University staff call three-day strike in disputes over pensions and pay

·4-min read

University staff are to strike for three days next month in disputes over pensions, pay and working conditions.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) will walk out between December 1-3 following votes in favour of industrial action.

The strikes will hit 58 universities across the UK before the Christmas break.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady has warned that more industrial action could take place in the spring if the row with employers remains unresolved.

Earlier this month, UCU members backed strike action in two separate disputes, one on pensions and one on pay and working conditions.

Overall, 76% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions.

In the ballot on pay and conditions, 70% of members backed strike action.

As well as the three strike days, union members will begin other forms of industrial action from December 1.

This will include strictly working to contract and refusing any additional duties.

This is set to go on indefinitely for the five months staff have a mandate to take industrial action for, UCU has said.

Dr Grady said: “Strikes over three consecutive days are set to hit university campuses next month unless employers get round the table and take staff concerns over pension cuts, pay and working conditions seriously.

“UCU has repeatedly asked employers to meet with us to try to resolve these disputes. But while we set out pragmatic solutions that could halt widespread disruption to UK campuses, university bosses refuse to revoke unnecessary, swingeing pension cuts or even to negotiate on issues like casualisation and the unbearably high workloads that blight higher education.

“A resolution to this dispute is simple. But if employers remain intent on slashing pensions and exploiting staff who have kept this sector afloat during a pandemic then campuses will face strike action before Christmas, which will escalate into spring with reballots and further industrial action.”

The UCU claims that cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions scheme would reduce the guaranteed retirement income of a typical member by 35%.

It has also suggested that pay for university staff fell by 17.6% relative to inflation between 2009 and 2019, and since then employers have made below-inflation offers, with the latest worth 1.5%.

The UCU held a series of walkouts in 2019 and early 2020 over pensions, pay and conditions, which affected universities across the UK. There was also strike action in 2018 amid a row over pensions.

Larissa Kennedy, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: “With vice chancellors’ average total pay packets rising to £269,000 per year, it’s clear employers can afford to resolve their dispute with UCU over staff pay, which has fallen by an average of 20% in real terms since 2009.

“Staff teaching conditions are student learning conditions, and we mustn’t forget many postgraduate students on casualised teaching contracts will be striking.

“The onus for minimising disruption for students lies with university bosses: they must come back to the table to address the clear issues in how higher education is currently run.”

A Universities UK spokesperson, which represents employers in the pensions dispute, said: “We regret that the UCU is proceeding with plans for industrial action despite the fact that fewer than 10% of eligible pension scheme members voted yes to strike action. Strike action will not address the urgent need for reform to keep the scheme affordable.

“Universities will put in place measures to minimise the impact on students, other staff and the wider university community and will ensure that students can continue to learn and receive support.

“We have repeatedly stated willingness to consult employers on any viable, affordable and implementable alternative proposal from the UCU and we remain fully committed to continuing talks to develop a joint approach to the future of the pension scheme.”

Raj Jethwa, chief executive of the UCEA, which represents employers in the pay dispute, called the union’s “long-awaited” decision to stage strike action in the autumn term “disappointing”.

He said: “UCU members need to understand that any industrial action aimed at harming students is an unrealistic attempt to try to force all 146 employers to re-open the concluded 2021-22 national pay round and improve on an outcome that is for most of these institutions already at the very limit of what is affordable.

“It has been 10 days since the ballot results and not one of the HEIs has indicated to UCEA any form of reconsideration.

“We note UCU’s campaign focuses on casual contracts and workload. We have made repeated offers of joint work in these areas for two years but UCU has rejected them. UCEA genuinely wishes to engage on these matters as far as we can at a national level, noting that they are ultimately for local negotiations.”

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