Read the full statement from our Council Members.
As you may be aware, University of Glasgow staff who are part of the UCU (University and College Union) have recently taken part in a national ballot for industrial action, over reforms to the USS Pension Scheme, alongside the ‘Four Fights’ Ballot which relates to concerns over working conditions and fair pay. The UCU have now confirmed that the action will take the form of 3 days of strike action in December (Wednesday 1st to Friday 3rd), alongside Action Short of a Strike (ASAS) starting December 1st, which we understand to mean that staff will only work to their contracted hours and terms and not volunteer to do more beyond this.
First of all, we believe it is important for students to understand the reasoning for the industrial action which is due to take place, and we deeply encourage students to engage with the context and discussion around this. A more detailed explanation can be found on the UCU website, but in short UCU members are taking action as a result of significant cuts to pensions, decreased pay, poor working conditions, and serious equality failings. In recent times the University has seen a massive rise in casualised and insecure work contracts for staff members, while those on fixed contracts are perpetually forced to work above and beyond their contract and pay grade to meet the increasing demands of their role as they strive to do their best to support students.
As a Council, we have discussed the issue extensively and after hearing from both UCU and University representatives, we have voted to support the strike action that staff have decided to take in December. This is not a decision we made lightly, and our reasons for doing so stem from an understanding that staff working conditions directly inform a student's learning environment, and thus their conditions have a direct impact on the student experience. We recognise that this action is a last resort for many staff members, and appreciate that many will have had misgivings about the potential of disrupting students’ learning and teaching. However, the fact that staff have felt that strike action is necessary is indicative of the seriousness of the issues they’re facing.
This strike has not been called to disrupt or disadvantage students, it has been called to send a message to the University that enough is enough and things have to change. In the past 18 months we have seen staff go above and beyond for students, rewrite the curriculum for blended learning, and we want to acknowledge those contributions which have aimed to uphold effective learning throughout the pandemic. Furthermore, as the students' representative body on campus we represent a cohort of students who are also affected by issues raised in the dispute. Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) are some of the members engaged in the strike action disputes, and we feel it’s imperative to recognise the contributions they make to the undergraduate learning experience while remaining on fixed term contracts.
We call on the University to be threefold in its response to the current disputes:
We demand that the University works to minimise the disruption to students learning in the face of the action being taken. On the back of a pandemic we have not yet emerged from, we remain, of course, concerned about further disruption to students’ learning due to the action being taken and ASAS, however we have heard reassurance from Universities UK (UUK) who have claimed that “Universities are well prepared to mitigate the impact of any industrial action on students’ learning, and minimise disruption for those staff choosing not to take part”, and we agree that a responsibility lies with the institution to ensure any negative impact is minimised.
We call on the University to make concessions and changes in local areas where resolutions do lie within the power of the institution to revise them. This relates to responding to demands for pay equity, ensuring this reflects contributions and workload, and ensuring that staff are protected from unreasonable workload demands. Furthermore, we ask the University to proactively work to reject the culture of contract casualisation, and minimise both zero hour and fixed term employment practices within the University.
We call on the University to use its voice in the national negotiations responsibly and ask that they vocally and ambitiously fight for the rights of their staff in the USS pensions discussion, alongside that which relates to pay. We also ask that the University is transparent about their position in these negotiations, not only to staff but to students also.
Crucially, we believe the University must take steps to tackle the issues at the heart of this action, and engage in meaningful dialogue about resolutions, in order to prevent the long-term detrimental consequences to the students experience that we foresee should demands go unacknowledged. Some will remember that strike action took place in 2018 over some of the same issues, and so we believe that the issues raised in this dispute need to be resolved as soon as possible and in a meaningful way in order to prevent the need for further industrial action in future.
During the strike period, you may find that movement around campus is somewhat disrupted particularly around the main building due to the industrial action. Not all classes will be affected, as some staff are not part of the UCU and some may choose to not strike. Access to the Library, JMS and other study spaces will not be affected. We encourage students to engage with the discussion, particularly should you have any questions.
Finally, we want to reiterate our understanding that any disruption to learning is far from ideal, and not all students will stand in support. Our intention is not to overlook or dismiss the disadvantage this may cause some students, but to reiterate our standpoint that the University should do everything in its power to mitigate the need to strike at present and at any point in the future.
Glasgow University Students' Representative Council 21/22