Universities to face strikes from 1 February over pension changes

Over 70,000 staff at 150 universities are expected to strike on Wednesday 1 February in an ongoing dispute over pensions, pay and working conditions, the University and College Union (UCU) has announced.

A further 17 days of strike action is due to take place over February and March with the precise dates are to be announced by the union next week.

The strikes were initially announced in October 2022, when union members backed strike action with an 84.9 per cent vote in favour of industrial action.

In the dispute over pensions, the UCU is asking the employers to revoke the changes made to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS)last year that will, according to the union, see the average member lose 35 per cent from their guaranteed income, and could mean “losing hundreds of thousands” in retirement, for those at the beginning of their careers.

The strike action is not only over pensions, as university staff have also taken three days of strike action this academic year in relation to pay issues, with the union demanding a “meaningful” pay rise to deal with the cost-of-living, as well as action to end the use of “insecure” contracts.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, commented: “Whilst the cost-of-living crisis rages, university vice-chancellors are dragging their feet and refusing to use the vast wealth in the sector to address over a decade of falling pay, rampant casualisation and massive pension cuts.

“On 1 February, 70,000 university staff will walk out alongside fellow trade unions and hundreds of thousands of other workers to demand their fair share.

“UCU remains committed to reaching a negotiated settlement, but if university employers don’t get serious and fast, more strike action fill follow in February and March.”

Commenting in response, a spokesperson for UK Universities stated: “It is disappointing that UCU is planning more strike action. However, we expect disruption to again be limited in most universities, and will continue to work towards an agreement, as far as it is possible to do so, in the interests of all our staff.

“Meanwhile universities’ top priority will be to protect student interests and ensure they can continue with their education.

“We share the goal of a secure, valuable, and affordable retirement income for university staff – it is only through their work that universities are able to carry out their world-leading teaching and research.

"We continue to meet regularly with union and USS representatives and are already working with UCU ahead of the next valuation which is due to start in March."

A spokesperson for the USS added: “Recent data indicated we could be on track to seeing a more robust funding position, aided by the benefit changes and covenant support measures introduced in April 2022, and significant unexpected changes to the global economic landscape over the past year.

“We are setting up early discussions with our stakeholders – both through the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) and a dedicated technical forum – on the potential options available to them through the scheme’s next full valuation, due to be held as at 31 March 2023.

“We are happy to work to the shared goal of an accelerated timetable, with an ambition to make any changes decided by the JNC by 1 April 2024.

"This would be challenging, but achievable, if all parties can work together constructively – and we are already in discussions with stakeholders to that end, in terms of the commitments that would need to be made in advance.”

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