58 UK universities to face strike action over pension concerns

A total of 58 universities will face three days of strike action in December in light of concerns over pension cuts and pay and working condition issues, the University and College Union (UCU) has confirmed.

The industrial action will take place from 1-3 December, after UCU received backing from 76 per cent of members in recent ballots, which were undertaken in light of the proposed changes to the University Superannuation Scheme.

In addition to this, a further 88 per cent of members voted in favour of action short of a strike.

The action short of a strike will also begin from 1 December and will include strictly working to contract and refusing any additional duties, with this action set to go on indefinitely for the five months staff have a mandate to take industrial action for.

Whilst the overall turnout on the pension ballot was 53 per cent, the ballots were disaggregated with 58 branches securing a mandate for strike action.

However, the union has also confirmed plans to reballot a number of branches that missed the 50 per cent turnout threshold, warning that the three-day strike action will be “the start of sustained disruption for the sector if employers fail to negotiate”.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, commented: “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.”

Commenting in response, a spokesperson for Universities UK said: “We regret that the UCU is proceeding with plans for industrial action despite the fact that fewer than 10 per cent 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.”

The USS trustee has also reiterated comments previously made in light of the initial ballot result.

A USS spokesperson stated: “We understand the concerns of USS members faced with proposals for higher contributions or benefits that will build up more slowly in the future.

"But the fundamental truth is that the price of promising a set, inflation-protected income for life in retirement – paid no matter what happens to the economy or the Higher Education sector in future – is much more expensive today than in the past.

“The decisions of our stakeholders, at the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), respond to the challenges presented by long-term economic and demographic trends by slowing the pace at which USS pension promises build up in future.

“The JNC’s proposals – enabled by a very substantial commitment negotiated by the Trustee from employers to support their covenant to the scheme – put USS on a more sustainable footing for the long-term in a way that is affordable to members and employers.

“Under the changes proposed, USS would be among the relatively few private DB pension schemes in the country still open to new members and still offering valuable ‘guaranteed’ benefits to its members.”

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