University staff vote in favour of strike action in pensions dispute

·3-min read

Lecturers, researchers and other academic staff have voted in favour of strike action on campuses across the UK over pensions.

Overall, 76% of University and College Union (UCU) members who voted in a ballot over pensions backed a fresh wave of walkouts.

The union has said the result reflected staff anger over cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions which it claims would reduce the guaranteed retirement income of a typical member by 35%.

According to the UCU, a total of 35 branches beat the 50% turnout threshold for strike action over pensions. 

The ballot covered 68 institutions.

The threshold rule does not apply to Queens University Belfast or the University of Ulster, so 37 universities could take strike action.

Thousands of university workers have been balloted over recent weeks on strikes over pay, pensions and working conditions, threatening disruption at universities before the end of the year.

The UCU has warned previously that a campaign of industrial action could stretch into the new year if the deadlocked row remains unresolved.

The results of a ballot over pay and working conditions are yet to be released, but the union is expecting them to be published on Friday.

After the results of both ballots have been received, the UCU’s higher education committee will meet on November 12 to decide the next steps.

Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, said: “These results are a clear mandate for strike action over pension cuts and should be heard loud and clear by university employers.

“Staff in universities they have given their all to support students during the pandemic, but management have responded by trying to slash their guaranteed pension by 35%.

“In a ballot window of just three weeks our members have made it abundantly clear that they will not accept these vindictive attacks on their retirement.

“It is now in the gift of employers to avoid strike action, which is the outcome staff want as well.

“All management need to do is withdraw their needless cuts and return to negotiations.

“If they fail to do so, any disruption will be entirely their responsibility.”

The UCU claims that employer body Universities UK (UUK) voted to cut thousands of pounds from the retirement benefits of university staff, based on a “flawed valuation” of the scheme conducted at the beginning of the pandemic as markets were crashing.

The union has 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%.

A UUK spokesman said fewer branches had reached the threshold than in previous ballots.

“These results suggest that support for industrial action is limited. In most places where the threshold was reached, it was the votes of those saying “no” to action that carried the numbers over the 50% legal threshold,” they said.

“The employers’ proposals for reform are the only viable plans under current regulations that will keep the scheme affordable for members and universities and keep the defined benefit section of the scheme open. Discussions with UCU will continue, and the consultation is currently taking place with the scheme’s wider membership.”

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