Staff at 58 universities set to strike in December over pay and pension dispute

16 November 2021, 22:44

Staff will take part in a three day strike at the beginning of December
Staff will take part in a three day strike at the beginning of December. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

Staff at almost 60 universities across the UK are set to strike during the first week of December amid arguments over pension and pay.

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A three day long strike will take place between December 1-3 causing disruption to students across 58 universities following a vote in favour of industrial action.

Overall 76 per cent of University and College Union members backed strike action over changes to pensions, claiming that cuts to the staff pension scheme would reduce the average guaranteed retirement income by 35 per cent.

Whilst a further 70 per cent of members backed industrial action on pay and working conditions, claiming that pay for university staff fell by 17.6 per cent relative to inflation between 2009 and 2019, and since then employers have made below-inflation offers, with the latest worth 1.5 per cent.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: "Strikes over three consecutive days are set to hit university campuses next month unless employers get round the table and take staff concerns over pension cuts, pay and working conditions seriously.

"UCU has repeatedly asked employers to meet with us to try to resolve these disputes. But while we set out pragmatic solutions that could halt widespread disruption to UK campuses, university bosses refuse to revoke unnecessary, swingeing pension cuts or even to negotiate on issues like casualisation and the unbearably high workloads that blight higher education.

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"A resolution to this dispute is simple. But if employers remain intent on slashing pensions and exploiting staff who have kept this sector afloat during a pandemic then campuses will face strike action before Christmas, which will escalate into spring with reballots and further industrial action."

Dr Grady, warned more industrial action could take place in the spring if the row with employers remains unresolved.

As well as the three strike days, union members will begin five months of other forms of industrial action from December 1 including strictly working to contract and refusing any additional duties.

A spokesperson for universities UK has confirmed that measures will be will put in place to "minimise" the impact on students, who have already faced major disruption as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

A Universities UK spokesperson, which represents employers in the pensions dispute, said: "We regret that the UCU is proceeding with plans for industrial action despite the fact that fewer than 10 per cent of eligible pension scheme members voted yes to strike action. Strike action will not address the urgent need for reform to keep the scheme affordable.

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"Universities will put in place measures to minimise the impact on students, other staff and the wider university community and will ensure that students can continue to learn and receive support.

"We have repeatedly stated willingness to consult employers on any viable, affordable and implementable alternative proposal from the UCU and we remain fully committed to continuing talks to develop a joint approach to the future of the pension scheme."

Larissa Kennedy, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), added: "With vice chancellors' average total pay packets rising to £269,000 per year, it's clear employers can afford to resolve their dispute with UCU over staff pay, which has fallen by an average of 20 per cent in real terms since 2009.

"Staff teaching conditions are student learning conditions, and we mustn't forget many postgraduate students on casualised teaching contracts will be striking.

"The onus for minimising disruption for students lies with university bosses: they must come back to the table to address the clear issues in how higher education is currently run."

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