University staff across three Scottish institutions have gone on strike in a dispute over pay.
Members of Unison trade union at the University of Glasgow, Edinburgh Napier University and Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen will strike on Tuesday and Wednesday as they call for a better pay deal to cope with the cost of living crisis.
Unison is the largest union for professional services staff in universities including cleaners, security officers, library workers, IT technicians and catering staff.
The strikes have been planned as part of a protest against below-inflation pay offers, with the union calling on universities to award staff a better deal.
The union are also calling upon the Scottish Government to make clear to universities that it demands compliance with its Fair Work Framework, including negotiation rather than imposition of pay offers.
The current offer from UCEA (Universities and Colleges Employers Association) is 3% for most university staff, with some bottom loading bringing the award up to 7.2% for the lowest paid.
However, the union said the offer does not align with current inflation and the projected inflation later this year.
Strike action planned at Glasgow Caledonian University was halted this week to allow Unison members to consider an offer, however the union said these members are also prepared to strike in October if the dispute is not resolved.
Lorcan Mullen, Unison Scotland regional organiser, said: “The university staff we represent are sick to death of below-inflation pay rises, and members at these universities will be in the first wave of action on campuses this year.
“In recent days, we have seen a range of offers and impositions of one-off payments from several Scottish universities to supplement the imposed, disputed national award. This demonstrates a clear ability to pay better on a permanent basis, and our members want to fight for consolidated improvements to their pay and conditions. They also demand a serious, respectful negotiation with their representatives, not charity from on high.
“These workers kept universities running throughout the pandemic; they are indispensable to a functioning university and they cannot keep being treated as second-class citizens on Scottish campuses.
“They must be paid fairly, and treated with respect, and to achieve that Unison is ready for talks with any sector employer.”
A spokesperson for Edinburgh Napier University said: “We understand the economic climate is difficult for staff, especially those on lower salaries.
“While we respect the right to take industrial action, we are disappointed it will have an impact on our students and other staff members.
“We will continue to work with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) to nationally negotiate a fair and affordable increase for our staff, advocating larger increases for those on the lower salary points.”
A spokesperson for the University of Glasgow said: “The University of Glasgow recognises the very real challenges facing members of staff because of the current cost of living increases. To help address this, we have budgeted for 3% in addition to the national pay increase of 3.18% which was awarded in August. If a further uplift is not agreed nationally, we will look at options to pay our members of staff the additional money we set aside while remaining within national pay structures.
“We have agreed with the campus trade unions to work jointly with them to address other issues they have raised. We look forward to a positive collaboration with our trade union colleagues to address concerns about workload, pay equity and security of contract.”
A spokesperson for Robert Gordon University said: “It is regrettable that agreement could not be reached within the national pay negotiations. At RGU we have significantly improved our total reward package over the past year, investing in pay while reducing working hours, enhancing flexible working arrangements, and increasing annual leave entitlement.
“Providing a high quality and supportive student experience is a priority and we will be working to mitigate any disruption for our students and staff as a result of the strike action. We will also continue working with our trades unions colleagues to explore ways to improve the working lives of our staff members.”
Raj Jethwa, UCEA’s Chief Executive said: “UCEA represented 145 independent HE institutions from across the four nations of the UK at the 2022-23 New JNCHES bargaining table. They have done their best to support jobs and staff in very difficult circumstances and against a backdrop of significant cost increases, with most experiencing falling income in real terms.
“UCEA is concerned for those on lower incomes, who are disproportionately impacted by inflation. That is why the 2022-23 New JNCHES pay award* included an uplift of up to 9% for those on the lowest points of the pay spine, and why UCEA worked with employers to implement the uplift at the earliest opportunity.
“It is disappointing that UNISON members in 22 HEIs in England, Northern Ireland and Scotland that were balloted have a mandate for industrial action. However, UNISON failed to meet the threshold in two thirds of HEIs**. Employers want to work with UNISON and other unions to support staff and students, but isolated strike action over already awarded pay may simply hurt students and staff for no obvious outcome.”
Unison strike action is also under way at the University of Dundee this week and next week as part of a long-running fight for staff to protect their benefit pension scheme.
A spokesperson for Dundee University said: “The University Court, our governing body, made a final decision at the end of August on revised pension arrangements to offer accessible, flexible and sustainable pensions for all.
“These changes will be implemented and will come into effect from January 1, 2023. The decision followed eighteen months of discussion, negotiation and consultation with staff and the campus unions. Over that time the university has revised and changed the proposals considerably from what was originally put forward.
“We are disappointed the unions have decided to return to strike action given a final decision has been made, and particularly at a time when it may impact students arriving for Welcome Week and beginning their academic year.”
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We expect all employers – including universities – to apply Fair Work principles.
“Universities are autonomous institutions and matters relating to pay, working conditions and pensions are for them to determine.
“Strike action is in no-one’s interests. We expect management and unions to make every effort to reach a settlement.”