The sun shone for the GCU pickets (and why shouldn’t it!) on the third day of the UCU’s action at Glasgow Caledonian when well over 30 pickets joined the several hundred members who were striking for better pay and conditions.
Earlier a selection of UCU Elves had made their point beside the GCU Christmas tree on their way to set up the early morning picket – in place again from 7.30 this morning.
We were also very heartened this morning by a surprise donation from a passing member of the public – with no connection to higher education – who insisting on giving us money to buy everyone coffees and teas. He said it was ‘so important that somebody thought of young peoples’ future – since education was what would transform everything’.
Using our customised leaflet and our student produced leaflet as well as UCU Central’s ‘Enough is enough’ students and passers by were left in no doubt as to why we were out there.
Now it’s over to the University and College Employers Association – we’re waiting on a better offer – and hopefully good news before Xmas
The combined unions went on to argue that as a University for the Common Good, our catering staff should be taken ‘in-house’ and made a direct part of the university, given that some catering staff had worked for students and staff for over twenty years. Although we saved jobs, we were unsuccessful in this, with the university, (despite our supplying evidence from elsewhere to the contrary) stating that ‘contracting out’ to others would provide the best service to students and staff.
Staff and students were promised more choice and a voice in what was produced, with multiple outlets throughout the university.
Despite these promises, and despite being in a post-covid situation, outlets have been closed in both the Learning Cafe, and also at the bottom of the Mbeki building. The ‘healthy choice’ of what is provided has shrunk tremendously with takeaway sandwich offerings being reduced to a majority of white bread sandwiches, and including very limited vegetarian/vegan options. The decision of what is provided by Baxter Storey is of course, not up to the local catering staff.
In fact anyone searching for a healthy option in late afternoon in the Library when the refectory is closed, is unlikely to find it as the photo below indicates.
In November, university staff were informed that the Executive Board had decided ‘due to the impact of the cost of living crisis‘, and ‘given the University’s current strong financial position‘, the University would provide a contribution to staff (defined as those employed on a GCU contract of employment, effective from 31 July 2022, and still employed by GCU on 30 November 2022), of £1000 to be paid in their November salaries. The Executive Board believed that ‘giving all staff in scope the same amount, regardless of salary or full or part-time status, is fair and we hope it will have a particularly positive impact on staff on lower salaries’.
Catering staff – despite being paid below the living wage (see above) are denied this payment however, due to the Executive Board’s decision to contract out the service back in 2017.
On Monday 21st November on arrival at the university, catering staff (currently depleted by illness and with only three full time staff currently employed by Baxter Storey), were extremely surprised to find that the university had decided to instigate free breakfasts for students and staff – with catering staff given little time, if any, to prepare.
Without mentioning the co-incidence that this had been instigated to co-incide with the first day of strikes by Unison, this soon led to long queues forming, with 600 using the service on Monday, 700 on Tuesday and 800 on Wednesday.
The instigation of free breakfasts for staff and students, is of course a welcome development, although it is scandalous that some staff have overall salaries low enough that they have to use this. Surely this is again an argument for fair pay for all staff at university (in particular our catering staff).
As a University for the Common Good, the Combined Campus Unions still believe that catering services – currently inadequately provided, despite service from our underpaid catering staff well above and beyond what should be expected – needs to be taken in-house. The contract is coming up for renewal – we expect the Executive Board to do the right thing and would ask the University Court to insist that they do so.
In our campus trade unions’ appeal to students in the week beginning 14th November, we explained our case for better pay and conditions, and called on students to contact Pamela Gillies, Principal of GCU, and ask her to pressurise the University and Colleges Employers Association to award staff a fair wage.
Staff have lost 25% of their pay in real terms in the last 12 years (here is the UCU position EIS position and Unison position on this).
The GCU Students Association, also supported our position and asked students to contact the Principal and likewise demand that GCU put pressure on UCEA for positive change.
A week later, on 17th November the Times Higher Education (you can link to the non paywall edition of story here) reported that Professor Gillies had made a statement in favour of more investment in staff while talking at a Times Higher Education Campus Live event that day in London.
In a session entitled Vice Chancellor’s Question Time professor Gillies is reported as saying:
We’ve been underpaying our staff for many, many years, and our staff really are angry now
She followed this by stating:
Colleagues, I really think now’s the time we have to address this underpayment issue seriously
And following this up by remarking that
teaching had improved since the pandemic and that it was time for investment in training people to match the money pumped into acquiring technology. There will need to be a lot more investment in the human side of these new learning opportunities than we’ve actually had the time or the space to invest in because of Covid…
She ended by stating that:
Our staff are our jewels in the crown, and we need to properly reward them
While welcoming this statement and now looking for action to back it up, it is fair to say that most staff at GCU who have spoked to the campus unions are showing astonishment, given that senior management have never acknowledged this throughout the sixteen year period of professor Gillies’ tenure here.
Professor Gillies’ time as Principal of Glasgow Caledonian ends on December 31st this year
Earlier in 2022, when the Financial and General Purpose committee of GCU Court reported an unexpected multi-million pounds operating surplus (in double figures), the then Academic Staff representative on Court, Douglas Chalmers, argued that given our sound financial exit from the pandemic, GCU needed to put aside sufficient funds to award staff a cost of living plus increase, given the extra mile they were acknowledged to have gone during lockdown.
This was not accepted by either the Finance and General Purpose Committee of Court, nor Court itself, where Dr Chalmers again proposed this. No member of senior management came in to support the Academic staff rep’s proposal.
Workload and low pay remains endemic in the University Sector. HESA figures last year reported that Glasgow Caledonian had the third highest student staff ratio amongst post-92 Universities in Scotland.
This is not acceptable for a University for the Common Good, and it is important that the words of our outgoing Principal are brought swiftly to the attention of our incoming Principal Stephen Decent, so that, notwithstanding the better current settlement that we hope to have won by then, 2023 is the year that sees a re-calibration of our investment priorities in practice
Day two of strike action at GCU started well and early again though we were glad of the weights that stopped the Gazebo going skyward, given the turn in the weather. Again a great and positive response from students – including some GCU journalism students who came down to interview pickets for their ‘newsdays’ assignments.
Not so many kids at the rally given the teachers were back in work today, and despite the number of officially distributed picket whistles, surprisingly perhaps no dogs.
Mary Senior, the UCU Scotland official had visited the picket line yesterday to give moral support, and today it was the turn of Deborah Shepherd, from EIS who spent some time with us prior to the joint union rally at the Donald Dewar statue in Buchanan Street.
Conversations on the picket line covered our Principal, Pamela Gillies’ statement in the Times Higher Education magazine (Download paywall free version here) that “We’ve been underpaying our staff for many, many years, and our staff really are angry now” and her belief that “Our staff are our jewels in the crown, and we need to properly reward them”, and the interview this morning with Mary Senior of UCU on Good Morning Scotland telling listeners that “we are in an unsustainable situation” (listen here: from 1:40:57 to 1:46:38). Also discussed was the appearance of UCU General Secretary Jo Grady on yesterday’s newsnight programme demolishing the ‘car crash’ arguments of UCEA’s Raj Jethwa who colleagues believed had come across as a bit of an automaton.
It was good to see colleagues out from a different cross-section of departments compared to yesterday – which bodes well for next Wednesday’s UCU strike.
At 10 o’clock Graham Wylie, secretary of GCU’s Unite branch (whose ballot for industrial action had just missed the 50 percent threshold for action by a handful of votes, thus preventing them from joining us) again delivered hot rolls, which were very welcome as the cold was beginning to bite for those of us out since 7.15 this morning.
After a brief respite in the Student Association building for hot drinks (thanks for the offer of using your facilities colleagues!) we joined the rally at the Donald Dewar statue which heard a series of inspiring speakers. Dewar was his usual dour self looking down at the strikers, but I recall he was never one to favour industrial action personally.
Building on from our colleagues in Unison on Monday and Tuesday, the combined forces of the UCU and EIS mounted what must be one of the biggest pickets seen at Glasgow Caledonian University in the last ten years.
In a carnival atmosphere, where the rain stayed off, and passing cars, lorries, fire engines, and taxis honked their support, our sound system and Spotify (thanks Karen!) provided a great backdrop to the staff demand for better pay and conditions.
All entrances to the Campus were covered, although we didn’t have to turn away the Post Office Mail van this dispute, since the posties in the Communications Workers Union were also on strike!
Quite a few parents had brought their school age kids since the schools were also on strike, and it is hard to remember a more enthusiastic group of leafleters for the cause.
We also had support from students – who were later given special thanks by UCU President Catriona Mowat, and graduating students passing between the university and the Concert Hall, welcomed our congratulations leaflet which can be downloaded here.
Roz Foyer the General Secretary of the Scottish TUC visited the picket line and addressing the pickets said that although she had lost count of the number of picket lines she had attended today, but this was one of the biggest and most colourful she’d seen yet.
On behalf of all other workers she thanked us for standing up for our education services stating that fighting back against cuts to what should be an essential public service was absolutely imperative at the moment. She said: We want an economy that works for working people. We need a government and politicians that are prepared to stand up for working people…. I am so proud of you, so keep going, keep fighting back. The strength and solidarity the workers are now showing is going to make the difference, because when we come together our voices are more powerful than they can dare to imagine and we can still make real change happen
Overall it felt so comfortable both unions working together, only distinguishable by the colours of their hats:
Nick McKerrell representing the EIS spoke of how heartening it was to see joint action between EIS and UCU – the first major joint action for approximately ten years
He said: It’s a long time since the unions on campus took joint action…..We watched as the management have invested the money of the university, not in staff, but in renaming buildings, in campuses overseas, and in New York, where $25million of debt is hanging round the university. Twenty Five Million – can you imagine the transformation that would have made for our student experience, for our students who again have supported us on the Picket line here today…..If we had only had decent salary scales for the poorest workers in Higher Education, and fair salaries for lecturers, and permanent contracts for new starts within the Higher Education system. We could have done that, here in GCU, but the decision was not to do that, but to spend on overseas adventures and to fatten the fat cats even more at the top of the university.
Catriona Mowat, President of the UCU@GCU thanked the students, including Postgrads who had come out to support staff, and also Unite for their supplies to the pickets. She also praised the work of Unison earlier this week
She said…..This has been an amazing turnout on the picket lines, and I want to say a special thanks to somer people – a special thanks to the students who have turned out on the picket line. You have no idea what a difference that makes to staff to know that the students are behind us…. It’s a useful tactic from management to try and divide and rule, telling us that we are letting our students down, so I cannot thank you enough. She also gave special thanks to our postgrad and PhD students who had also turned out today saying it’s great to see you out on the picket line and speaking to your fellow PhD students as well.
Some of the photos from the fantastic two days of picketing carried out by Unison members of staff at GCU which was warmly supported by students – some of whom had even turned out for the launch of action at midnight on Sunday.
Its effectiveness can be shown by the response to a member of staff phoning the IT helpline on Monday to be told: “I’m not able to help with much, as the entire IT helpdesk is on industrial action!”
In a very helpful statement to staff forced to go on strike this week for decent pay, the full time officers of the GCU students association last week issued the statement we reprint belowwith thanks
Staff who are members of the UCU, EIS and Unison Trade Unions have voted to go on strike action at GCU to defend their living standards. Unison will be on strike on Monday 21st and Tuesday 22nd November 2022, EIS will be on strike on Thursday 24th and Friday 25th November 2022 and UCU will be on strike on Thursday 24th, Friday 25th and Wed 30th November 2022. The EIS is a Scottish strike and the UCU strike is happening at every university across the UK. Staff do not have to tell the University in advance if they plan to strike, so the University will not know in advance what classes will be cancelled. Strikes will mean lots of classes will be cancelled and access to other services may be affected. On strike days staff are not paid and will not do any work on these days. UCU will commence action short of strike (ASOS) on 23rd November 2022. ASOS is when staff take other action, such as limiting some work-related activities.
Your Full Time Officers support these strikes and to educate our members, GCU students, on the reasons behind this dispute. Our position will be presented to Student Voice, our policy making body, to become our policy.
The final offer made by Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) was up to 9% for staff on the lowest spine points, and an increase of 3% for staff on or above spine point 20 (currently £26,396). This is well below inflation (which stands at RPI 11.8% as of June 2022). This means a real terms pay cut for staff during the cost of living crisis in the United Kingdom. According to UCU the value of pay in higher education fell by 17.6% relative to inflation between 2009 and 2019. Based on the employers’ offer and the most recent inflation data, that figure is now approximately 25%. With inflation forecast to keep increasing in the short to medium term, salaries will continue to fall further and exacerbate the cost of living crisis for many.
Whilst Glasgow Caledonian University has made a local decision to support employees with the impact of the cost of living crisis by providing £1,000 to each GCU employee this year, the Full Time Officers believe that the university sector can afford an improved offer and call on Vice Chancellors, including our own Principal and Vice-Chancellor, to ensure a meaningful pay rise in order to avoid strike action.
The Full Time Officers support the planned strikes and fully recognise the impact these strikes will have on students’ learning and teaching and their wider student experience. Staff working conditions are students’ learning conditions. We are also mindful of the important work done by cleaners, security staff and other professional support staff in the day to day life of the University. The National Union of Students (NUS), to which we are members, have also come out in full support of the strikes.
In addition to statement of support, we will invite the campus trade unions to address our Academic Rep Gathering and Student Voice meeting, offer the use of the Students’ Association Building for staff on strike days and be vocal on our ongoing support over social media and relevant channels.
What can GCU students do to show solidarity with staff on strike?
1. Email the Principal (firstname.lastname@example.org) and ask for UCEA to offer a meaningful pay rise in order to avoid strike action.
2. If you come onto campus take a leaflet from staff striking on the picket line and ask them more about the reasons they are striking. A picket line is where staff and union reps stand outside a workplace to tell other people why they are striking.
3. Recognise it is the responsibility of the University for any missed learning and teaching and not the staff on strike. Staff are entitled to refuse to reschedule classes or provide materials for classes on strike days.
If you have any questions please contact me at: president@GCUstudents.co.uk.
Laiba, Chukwuma, Jennifer and John Full Time Officers 2022/23
Katy Clark MSP has submitted a motion on casualisation in higher education and FE in the Scottish Parliament. The motion, which references the current UCU disputes and strike action, has been signed by Labour, SNP and Green MSPs and will now be considered for debate in the Parliament. The more MSPs that sign the motion the more likely it is to be debated and the more attention we can draw to the use of precarious contracts in universities. The local UCU brach is asking all staff – in a union or not – to contact MSPs covering their area and ask them to sign the petition.
Here’s some draft text you possibly might like to amend and use:
Aș a ______________ (describe your role at GCU), like others, I am very concerned with casualisation of the workforce which is undermining the security of our staff, giving a second class service to our students, and threatens to downgrade the quality of Scotland Higher Education and FE. I’d be very grateful if you could sign the motion on Casualisation in Higher Education and FE, which has been lodged by Katy Clarke MSP (Motion ref. S6M-03099).
As a MSP for Glasgow I’m sure you will want to ensure the highest quality Higher and Further Education is provided by the post-16 sector in the city. Helping to eliminated casualisation is one way to do that.
Please add your support to this motion, and help get it debated.
The Glasgow MSPs who it might be very relevant to contact are the following (click on the links to bring up your e-mail programme):
Kaukab Stewart (SNP) MSP for Glasgow Kelvin (GCU is in Glasgow Kelvin constituency). She has already signed the motion so you might want to commend her on this Kaukab can also be found on twitter at: @kaukabstewart and facebook at: Kaukab’s facebook
A meeting of the UCU Higher Education Committee has decided that all branches of UCU are to be reballoted for future possible industrial action around their wages and conditions campaign. This would allow the renewal of a mandate for strike action and action short of a strike once their original mandate ends on May 3rd.
Colleagues will know that under the anti-Trade Union legislation instigated by previous governments, in order for a union branch vote to count, over 50 percent of all members must vote by post. On both recent occasions the UCU local branch although it registered over 40 percent voting, did not hit the 50 percent mark.
The new ballot will open on March 16th and close on April 8th, and the UCU will be holding a special on-line meeting on Wednesday 16th at 11 am to consider our campaign to break over the 50 percent imposition this time.
All UCU members should look out for an invite to the meeting from Lyle Gray UCU branch secretary.
Have you ever imagined……. what would happen if GCU could be re-made, and re-imagined, run and resourced in a manner that was based on the vision, outlook and understanding of its staff and students?
What would the university look like in 2030 – how would our vision of the university differ from that of GCU’s official 2030 strategy?
In short how would a university such as ours – the University for the Common Good – operate in a post-pandemic world?
Last year, the UCU in Scotland published their vision of what we believe should be the future for Higher Education in Scotland. You can download it below. The UCU want to look at what this means for us in GCU.
Already we have seen a massive shift in the way that many staff – mostly academic – have had to work, on-line and from home. Our professional and support staff have also been affected by pandemic working in a different and often more difficult manner.
The effect of Brexit has brought about the end of Erasmus student exchanges, and is transforming the student base that we have operated with for many years.
During the pandemic, the experience of our existing students has been turned upside down in many ways, and the whole sector is facing uncertainty – with rising inflation now looming, and the Scottish government – although much friendlier to the sector than the UK government – are looking at re-organising the college and university sector over the next few years.
In terms of the pandemic, the campus unions have worked closely with GCU management to bring about a new way of working on Health and Safety for the university community which has allowed us to avoid many of the potential disasters that have been experienced on other campuses in the UK through their mismanagement of the crisis. But underlying issues such as workloads remain.
The UCU@GCU wants to outline our vision of what our university for the common good should look like, post pandemic. They want to examine current strategies, drawing on the expertise of their members who are all good at what they do, but believe the university could be so much better.
They want to take the best of our university’s practice and make it better. Where they think the practice is bad or just wrong, they want to put forward an alternative vision.
The UCU is trying to bring together a working group who can help construct this vision, and discuss it with the other unions, and with our colleagues at other universities. They want to dialogue with management over that vision, and also put it into the public domain.
If you’re a UCU member and interested in finding out more about how you can be part of this, or have definitely decided you might want to contribute, get in touch with the UCU please – and they’ll try to bring those interested together to take these ideas forward.