University lecturers and other staff in higher education are continuing to strike despite having received new offers in disputes over pay, working conditions and pensions from university employers.
The offers pave the way for the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension to be restored by August 2024, to end the use of involuntary zero-hour contracts in higher education, and to agree new standards, frameworks and principles to tackle other forms of casualised contracts, reduce workloads and close equality pay gaps.
More than 70,000 members of the University and College Union are on strike from today, and the UCU said strikes will continue whilst members are asked whether they wish to pause action to formally consider the offer. The union’s higher education committee meets on Friday to decide next steps.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Today, on our 10th day of strike action and after weeks of intensive negotiations, university employers have finally agreed to put forward a set of proposals on pay, conditions and pensions. This breakthrough is down to the strength, determination and sacrifice of university workers who have stood on picket lines.
“The proposals will now move through our union’s democratic processes, and strike action will continue until our 70,000 UCU members have had the chance to have their say.”
The Universities & Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) and the five higher education trade unions (UCU, GMB, Unison, Unite, and the Educational Institute of Scotland), facilitated by Acas, said that agreement had been reached on terms of reference for detailed negotiations covering a review of the pay spine, workload, contract types and equality pay gaps.
A joint statement said: “The Joint HE Trade Unions and UCEA will now consult their respective constituencies on these terms of reference as a basis for commencing those negotiations over pay-related matters.”
Raj Jethwa, UCEA’s chief executive said: “We welcome this important progress following the constructive meetings and genuine determination from all parties to conclude the terms of reference for the priority issues of the pay spine restructuring, workload issues, contract types and pay gaps negotiations.
“Despite ongoing strike action attempts and further threats of disruption, employers have remained committed to these talks over essential terms of reference for key non-pay issues. This follows employers’ commitment to early implementation of the pay uplift. While addressing issues raised by the unions, we very much hope this work will build on the extensive good practice which already exists in the sector.
“As discussed in our meeting yesterday, we have also scheduled a meeting of the UCEA Board this Thursday to consider and sign-off these [terms of reference] on behalf of participating employers.”
Universities UK (UUK), on behalf of USS employers, issued a joint statement with UCU outlining how both parties are working together on the future of USS benefits. They agreed to prioritise the improvement of benefits to pre-April 2022 levels; to work together so that scheme valuations are undertaken on a moderately prudent and evidence-based basis; and to work together on a constructive dialogue with the Pensions Regulator and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
This latest statement builds on an interim statement in February and outlines in further detail the key commitments and steps that are being explored in light of a significant improvement in the finances of the pensions scheme.
A spokesperson for UUK on behalf of USS Employers said: “The improvement in the financial position of the scheme, and particularly the dramatic swing from the situation it was facing only a year ago has been remarkable. While the wider economic climate remains challenging, the current funding position is good news for USS scheme members and employers alike.
“Rapidly rising interest rates were a big driver of that improvement, but the benefits changes made in April 2022 also played a significant part in stabilising the scheme’s finances. Employers were always clear that, should the situation markedly improve then we would work with the Trustee on how those benefit changes might be reviewed at future valuations.
“We are pleased to have continued to have collaborative and constructive talks with the union at the Joint Negotiating Committee on our shared commitments for the future of the scheme.”