27 universities to face further strike action over pension dispute

Twenty-seven UK universities could face further strike action and action short of a strike in relation to concerns over proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), after the latest round of ballots from University and College Union (UCU).

According to the union, around 79.5 per cent of those balloted voted to back strike action, whilst 88.1 per cent voted for action short of a strike, showing growing support compared to similar ballots in November 2021, when 76 per cent backed strike action.

A new mandate for both strike action and action short of a strike was secured at 24 universities, meaning that staff at 27 universities now have a mandate to take strike action on pension issues until October 2022, with existing mandates already live at Queen's University Belfast, Ulster University and Queen Mary University of London.

However, a total of 65 universities were included in the pension ballots, with the 24 universities that achieved a mandate representing just 37 per cent of the branches polled reaching the legal 50 per cent turnout threshold required for industrial action.

In light of the results, the union has confirmed plans to hold a special higher education sector conference on the USS dispute on 27 April, with members and branches invited to discuss and vote on how the new mandate for action might be used.

Universities have already faced ‘unprecedented’ strike action over the changes to the scheme, totalling 18 days of this academic year alone, after UCU warned that members could see a 35 per cent cut to their future guaranteed retirement income as a result of the reforms.

The union also recently reiterated calls for USS employers to halt the planned changes, after a report from the USS trustee suggested that the level of contributions required to service the deficit had fallen to 0 per cent.

However, UUK explained at the time that the improvement in the funding position would not have been possible without the latest reforms, warning that the funding position remains "very volatile month-to-month".

Commenting in response to the latest ballot results, a spokesperson for UUK also emphasised that the necessary reforms to conclude the 2020 valuation of USS have now been implemented.

“Employers are focused on enhancing the scheme for the future and look forward to working with scheme members to develop lower-cost options for members, consider alternative scheme designs, and conduct a thorough governance review of USS with independent, external expertise,” they stated.

Despite this, UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, argued that university vice chancellors "should be under no illusion at how disgusted staff are at the attacks on their pensions".

"The cuts are unjust, unnecessary and with eight in ten staff voting in favour of strike action it is clear the anger has not gone away," she continued.

“Whilst staff were keeping universities running during the pandemic, vice chancellors were using a once in a lifetime valuation of a pension scheme as an excuse to slash and burn.

"Our members are now set to lose tens of thousands from their retirement incomes. Sadly, despite 18 days of strike action, those that lead our universities – themselves on eye watering salaries - have demonstrated they simply do not care.

“Our union will now be taking these latest ballot results to a special meeting of its higher education sector where members will discuss how they wish to use this new mandate for action.”

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