Universities have been threatened with another 14 days of strike action over the exams period if the dispute over changes to UK higher education’s biggest pension scheme is not resolved.
The University and College Union said on 8 March that its higher education committee had sanctioned the additional strike dates between April and June in the latest escalation of the row over the future of the Universities Superannuation Scheme. UCU said that it would now gather information on when the walkouts would be most effective at different universities.
The ninth day of strike action came to an end on 8 March ahead of a week-long walkout at 65 institutions scheduled to begin on 12 March.
The move comes as pressure grows on Universities UK to drop its proposal to end the element of the pension scheme that guarantees a certain level of income in retirement, in a bid to plug a deficit that the USS estimates as standing at more than £6 billion. The union claims that the plans would leave scheme members £10,000 worse off annually in retirement.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt described the additional strike dates as “a necessary precaution against the failure of talks to deliver an acceptable settlement”. Negotiations continue at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.
“The union would prefer dialogue and I have given my personal commitment to Acas that UCU is serious about reaching an agreement,” Ms Hunt said. “However, if talks fail, we are prepared to carry out the action in defence of our pensions.”
A Universities UK spokeswoman said that the organisation was “disappointed that UCU are preparing for additional industrial action that could further disrupt students’ education”.
“Both sides are currently engaged in serious and constructive talks at Acas. We are committed to seeking a viable, affordable and mutually acceptable solution to the current challenges facing USS pensions,” the spokeswoman said.
“UUK has again restated its request to the union that industrial action is suspended while talks at Acas continue. As part of any alternative proposal, we will expect that industrial action is suspended while UUK consults with all employers.”