UK Universities Launch Largest Strike in History over ‘Radical Changes’ to Pension Plan

University staff start 14 days of strikes at more than 70 campuses.

The UK’s University and College Union (UCU) on Thursday launched a 14-day strike over concerns that include falling pay, a gender and ethnic pay gap, precarious employment practices, unsafe workloads, as well as a “radical redesign” of its pension fund, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

The radical redesign, according to the USU, is pertinent to several factors on the state of their benefits. Under the proposed changes, the employers allegedly want to end guaranteed pension benefits, and told beneficiaries that “your final pension should depend on how your ‘investments’ perform and not on your contributions,” according to the USU’s website. Additionally, members under the plan would have to increase their contributions.

February’s strikes mark the second time the UCU is protesting the changes in the recent months. More than 40,000 members of the union led a strike throughout 60 campuses against the propositions. This latest strike encompasses 74 campuses.

“It is incredibly frustrating that UCU members are being forced to walk out again to secure fair pay, conditions, and pensions,” General Secretary Jo Grady said in a statement. “This unprecedented level of action shows just how angry staff are at their universities’ refusal to negotiate properly with us.”

“Vice-chancellors have had months to come up with serious offers to avoid widespread disruption on UK campuses. Their failings are clear for all to see today and the blame for the disruption caused by the strikes lays squarely at their door,” Grady added.

The UCU also said pay for its members has effectively been cut by 20% since 2009, while staff are mandated to work longer hours “than ever before,” the organization said. It also alleges that the employers’ own analysis shows women and minority ethnic staff experience significant pay discrimination.

Employers have refused to move from their offer of a minimum pay raise of 1.8% for 2019-2020, as many are already in “precarious” financial positions, said the Times Higher Education publication, citing Mark Smith, chair of the University and College Association. Many are running deficits and “although I wouldn’t want to make alarmist predictions” on their futures, significant increases in the cost of staff, which take up half of universities’ overall income, would increase the pressure on them, Smith said.

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