University Strike Action Planned Over Pensions

The University and Colleges Union (UCU) has announced 14 days of strikes to commence on Thursday 22nd February. The strikes will take place over a month, beginning and ending with a five-day walkout.

The University of Leeds is amongst 61 universities who will be taking part in the strikes, with the dispute centred around pensions. Seven universities failed to receive the 50% turnout requirement to take action, so will be voting again.

The proposed changes, from Universities UK (UUK) will change the pensions scheme from a defined benefit scheme to a defined contribution scheme. This is a change from a pension that gives a guaranteed retirement income, to one where income will be subject to changes in the stock market. If the economic situation in general improves, the scheme will revert to a defined benefit scheme or a hybrid of a defined benefit and a defined contribution scheme.

One independent report from First Actuarial that was commissioned by the UCU, shows that newer employees at universities would see a 40% decrease in their pensions.

Last week, 88% of UCU members backed strike actions following a breakdown in negotiations. A similar number was reflected in the votes of Leeds University members.

The strike dates have been announced and it is assumed all 61 universities will be taking part. The first two days of strikes will be the 22nd and 23rd of February, continuing on Monday 26th to Wednesday 28th.

Thereafter, strike action days will resume from Monday 5th March until Thursday the 8th. The following week will see strike action on all five days, from Monday 12th to Friday 16th March.

A UCU spokesperson said:

“It’s worth noting many Vice Chancellors and very senior managers of universities have separate arrangements for their pensions, in cash, so they will be unaffected by the changes to the USS scheme. We have to make them listen, to respect the staff, and to come back to the negotiating table. We must defend our profession, especially for the next generation.”

The UCU also say that their pensions are now worth less than those of school teachers, following two previous rounds of cuts.

The UCU also went on strike last term on a dispute over changes to the employability contract. They were arguing against an addition that would allow employees to be sacked for ‘some other substantial reason,’ dubbed the ‘Sacker’s Charter.’ The strikes at that time lasted for three days.

Information on the UCU website claims strike action is only taken when every other avenue has already been explored. Members who strike are asked both not to attend work and not to reschedule their classes, as “the point is to cause disruption in order to persuade the employers to return to negotiations.”

A spokesperson from the University said:

“Our priority is to minimise any disruption to students and we are working to ensure that alternatives to any teaching events are provided as soon as possible, and, where sequencing is an issue, in the planned order.  We will be offering guidance and information on a dedicated page of, to be found within the ‘Academic Life’ section.”

Rabeeah Moeen