University staff walk out in pensions dispute

Some 10 days of action are planned over the next two weeks.

Craig Paton
Monday 14 February 2022 15:49
Some 6,000 are estimated to be taking part in the action this week (Jane Barlow/PA)
Some 6,000 are estimated to be taking part in the action this week (Jane Barlow/PA)

Staff at eight Scottish universities walked out on strike on Monday as a union began 10 days of industrial action in opposition to “brutal pension cuts”.

The strikers, who received support from MSPs and a Scottish Government minister, took action after the University and College Union (UCU) said employers “refused to withdraw cuts” to their pension scheme.

Staff at Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Heriot Watt, St Andrews, Stirling, Strathclyde and the Open University will be among those striking over the next five days, with plans to extend into next week as part of a UK-wide action.

Around 6,000 staff are due to take the picket line.

“It is outrageous that when they should be trying to resolve this dispute, employer representatives have instead been finding new ways to deduct pay from university workers,” UCU general secretary Jo Grady said in a statement.

“Rather than punishing their workforce, these so-called leaders need to look in the mirror and ask why students support staff taking strike action and why their own workforce is so demoralised.”

Among those who joined the picket lines in Glasgow was Scottish Government minister and Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie.

Mr Harvie spoke at a rally at the Buchanan Street steps and afterwards tweeted: “Pleased to join the @UCUScotland rally at Buchanan St steps today.

“They have had to struggle far too long for a fair pensions settlement, but they are determined. Strong show of student support from @NUSScotland @glasgowunisrc and others too.”

While SNP MP Tommy Sheppard said: “Today many of my constituents who work at Edinburgh’s universities are going on strike over pensions. @ucu and @UCUScotland have calculated the proposed cut is 35%.

“No-one would put up with that and no one should have to.”

Former Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard also visited the picket line.

The union said its members had suffered a 20% real-terms pay cut over the past 12 years, and had been subjected to unmanageable workloads.

To resolve the pensions dispute, the union said it wants universities to accept its proposals for staff and employers to pay slightly more and to reverse its cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension pot.

The UCU has demanded a £2,500 pay rise for all staff, as well as action “to tackle unmanageable workloads, pay inequality and the use of insecure and exploitative contracts”.

A spokesman for USS employers said that after two years of disruption to education it is “disappointing that once again a small minority plan to walk out today”.

It is not in the interests of staff or students for employers to agree to the UCU’s completely unaffordable demands

USS statement

“The numbers taking strike action have fallen in every walkout since 2018 – only 9% of staff at affected institutions took part in the last strike in December and the impact of their actions was low,” the spokesman said.

“Universities, however, are well prepared to protect students and ensure they do not miss out on the opportunity to learn during this time.

“Employers still want to resolve the dispute and will continue to meet with the union, but any solution must be affordable and viable – it is not in the interests of staff or students for employers to agree to the UCU’s completely unaffordable demands on pensions and pay, which would damage education, research and force job losses.”

Next week’s action is set to include even more institutions, with staff at 11 universities prepared to walk out unless their demands are met.

The UCU and the National Union of Students (NUS) have also organised a joint rally outside Holyrood on February 22.

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