Ten days of university strike action begin

Ten days of university strikes commence today over pension cuts and pay, impacting approximately over a million students

Strike action organised by the University and College Union (UCU) has commenced today, impacting roughly over a million students across the UK.

Today’s strikes start a three-week national programme of action by UCU members in response to pension benefit cuts and a 1.5% national pay increase.

Pensions and pay underpin two separate disputes held simultaneously.

In the week commencing 14 February, 44 universities may experience strikes over pensions. The following week, 68 universities expect to be affected by strikes over both disputes. Starting Monday, 28 February, UCU members at 63 universities will walk out over pay and working conditions in the third and final week of strikes. Many universities will experience strikes across the three weeks.

The union estimates that more than 50,000 staff are expected to strike.

Despite appeals from both sides, university employers and the UCU have reached a stalemate over the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). Last-ditch attempts by the union to call for a new valuation of the scheme – a move employers appear sceptical – is the subject of a consultation, but there is little sign of consensus. The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) says its national pay offer cannot change attacked the union for taking strike action nine months after pay negotiations closed.

Ucea claimed today’s strikes were relatively small, arguing the industrial action is so far having “little impact” on students.

Conversely, UCU claimed “huge numbers” were taking to picket lines today. It will take a few weeks to establish the full scale of the industrial action.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “The action that begins today and will eventually hit 68 universities is down to vice-chancellors who have failed staff and students. They have pushed through brutal pension cuts and done nothing to address falling pay, pay inequality, the rampant use of insecure contracts and unmanageable workloads. 

“It is outrageous that when they should be trying to resolve this dispute, employer representatives have instead been finding new ways to deduct pay from university workers. Rather than punishing their workforce, these so-called leaders need to look in the mirror and ask why students support staff taking strike action and why their own workforce is so demoralised.

“Throughout these disputes, our union has offered simple solutions that would avert industrial action and benefit the sector in the long-term, but time and again employers have chosen to continue pushing staff to breaking point, while the sector continues to bring in tens of billions of pounds each year. To avoid this period of industrial action all vice-chancellors had to do was accept UCU’s viable pension proposals and take action over worsening pay & working conditions. That they didn’t is an abject failure of their leadership.

“Students are standing by our members because they know university staff are overworked and underpaid. And they know that this sector, which is awash with money, can afford to treat its workers with dignity. As ten days of action begins today, vice-chancellors urgently need to get around the table and help UCU resolve these disputes.”

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