UCU testimonials show 'liberating' side-effects of pension struggle

November 3, 2011

The phrase "industrial action" usually summons up images of workers huddled around blazing braziers as they shiver on the picket line.

But for some in the University and College Union, it means a chance to use their neglected gym membership, read a novel or spend precious time with their children.

UCU members have been asked to work to contract since 10 October in protest against cuts to benefits in the Universities Superannuation Scheme, the pension fund for pre-1992 institutions.

Their testimonials, published on the UCU website, praise the "absolute liberation" the action has brought from working weeks "regularly exceeding" 50 hours.

A report published by the UCU on 3 November backs up the testimonials, finding that 81 per cent of higher education members surveyed said that their job was stressful in 2010 - up from 74 per cent in 2008.

"Lack of time to undertake research" was the leading cause of stress, cited by 66 per cent of the 350 respondents, followed by "excessive workloads" (61 per cent) and "poor work-life balance" (59 per cent).

Fifty-eight per cent described their stress levels as "high" or "very high". The report says this "should be contrasted with [findings] reported in 2009 by the HSE [Health and Safety Executive], where the proportion of UK employees in general who consider their job to be very or extremely stressful was 19.5 per cent".

In the testimonials on the USS industrial action, a UCU member at Manchester Business School writes that visits to the gym had for a long time been neglected in favour of staying late at work. Now, however, they have the time to exercise again: "If I am going to be poorer then I am going to be fitter."

Other members offer further insights into the benefits of working to contract. "I'm reading novels on the train home rather than doing more work," a University of Glasgow member writes. "I'm getting home at a reasonable time, able to take an interest in what my husband and little girl have been doing...rather than wanting to collapse in a heap or weep."

And a member at The Open University writes: "I have actually had time to call round and see my young grandchildren before they go to bed...the working to contract action is an absolute liberation."

The UCU and the employers will hold talks in December to establish a working group on future changes to the pension scheme, the USS announced last week.

But the union said that members should continue working to contract and "be prepared to escalate the action" if necessary.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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