Union calls 14-day strike in UK pay and pensions dispute

Walkouts to escalate over February and March

February 3, 2020
UCU strike at Goldsmiths, University of London
Source: Eleanor Bentall

Union members at 74 UK universities are to strike for 14 days over February and March in the latest escalation of the dispute over pensions, pay and conditions.

The University and College Union said the action would start on 20 February and escalate each week, culminating in a week-long walkout. The strike dates are 20-21 February, 24-26 February, 2-5 March and 9-13 March.

The action will involve 14 more universities than took part in the eight-day walkout before Christmas after more UCU branches crossed the 50 per cent turnout threshold required for industrial action. About 1.2 million students are expected to be affected by the forthcoming action.

The union said it would reballot members after this wave of strikes, if the disputes are not resolved, to allow action to continue to the end of the academic year. Strike mandates are valid for only six months, so branches that walked out in November would need a fresh vote to continue action beyond April.

Jo Grady, the UCU’s general secretary, said universities should address employees’ concerns if they wished to avoid further disruption.

“We have been clear from the outset that we would take serious and sustained industrial action if that was what was needed,” Dr Grady said.

One key plank of the dispute is employers’ refusal to budge from their offer of a minimum pay rise of 1.8 per cent for 2019-20. The Universities and Colleges Employers Association has offered further assurances on gender and ethnicity pay gaps, workload and casualisation, but these have not been enough to bring the union back from the picket lines.

A Ucea spokesman said the organisation was “dismayed” by the decision to call fresh strikes. “UCU members deserve a chance to have their voices heard as to how they feel about the progress that has been made and whether they want to choose an alternative to further disruptive action,” the spokesman said.

The other key issue is the future of the sector’s biggest pension fund, the Universities Superannuation Scheme. Members’ contributions have been increased to 9.6 per cent of salary, up from 8 per cent last April, in a bid to close the fund’s reported deficit, with employers’ contributions rising from 18 per cent to 21.1 per cent. Although employers have footed two-thirds of the additional cost, the UCU believes they should pay for it entirely.

In a statement, Universities UK – representing USS employers – said institutions “regret that UCU are planning further strike action at a time when positive talks on the future of the scheme are making significant progress and are ongoing”, adding that higher employer contributions would be “unaffordable”.

“The best way forward is to work collectively to secure a pension scheme that is highly valued and affordable for all. The current tripartite talks between UCU, USS and UUK, which are set to continue at least until March, are building a shared understanding on the future of the scheme, jointly developing governance reforms and considering alternative pathways for the 2020 valuation,” UUK said.

“Universities will put in place a series of measures to minimise the impact of industrial action on students, other staff and the wider community.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

Related articles

Reader's comments (1)

Action this radical makes it increasingly likely Boris will try to pass a law banning strikes and disbanding the unions, which would have negative effects.

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Most commented

Like the rest of society, universities have largely failed to consider the specific needs of menopausal women. Here, one scholar describes how this can lead to marginalisation and bullying – and why the issue is as important as the fight for maternity rights

16 January

Sponsored