Why we're taking action

Scotland strikes begin after bosses refuse to budge on pensions, pay and working conditions

1 December 2021

Staff at 10 Scottish universities are walking out for three consecutive days from today to Friday 3 December

  • Employers have misled staff over the size of pension cuts and rejected UCU's reasonable demands to address falling pay and worsening working conditions
  • UCU says that action will escalate in the new year if employers continue to ignore staff demands

Three consecutive days of strike action will hit 58 universities across the UK, including ten in Scotland, starting today after university bosses and their representatives refused to withdraw pension cuts and address falling pay and worsening working conditions [1].

After notifying principals that staff would take strike action unless they saw movement, UCU met with employer representatives Universities UK (UUK) just last week over pension cuts, but UUK refused to reverse them.

On pay and working conditions employers, represented by University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), still won't meet without preconditions, and refuse to engage in agreeing action plans that would address widespread casualisation, excessive workloads and pay inequalities. UCEA has also refused to move on another below inflation pay offer for staff.

Last month UCU members at 10 Scottish institutions backed strike action in two separate ballots, one over pension cuts and one over pay and working conditions [2]. Research by the National Union of Students shows 73% of students support university staff taking strike action. Across the UK 42 branches that just failed to meet the anti trade union threshold of 50% are being reballoted to join escalating action next year.

This week, UCU exposed how UUK had misled staff and vice chancellors about the true scale of the cuts they were pushing through. UUK had repeatedly said that its cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension would lead to staff pensions being cut by 10% to 18%. This was a claim communicated by UUK to university senior managers, and in turn university staff, in attempts to persuade them not to take action. However, the USS trustee's own modelling shows that a typical member will see a 36% pension cut.

Staff pay has fallen by 20% after twelve years of below inflation pay offers whilst almost 90,000 academic and academic-related staff are employed on insecure contracts.

The gender pay gap in UK universities sits at 15%, whilst the disability pay gap is 9% and the race pay gap is 17% staff are also experiencing a crisis of work-related stress with over half showing probable signs of depression.

To resolve the pension dispute UCU is demanding employers revoke their pensions cuts. To resolve the pay and working conditions dispute UCU is demanding a £2.5k pay increase for all staff, as well as action to tackle unmanageable workloads, pay inequality and insecure contracts that blight the sector.

As part of the strike action the union had been planning a mass rally outside the Scottish Parliament. Due to concerns over Covid and the new Omicron variant, and to maintain the union's safety-first approach to Covid, the rally will now take place online at 1pm on Thursday 2 December.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'It is deeply regrettable that staff have been forced into taking industrial action again, but sadly university bosses have shown little interest in negotiating in good faith and addressing the serious concerns of staff over falling pay, massive pension cuts, equality pay gaps and the rampant use of insecure contracts.

'The truth is that staff are asking for the bare minimum. But sadly, the only time vice chancellors and principals seem to listen is when staff take action, and those leading our universities should not underestimate their determination to change this sector for the better.

'We are grateful to all the students who are supporting staff taking industrial action because they understand that staff working conditions are student learning conditions. Principals now need to concentrate on asking themselves why strikes have become an annual occurrence and seek to resolve this dispute in order to avoid more needless disruption to learning. If they continue to ignore the modest demands of staff then we will be forced to take further industrial action in the new year, which even more branches will join.'

[1] Seven institutions in Scotland will see strikes over both pay and pensions:
Heriot-Watt University
The University of Dundee
The University of Stirling
University of Edinburgh
University of Glasgow
University of St Andrews
Open University in Scotland

Three will see strikes over pay only:
Edinburgh Napier University
Glasgow School of Art
Queen Margaret University

[2] In the pension ballot, 76% of UCU members across the UK who voted backed strike action and 88% voted in favour of action short of strike. In the pay and working conditions ballot more than seven in 10 members who voted (70.1%) backed strike action with 85% (84.9%) voting for action short of strike. The overall turnout on the pension ballot was 53% and on pay & conditions was 51%. The ballot was disaggregated and 42 branches that just failed to meet the Conservative anti trade union threshold of 50% are being reballoted to join escalating action next year.

Picket lines will be held outside main university entrances. 

Last updated: 2 December 2021