Relationships between higher education staff and their employers are set to undergo a "sea-change", a lecturers' union leader has warned as industrial action at two leading Glasgow universities gets underway.
Nine Scottish institutions, including the universities of Glasgow and Strathclyde, face disruption after University and College Union (UCU) members last month elected to hold a "sustained campaign of industrial action" over cuts to pensions.
Academics at the two Glasgow-based institutions have been working to contract for the past fortnight as staff refuse to work overtime beyond contracted hours. The move could also see additional cover for absent colleagues denied, while staff refuse to attend certain meetings or work weekends if actions are not stipulated in contracts.
The ballot for action came in the wake of proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), whose members are primarily academics and senior administrators in pre-1992 institutions. UCU has claimed changes to existing pension arrangements will leave new staff up to £120,000 worse off.
Bill Johnston, UCU Strathclyde vice-president, warned an unwelcome national flat rate pay increase of £150 together with upheaval over pensions could leave existing ties between staff and senior managements susceptible to increasing strain.
Mr Johnston said: "I'd characterise what could be coming as a sea-change in the relationship between staff and their employers. And that would go right down into the fabric of working life in departments, especially for academics, though not exclusively for them.
"We just settled a pay claim on the grounds of being forced to accept a £150 flat rate increase across the board for a year at the same time that the universities are trying to reduce people's pension right.
"If you look at that you have to ask yourself why should anybody go the extra mile of working at weekends or in the evenings for that kind of treatment from their employers nationally and locally. The present stage of work to rule is not about encouraging people to partially preform their duties. It is really about saying stop going the extra mile which the university has benefited from for many years."
In a message sent to all Strathclyde students, principal Professor Jim McDonald insisted the university would do everything possible to minimise disruption. "At this stage, it is unclear what, if any, impact the threatened industrial action will have, but the University will do all it can to ensure that students are not disadvantaged as a result of this action," he said.
"Our staff are committed to making a positive impact on the lives of our students, and I believe the vast majority of staff support our aim in minimising disruption."
Meanwhile, a letter sent to all staff at Glasgow University and seen by The Journal called on a "continuing professional approach from staff in fulfilling all aspects of their contract to accepted efficiency, time and quality standards".
Director of Human Resources Ian Black said: "An area of difficulty will arise if, regrettably, a person does not fulfil all aspects of the contract. The University would be forced to use pay sanctions for partial performance. This would be introduced with great reluctance."
Dave Anderson, president of the UCU Glasgow branch, told The Journal: "Staff across campus have responded positively to the call to work to contract. There is widespread anger at these pensions changes which will see staff paying more, working longer and ultimately receiving a significantly devalued pension.
"Research has shown that UCU members regularly work 20 hours over their contracted time each week. By taking part in the action staff are not taking work home or working at weekends and the impact of that is becoming increasingly apparent. What we want to see is negotiations on these pension changes get under way quickly before the dispute escalates."
The University of Aberdeen, the University of Dundee, the University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University, the University of St Andrews, the University of Stirling and the Open University in Scotland are the seven other Scots higher education institutions.