Strikes: eight-day action warned over pensions and pay

Sixty universities could be hit by industrial action between November 25 and December 4

Staff in 60 universities will go on strike for eight days over pensions and pay later this month, the University and College Union (UCU) has warned.

Union bosses warned university chiefs that strikes would go ahead between November 25 and December 4 unless they “respond positively and quickly” to their demands.

Last week UCU members in a number of universities backed strike action in two separate legal disputes; one ballot was on changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), and another was held on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads in the sector.

Universities UK said they were hopeful that the pensions dispute can be resolved, but maintained the “resolution to the 2018 USS valuation is both fair and reasonable”.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), which represents universities in the pay dispute, described the union’s demands as “completely unrealistic” and said it had “failed to secure its members’ support in the large majority” of universities.

The union disaggregated the ballots so only branches that secured a 50% turnout can legally take action.

Universities that will be affected include Bath, Leeds, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Oxford, Leicester, Glasgow, Liverpool, Warwick and Sussex.


Read more: War of words worsens as pension strikes loom


Any general election candidate would be over the moon with a result along the lines of what we achieved last week
– Jo Grady, UCU

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “The first wave of strikes will hit universities later this month unless the employers start talking to us seriously about how they are going to deal with rising pension costs and declining pay and conditions.

“Any general election candidate would be over the moon with a result along the lines of what we achieved last week. Universities can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on these issues and we will be consulting branches whose desire to strike was frustrated by anti-union laws about reballoting.”


Read more: UCU vows to strike over USS pension deal in autumn 2019


It’s important to note that the number of UCU members who voted for strike action over pensions accounts for less than 10% of the active membership of USS
– UUK spokesperson

A spokesperson for Universities UK said: “We are hopeful that the dispute can be resolved without industrial action; but plans are in place to ensure that any potential disruption to students and staff is minimised. The resolution to the 2018 USS valuation is both fair and reasonable, with the additional costs of maintaining the current level of benefits shared 65:35 by employers and scheme members.

“It’s important to note that the number of UCU members who voted for strike action over pensions accounts for less than 10% of the active membership of USS. Out of those who voted in the pensions ballot, one in five members were against taking industrial action, and the vast majority of branches only reached the turnout threshold of 50% because of the numbers of members voting no.

“We are committed to ensuring USS remains one of the very best pension schemes in the country, and hope that UCU will now join us to consider governance reforms and alternative options for future valuations, which deliver a shared set of principles, increased transparency and a sustainable scheme.”

The union also said once UCU members return to work they will “strictly work to contract”, not cover for absent colleagues and refuse to reschedule missed lectures.

University staff took industrial action last year over the USS pensions, but UCU said the results of the subsequent Joint Expert Panel (JEP) which featured representatives for employees and employers had not been acted on.

A spokesperson for UCEA said: “Having achieved strike votes in only 57 of the 147 HE institutions where it balloted, we are dismayed to see UCU’s decision to ask its members to take such extensive and damaging strike action over its national pay demands.

“This is after UCU has failed to secure its members’ support in the large majority (90) of HE institutions where it also balloted following a big campaign over nearly two months. The other four trade unions also balloted over the final pay outcome and failed to achieve sufficient support from their members.

“Action of this kind will be damaging to students, lose UCU members money and risk undermining the collective bargaining arrangements.

“It is completely unrealistic in the collective pay arrangements for UCU to attempt to force all 147 employers to re-open the concluded 2019-20 national pay round. The outcome was already at the very limit of what is affordable and the ballots confirm that the vast majority of employees in these institutions understand the challenging context.

“The 25,398 UCU members who voted to support strike action over pay represent just 7.8% of the 325,000 employees covered by the national pay arrangements. Against a difficult backdrop employers have ensured that they have now all received an above inflation pay uplift at the minimum and many a much larger pay increase.”

 

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