UCU members to be balloted from 6 September

The University and College Union (UCU) has confirmed that a total of 68 universities will be balloted over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) from 6 September.

This will run until 21 October alongside a second ballot on pay and working conditions, with a total of 151 universities being balloted.

The results of the ballot will be aggregated, meaning that, for the first time in the disputes, all universities in the ballot will be hit by "unprecedented" strike action if UCU achieves an overall turnout of 50 per cent or above and a majority yes vote.

As part of the ballot, UCU has demanded that universities in the USS withdraw benefit cuts and pressure the scheme’s managers to restore benefits to 2021 levels.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, commented: “University finances are in rude health and there is no doubt the sector can afford to do much better.

“We warned employers that unless they begin to address staff demands we would be forced to ballot for strike action.

"Despite being given numerous chances to use the sector’s record income and its spare billions to properly raise pay, restore pensions and address rampant job insecurity, vice-chancellors have chosen to bury their heads in the sand.

“We urge vice-chancellors to put the sector first by addressing staff concerns and helping us to avoid industrial action.”

The union has repeatedly highlighted concerns around the pension cuts, which were voted through in February 2022, with particular concerns that members could see a 35 per cent cut to their future guaranteed retirement income as a result of the reforms.

These calls have been heightened since the scheme reported improvements in its funding position, with figures from the scheme trustee revealing that the scheme has shifted from the £14.1bn deficit at the last valuation in March 2020, to a £1.8bn surplus as at 30 June 2022.

UCU also reiterated calls for the sector to “rethink its priorities” and restore pension benefits yesterday (22 August), after analysis suggested that universities finished 2020/21 with £3.4bn more cash in the bank.

However, commenting in response to yesterday's call for change from the union, USS Employers emphasised that the current pension contributions from employers are "at the very limits of collective affordability".

A spokesperson for USS Employers stated: “Employers have repeatedly said that their current contributions to the pension scheme – which rose to 21.6 per cent of salary in April – are among the highest in the country and at the very limits of collective affordability and sustainability.”

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