University staff strike over pensions

Staff at universities in Northern Ireland are on strike over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme.

The strike, by members of the University and College Union (UCU), is part of nationwide action, and follows strikes at eight Scottish universities on Thursday last week.

UCU members are striking against proposals to reduce pension benefits and increase costs, with strikes due to take place in England on Tuesday 22 March, and a nationwide strike on Thursday 24 March.

Proposals from university employers include introducing a normal pension age of 65 for new entrants and for existing members; although existing members over the age of 55 will be exempt from this change.

It is also proposed to implement a career average revalued earnings (Care) structure for new entrants, based on 1/80th pension and 3/80th cash lump sum formula, with a contribution rate for members of 6.5%.

Also proposed is that pensions in payments and Care benefits will be inflation proofed in line with increases in the consumer prices index (CPI), subject to a 10% inflationary cap.

According to the Employers Pensions Forum, the UCU has refused to negotiate on the changes, which are due to take effect from April 2011, but the UCU said employers were refusing to talk the union.

Brian Cantor, chair of the Employers Pensions Forum (EPF), said: ““An enormous amount of work has gone into the development of this package of reforms with representatives from EPF, UCU and the USS trustee board playing pivotal roles in finalising moderate changes of benefit to all.

“These changes were approved by the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) in July 2010, and then by the USS trustee board, both of which involved full UCU representation.

“Since then UCU has repeatedly failed to engage in the established process for agreeing scheme changes.

“The union is ignoring the past three years’ of negotiations and seeking to overturn the decisions of the USS trustee board, the JNC and the independent chair by not exercising its shared stewardship.”

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: “University staff really value their pension rights and have made it clear from the start of this dispute that if the employers were not prepared to negotiate then we would be left with little option but to take strike action.

“Strike action is always a last resort and we have always wanted to meet the employers to avoid widespread disruptions on campus.

“However, both sides had to be prepared to go that extra mile and the employers clearly were not.

“I share the frustration students must be feeling at the employers’ intransigence.”

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