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Hundreds of university and college support staff gather for pay protest

Hundreds of university support staff gathered in Glasgow on Tuesday in protest over what unions have said represents a real-terms pay cut.

Members of Unite, Unison, EIS Further Education Lecturers Association (EIS-Fela) and the University and Colleges Union (UCU) held a rally at the Buchanan Steps in protest against a “real-terms pay cut” of 5% to 6% which unions say has been “imposed” on them.

Support staff including janitors, technicians and cleaners held picket lines at the University of Glasgow, University of Dundee, University of Abertay, Glasgow Caledonian University, University of Strathclyde and Glasgow School of Art on a second day of rolling strike action which began on Monday.

Industrial strike
STUC general secretary Roz Foyer speaks to lecturers and other university staff at a rally in Glasgow (Jane Barlow/PA)

They joined academic colleagues at Glasgow, Stirling, Aberdeen, Dundee and Strathclyde universities who have been embroiled in a separate dispute with university employers over pay and working conditions, and pay deductions.

College support staff at three colleges have also walked out as part of a separate dispute over pay which involves around 100 members.

Those based at Glasgow institutions walked from their workplaces to the Buchanan Steps to hear speeches from union officials including Roz Foyer, general secretary of the STUC.

University of Glasgow education lecturer Matthew Thomas tweeted: “I’m on strike today. Yes, again.

“I hate striking.

“I hate missing time teaching students, conducting research, and working with colleagues.

“I also hate losing salary.

“But this higher education sector is unethical, unsustainable, and underappreciated.”

Allison Buchanan, chair of Unison’s Scottish higher education committee, said: “This is yet another real-terms pay cut for university staff.

“The employer has imposed an early settlement on members without reaching agreement with the union. University staff play a crucial role in supporting students through university and they deserve better.

“Unison has appealed to the Scottish Government to help find a solution. The minister seems willing to allow the strikes to proceed rather than ensuring hard-working university staff are paid fairly.

“Employers must get back around the table, reopen negotiations and give university workers the fair pay they deserve.”

UCU’s Scotland official Mary Senior said: “No-one wants to take strike action but the actions of the employers and UCEA mean that we are again beginning the start of a new academic term with industrial action.

“Last year university bosses made clear that they were prepared to sit back and see students suffer rather than negotiate a fair offer on pay and working conditions.

“Their refusal to resolve the dispute means that the action continues with universities across Scotland and the UK holding five days of strike action before the end of September.

“UCU has sought to settle this dispute at every opportunity.

“We desperately hope university principals realise that we are going nowhere without a fair settlement and make us a realistic offer.

“If they do not, as well as campuses being marred by picket lines during the start of term, we will look to continue action well into 2024.”

Raj Jethwa, Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) chief executive, said: “This year’s pay uplift of 5% – 8% prioritised the disproportionate effect of high inflation falling on the lower paid.

“Nearly half of the uplift was delivered six months early to address cost-of-living pressures. Around half of HE staff on the New JNCHES spine will also be eligible for pay progression, typically worth 3% on top of the base pay uplift.

“The remaining portion of the 2023-24 uplift was implemented from August 1. UCEA’s priority is to work with the unions on a number of important pay-related matters including the review of the pay spine, workload, contract types and further action to reduce the already falling pay gaps in the sector.

“A crucial element of resetting industrial relations in the sector is developing a shared understanding of affordability.

“For the sake of students and staff alike, it is now vital to work together to bring to an end the sector’s recent cycle of industrial disputes.”

Gavin Donoghue, director of College Employers Scotland (CES), said:  “It looks like most support staff at colleges continued to work today despite strike action.

“However, it is disappointing that trade unions are undertaking strikes. Colleges will put in place measures to mitigate the effects of any proposed action on their students’ education.

“CES provided a full and final pay offer to all support staff trade unions in June 2023 for a cumulative £3,500 pay rise over academic years 2022/23 and 2023/24.

“The offer would equate to an average 11% pay increase. For support staff earning less than £25,000, the average increase would be 14%.

“It is unfortunate that this offer has not been taken to Unison members in a ballot and that, instead, Unison and Unite are undertaking strike action.

“Employers have requested that all support staff unions take the pay offer to their members for a formal ballot.”