Lecturers up the ante with vote for campaign of industrial action

University and College Union members have voted to hold “sustained industrial action” over cuts to their pensions, potentially disrupting exams and assessment at 67 universities.

September 15, 2011

The UCU announced on 14 September the results of its fresh ballot on changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme, whose members are mainly academics and senior administrators in pre-1992 institutions.

There could also be disruption to post-1992 universities from November, after three of the sector’s unions – Unison, Unite and the GMB – said they would ballot members for industrial action over cuts to public sector pensions, which cover academic and non-academic staff in newer institutions.

The UCU said that 77 per cent of members who voted supported action short of a strike, while 58 per cent who voted supported strike action. Turnout was 42 per cent and 39,400 people were balloted.

The changes to the USS, driven by university employers, include linking pension increases to a lower rate of inflation and capping those increases, as well as switching from final-salary pensions to lower-value career-average for new members.

The UCU said action was “likely to begin in mid-October and…continue until there is a breakthrough”.

The union’s insert to the ballot paper advised members that if they voted for action, it would be “sustained industrial action”, adding that the union “may ask you to undertake a range of activities including: refusing to work beyond your contract; withdrawal of good will; boycotting of the external examinations process; targeting admissions procedures including open days; boycotting aspects of student assessment and examinations; boycotting research administration; refusing to provide cover for absent colleagues; and weekend working.

“It is important you understand that taking this action may incur substantial salary deductions from your employer.”

Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, said: “These changes have been imposed without the agreement of staff, and our vote shows members are determined to defend their pension rights.”

She said there would be “widespread and sustained disruption unless USS is prepared to return to the negotiating table”.

In the union’s first USS ballot, the results of which were announced in March, 65 per cent of those voting backed strike action and 82 per cent supported action short of a strike. Turnout in that ballot was 36 per cent.

Following the original ballot, the UCU held a series of one-day strikes – which vice-chancellors said had little effect – but felt a fresh mandate was needed from members for a more sustained campaign.


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