University staff have today begun 10 days of strike action in their ongoing fight against pension changes, pay and working conditions.
Over a million students will be affected by the strikes, according to the University and College Union (UCU), with the first five-day action beginning today (14 February). Staff from 68 universities are involved.
This will be followed by two further strikes of two days from 21 February and three days from 28 February.
This week’s dispute focuses on changes made to the Universities Superannuation Scheme that will mean members earning above a certain threshold would have to pay additional contributions for the same level of pension benefit.
UCU union has claimed that changes made to the pension scheme between 2011 to 2019 mean that a typical member will be around £240,000 worse off when they retire.
This month’s set of strikes follows three days of strike action in December 2021, when staff at 58 universities came out in support.
USS pension dispute
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said that vice-chancellors had “failed staff and students” by pushing through “brutal pension cuts and doing nothing to address failing 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,” she added.
“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.”
Grady said UCU had offered a number of solutions that would have averted industrial action but claimed that universities had instead “chosen to continue pushing staff to breaking point”.
UCU’s proposals included protecting retirement benefits in return for a small increase in pension contributions. UCU also claims that the value of assets in the USS have jumped in value to more than £92 billion – contrary to employers’ claims it had crashed due to the pandemic.
“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 and working conditions. That they didn’t is an abject failure of their leadership,” she said.
“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.”