Union to Strike over Pensions at 61 UK Universities

UCU plans four weeks of strikes after pension dispute talks end without a deal.

The UK’s University and College Union (UCU) said it will stage “an escalating wave of strikes” at 61 British universities after talks over a pension dispute between the union and the employers’ representative Universities UK (UUK) ended without an agreement.

“Staff who have delivered the international excellence universities boast of are understandably angry at efforts to slash their pensions,” said UCU general secretary Sally Hunt in a release. “They feel let down by vice-chancellors who seem to care more about defending their own pay and perks than the rights of their staff.”

The union, which represents more than 110,000 higher education employees, said the strikes will be held over a four-week period, beginning in late February with a five-day walkout. The strikes are scheduled to be held between Feb. 22 and March 16.

The dispute between the two sides is over UUK’s proposal to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension and replace it with a defined contribution retirement plan. UCU says this would leave employees with significantly less retirement savings than they would have under the current pension plan.

UCU said that based on independent modeling of the USS’ pension change proposals, a typical university lecturer would lose £200,000 ($282,800) in retirement savings if the UUK plans were enacted.

In the recent strike ballot, UCU members overwhelmingly supported industrial action, according to UCU, with 88% of members who voted backing strike action, and 93% backing action short of a strike. The union said it hoped that the vote results would spur more vice-chancellors to publicly pressure UUK to agree to a deal.

The union said that two rounds of cuts in USS benefits since 2011 have already left USS members with pensions worth less than those of participants in the Teachers’ Pension Scheme.

“Strike action on this scale has not been seen before on UK campuses,” said Hunt, “but universities need to know the full scale of the disruption they will be hit with if they refuse to sort this mess out.”

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