Union guns for Salford’s ‘white elephant’ as Sheffield staff strike over pensions

Hundreds of the University of Sheffield’s lowest-paid workers are on strike today in a dispute over pension cuts, while union officials at the University of Salford claim that a multimillion-pound “white elephant” development is costing administrative staff their jobs.

June 3, 2011

Support staff who are members of the Unison and Unite unions at Sheffield are staging a one-day strike – with a further stoppage scheduled for 10 June – after the university announced plans to shut down its final-salary pension scheme.

The unions say the replacement “cash-balance” scheme would halve the annual pension for support-staff members earning £15,000 a year, from £7,500 to £3,750.

Up to 400 members of Unison are expected to strike – mostly drawn from the clerical, administrative, catering and cleaning ranks where the majority of workers are female.

Dave Prentis, Unison’s general secretary, said: “This is a blatant attack on low-paid women workers at Sheffield.”

Most institutions that have restructured their schemes for support staff (run by pre-1992 universities and known as self-administered trusts) have closed final-salary schemes for new entrants while protecting existing members.

But Sheffield has gone further by closing its scheme to all members.

A spokeswoman for the university said the institution would remain open during the strikes.

The pension scheme is “no longer sustainable nor affordable”, she said, adding that “only a small minority of eligible new employees are choosing to opt into the scheme”.

Meanwhile at Salford, the University and College Union claimed that there were plans to axe 119 jobs on top of the 218 the institution announced would go in April.

Union members have “not ruled out strike action”, a UCU spokesman said.

Martyn Moss, regional official at the union, blamed the university’s MediaCityUK project for draining funds, calling it a “white elephant”.

But a Salford spokeswoman said the figure of 337 jobs related to the number of administrative posts that would be “affected” by restructuring, adding that the “vast majority” would be offered other roles.

“The university would like to understand on what basis the UCU can describe the MediaCityUK project as a ‘white elephant’,” she said, arguing that the new facilities will put Salford “in a unique position at the heart of the creative, digital and broadcast industries”.

Jobs are also threatened at the University of Chester, which blamed funding cuts and a predicted fall in student numbers for plans to cut up to 25 posts.

The affected staff are in the faculties of applied sciences and arts and media, plus student support and guidance, and facilities management.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com

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