Almost 1,500 lecturers in Scotland's new-university sector went on strike this week as part of their campaign to force institutions to abandon new contracts said by management to offer "efficiency, flexibility and fairness".
The Educational Institute of Scotland has launched a series of weekly two-day strikes that could last until the summer vacation. The union is angered by the management decision to introduce new contracts for all new staff, following months of unsuccessful negotiations.
The EIS claims the package means staff could be asked to teach at any time, including evenings and weekends, would have no guarantee of training, and would suffer a cut in annual leave with an expectation that they would work during the summer holiday period.
But Geoff King, coordinator for the Conference of Scottish Centrally Funded Colleges, insisted that it was a "professional academic contract". He said that despite the loss of 20 days' leave, staff would still have two months' holidays, increased pay, reformed salary scales and five days' guaranteed annual staff development.
Mr King said the new contract was purely optional for existing staff. "People are being asked to strike for something they don't have to have anything to do with if they don't want to."
But Marian Healy, the EIS further and higher education officer, said: "The trade union movement sees itself as the custodian of future terms and conditions, not just those of today."
Mrs Healy said staff were fighting against the prospect of the new contract eventually becoming the standard.
The Association of University Teachers Scotland, a member of the joint union committee alongside the EIS, is not taking action, arguing that strikes are not the "most effective response" to the dispute.
As the main academic union at the University of Abertay Dundee, it has made a deal with management over the terms of the contract for new staff, with guarantees that existing staff will be able to stick to the current contract for the rest of their career.