University strike action to begin from 14 February

A total of 68 universities will face 10 days of strike action over proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and pay and working conditions, starting in February, the University and College Union (UCU) has confirmed.

The first week of strike action, which is in relation to pension concerns only, will span five days from 14 to 18 February, and will impact 44 institutions.

All 68 institutions will then face strike action over 2 days on 21 and 22 February, followed by a further 3 days of strike action at 39 institutions, over pay and working conditions only.

Staff will also be taking ongoing industrial action short of strike, including working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action, and not undertaking any voluntary activities.

In addition to this, UCU has warned that further industrial action is still possible, with preparations made for a UK-wide marking and assessment boycott.

The union previously confirmed that it had secured a mandate for industrial action for a further 12 institutions, following previous strike action in December, prompted by Universities UK's (UUK) proposed changes to the pension scheme.

The union argued that the proposals from the employer would result in staff facing a 35 per cent cut to their guaranteed retirement income, although UUK has argued that this is a "misleading" figure.

In light of this, it has called on UUK to abandon the proposals and back UCU's reform proposals, published yesterday, which calls for employer contribution rates to increase to 25.2 per cent and member rates to 9.8 per cent.

However, UUK has argued that these proposals don't appear "to be a serious attempt to reach agreement", emphasising that the level of employer contributions called for were "far beyond the mandate employers have given UUK".

Commenting on the planned strike action, UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: ‘It is a damning indictment of the way our universities are managed that staff are being left with no option but to walk out again.

“For a sector that is worth tens of billions of pounds and enjoys record levels of student growth it is beyond disgraceful that in return staff get vicious pension cuts, falling pay and are pushed to breaking point under deteriorating working conditions.

“Time is quickly running out for vice chancellors to avert strike action, but it can be done.
Staff need a proper pay rise, action to tackle insecure contracts, unsafe workloads and pay inequality, and for devastating pension cuts to be revoked. Any disruption that occurs will be the clearest indication yet that university bosses don’t value their staff.

“This wave of strike action is a fight for the future of higher education and staff are proud to stand alongside students in the fight for an education system that treats students and staff with respect.”

Commenting in response, a UUK spokesperson, on behalf of USS employers, suggested that evidence from employers has shown that industrial action is not having the desired effect, with "diminishing levels of disruption reported in every walkout since 2018".

They stated: “In December, only a third of UCU members at institutions eligible for industrial action chose to go on strike – accounting for just 9 per cent of staff.

“Students will struggle to understand why they should bear the brunt of UCU’s refusal to confront the financial challenges facing all pension schemes.

“Instead of pursuing strike action and attempting to disrupt students’ education, the union should focus on working with employers to find a viable and affordable solution to the 2020 valuation which avoids the unaffordably high costs members and employers are facing from April.

“Universities will minimise the impact of any further industrial action on students by ensuring they can continue to learn and receive support.”

UCU and UUK are expected to meet on 11 February to consider next steps, ahead of the proposed industrial action.

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