theology and Religious Studies, told The Glasgow Guardian that he voted “yes” because: “I want there to be a future for Universities and the staff who sustain them. As a GTA, my pay in no way reflects the hours I work. I work the extra hours needed because I want my students to have the best learning experience they can, but for too long University management have abused our goodwill to underpay us, and put us on short term contracts, with few employment rights.”
One of the principal factors pushing the UCU to hold a ballot was the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme reform, which will see the average lecturer lose 35% in guaranteed pension benefits over the rest of their career in academia. Cruickshank has been a member of the pension scheme since he began working as a GTA in 2018, and said that: “Every year my contribution goes up whilst my future benefits get cut. At this rate, by the time I retire, there will be no pension. The Union has tried for years to resolve these issues but countrywide university management has shown they will only work with us once we take industrial action.”
Dr Rohit K Dasgupta, who joined the University of Glasgow this year as a senior lecturer in Cultural Studies, told The Glasgow Guardian that “taking strike action is the last thing I want to happen”. “However,” he continued, “we have seen, in the last few years, employers moving to end guaranteed pension benefits risking our future. We have seen an increase of precarious contracts for hardworking members of staff and rising workloads with no significant pay rise.”
Dr Dasgupta added: “It is important to realise that this is not just about individual universities but about the sector as a whole. The upcoming industrial action which looks inevitable is a fight to demand better for UK higher education.”
Another lecturer told The Glasgow Guardian that they are voting “yes” in light of the pension cuts, and the “Four Fights” campaign, which encompasses gender, ethnicity and disability pay gaps, contract casualisation, increasing workloads, and advocated for increases to all spine points on the national pay scale.
The lecturer stated: “Workloads are increasing [to the stage] where myself and colleagues are at breaking point and regularly work 50-60 hour weeks simply to stay afloat. My work-life balance has suffered and I have become more stressed and irritable in recent years. Class sizes continue to increase with no recruitment to support the increased workload this brings. Rarely am I (or other staff members) able to take all my annual leave each year. This year for example, I still have 50% of my leave to take (which I won’t be able to do) and I will only be able to carry forward five days into next year. In the many years I have worked here I have never been able to take my full allocation of holidays in the knowledge that if I did take them the backlog of work would be crippling.”