Strike action at UK universities confirmed for later this month

UK Universities will face three days of industrial action later this month, in what has been branded the "biggest ever university strikes" by the University and College Union (UCU).

Over 70,000 staff at 150 universities are expected to take part in the strike over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and pay and working conditions concerns.

Strike action will take place on Thursday 24 November, Friday 25 November and Wednesday 30 November, although UCU warned that the strike action will escalate in the New Year, alongside a marking boycott, if employers don’t make improved offers.

Staff will also begin industrial action short of strike action from Wednesday 23 November, which includes working to rule, refusing to make up work lost as a result of strike action and refusing to cover for absent colleagues.

UCU members previously voted to back industrial action after repeated calls for universities to revoke changes made to the USS scheme earlier this year, with particular concerns that these changes could result in a 35 per cent cut to members' defined benefit (DB) pensions.

These concerns were heightened amid recent funding improvements, with figures from the scheme trustee highlighted by the UCU as evidence that the scheme could afford to retroactively restore pension benefits based on its funding position at 30 June 2022.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, commented: “Campuses across the UK are about to experience strike action on a scale never seen before. 70,000 staff will walk out and make clear they refuse to accept falling pay, cuts to pensions and insecure employment.

“This is not a dispute about affordability – it is about choices. Vice-chancellors are choosing to pay themselves hundreds of thousands of pounds whilst forcing our members onto low paid and insecure contracts that leave some using foodbanks. They choose to hold billions in surpluses whilst slashing staff pensions.

“UCU members do not want to strike but are doing so to save the sector and win dignity at work. This dispute has the mass support of students because they know their learning conditions are our members’ working conditions.

“If university vice-chancellors don’t get serious, our message is simple – this bout of strike action will be just the beginning.”

However, a spokesperson for Universities UK, which represents 340 USS Employers, emphasised that USS pensions remain among the most generous in the private sector, noting that employer payments have risen to 21.6 per cent of salary, “which is far higher than most other schemes”.

The continued: “We are saddened to hear that UCU plans to take strike action this winter. It is only through the work of our talented staff that universities are able to carry out their world-leading teaching and research, and we will continue to meet regularly with union and USS representatives.

“We appreciate this could be a difficult time for students, who may be anxious about possible disruption to their learning. Universities are well prepared for industrial action and will put in place a series of measures to protect students’ education, as well as other staff and the wider community.

“We are already working with UCU ahead of the next valuation, including sending a joint statement to the Department of Work and Pensions on pension regulation, establishing a technical group on valuation methodology, and on low-cost options for employees who want more flexible pension contributions, and scheme redesign. 

“However, in relation to the valuation itself, the current highly volatile economic climate has meant that the USS trustee insists it is unable establish a long-term view of its funding position, or revise its prices, ahead of the next valuation in March 2023.

"In recent weeks, we have worked jointly with the USS trustee to produce an accelerated valuation timeline, and we hope this will allow us to see sustained improvements in funding. At that point we will want to work with UCU to agree any changes as quickly as possible.”

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