Academics at 58 universities have voted to strike for three days in December in a long-running dispute over pension cuts, pay and working conditions.
The University and College Union (UCU) has urged university leaders to start negotiating to avoid disruption across campuses between Wednesday 1 December and Friday 3 December.
The union is concerned about cuts to guaranteed pensions, pay reductions, worker casualisation, pay gaps and “unsafe” workloads.
It has asked for universities to improve their pay offers and commit to meaningful action to end the use of casual contracts, alleviate workloads and address gender and ethnicity pay gaps.
The union has also claimed that pension scheme members stand to lose 35% of guaranteed pensions, and wants university leaders to take action on this.
It held two strike ballots earlier this month: the pensions ballot saw 76% of members who took part vote in favour of a strike and 88% voted for action short of a strike; while the pay and working conditions ballot saw 70% of the turnout back strike action and 85% vote for action short of a strike.
University pension dispute
As well as the three day walkout across 58 campuses, staff at 64 universities will take action short of strike, including working strictly to contract and refusing to undertake any additional duties. This will take place for an indefinite period during the five months that staff are able to take industrial action.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “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.
“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.”
The union has claimed that changes made to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension between 2011 to 2019 have meant that a typical member will be around £240,000 worse off when they retire.
Universities UK, a body that represents higher education establishments, claimed that fewer than 10% of eligible pension scheme members voted yes to strike action in the pension ballot.
In August it made a commitment to explore alternative scheme designs and take steps to reduce the number of employees opting out of the USS.
“Strike action will not address the urgent need for reform to keep the scheme affordable,” a spokesperson said.
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” – Jo Grady, UCU
“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.”
The National Union of Students national president Larissa Kennedy said: “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% 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.”
University staff also went on strike over pension scheme changes in November 2019 and February 2020.