Universities to face further strike action as pension dispute persists

Universities will face a further five days of strike action this month in light of planned changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the University and College Union (UCU) has confirmed.

Over 50,000 staff are expected to take part in the strike action in light of the USS pension dispute and the pay and working conditions dispute, with 38 universities to take part in the first week of action, and 30 universities to take part in the second week of action.

Open University staff will also be taking seven days of strike action, and staff at striking universities will also be taking action short of strike, which includes working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues and not undertaking any voluntary activities.

As part of the ongoing dispute, UCU stated that all branches will also be reballoted soon in preparation for potential industrial action next term.

Universities already faced 10 days of strike action in February, after the union raised concerns that the proposed changes to the scheme could result in a 35 per cent cut to members' guaranteed retirement income.

Despite this ongoing strike action, the USS Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) recently confirmed that it had voted to proceed with the proposed package of reforms to conclude the 2020 valuation of the scheme.

However, UCU has now demanded that employers revoke the changes and re-enter negotiations.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, commented: “Vice chancellors could easily end this dispute and prevent further disruption in our universities, but they would rather attack the pensions, pay and working conditions of their own staff and damage the sector at the same time.

“Students and staff alike deserve better leadership than this, and we hope that this action and our reballot of members for future action will make employers see sense.

“Universities in the UK bring in tens of billions in income each year and have tens of billions more hoarded in their reserves.

“There is no justification whatsoever for slashing staff pensions or refusing to take action over falling pay, shocking equality pay gaps, rampant casualisation and unsafe workloads. For years our union has been offering sensible and deliverable solutions that would benefit staff, students and the entire sector, but employers are just not interested.

“Students support staff because they know that staff working conditions are their learning conditions. They also know that universities have the money to give staff what they deserve. Until vice chancellors get the message, staff will continue to take action to defend themselves.’

However, a UUK spokesperson argued that "taking university staff out on strike again will not remove the need to reform USS to ensure it remains affordable for members and employers".

They continued: "The package of reforms proposed by employers has now passed the JNC and the USS trustee board, and will be implemented from 1st April 2022.

“February’s industrial action did not achieve the outcome UCU intended, and data gathered by UCEA suggests turnout on picket lines was even lower than before, with limited disruption to students.

“With news of more strikes and yet another ballot, reasonable onlookers will conclude the union has an ideological fixation with strike action and is determined to pursue it, no matter the cost.

"Since 2019, an average member of staff earning £55,000 per annum taking strike action has forgone over £4,800 in pay deductions, to no avail.

“Scheme members should ask themselves whether they are willing to sacrifice even more to pay higher pensions contributions based on UCU’s unsubstantiated view that another valuation will yield a better outcome.

“Employers have repeatedly made clear that current contributions are at the very limit of affordability, and a majority of those responding to a consultation on UCU’s proposal for higher contributions rejected it.

“Recent government announcements underline the wider financial uncertainty universities are facing, and with the 2020 valuation now concluded, it is time to look forward and identify lasting improvements to USS that can be made ahead of the next valuation.”

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