UCU to ballot members on further strike action as USS pension dispute continues

Universities will be balloted on further industrial action over upcoming changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) and pay and working conditions, University and College Union (UCU) has confirmed.

The ballots will run from 16 March until 8 April, and will cover both strike action and action short of a strike (Asos), including a marking and assessment boycott beginning next term, which UCU warned could stop hundreds of thousands of students from graduating.

A total of 149 universities will face the new round of ballots, with staff at 65 of these in the USS to be balloted over pension cuts, and staff at 143 universities will be balloted over pay and working conditions, with some universities being balloted on both issues.

The action is in relation to the union’s two ongoing disputes around pensions and pay and working conditions, with a successful result on this new round of ballots to allow staff to continue to take action throughout the calendar year.

UCU members previously voted to back strike action in November 2021, with around 58 universities facing strike action in December, followed by a further 10 days of strike action at 68 universities in February, with further strike action also currently scheduled to take place later this month.

Despite this ongoing industrial action, the USS recently confirmed plans to proceed with Universities UK’s proposed changes to the scheme, as voted by the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), after employers previously voted to reject UCUs alternative proposals.

However, UCU is now demanding that employers revoke these changes and re-enter negotiations around the pension scheme valuation.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, stated: “Vice-chancellors are refusing to withdraw devastating cuts to pensions and continue to ignore reasonable staff demands for better pay and working conditions.

"This intransigence has left those who work in our universities with no choice but to re-open ballots across the UK. Many campuses have already seen up to 13 days of strike action so far this academic year, and they face another five day long walkout in the coming weeks.

“Successful reballots could see this action extended throughout the rest of the calendar year and include a marking and assessment boycott, which could prevent universities being able to award degrees – bringing the sector to a standstill.

“Students and staff alike know universities can well afford to meet the modest demands of staff, but vice chancellors continue to plead poverty whilst taking home eye watering salaries and hoarding tens of billions of pounds in reserves. The ball remains in the court of employers to resolve these disputes.”

Despite ongoing tensions around the valuation, the union, UUK and USS trustee recently shared a joint statement to together urge against any personal attacks or intimidation aimed at the chair of the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC).

It stated: “UCU, UUK and the USS trustee understand the strength of feeling surrounding the 2020 valuation. We cannot, however, accept personal attacks and intimidation aimed at the chair of the JNC, whether through social media or other channels.

"The independent chair is appointed by both stakeholders and is a role that requires integrity at all times.

"We are grateful for the current chair’s hard work and dedication in seeking to support the JNC, per its responsibilities under the scheme rules, through an extremely challenging period."

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