Staff employed at 60 UK universities, and who are members of the University and College Union (UCU), have commenced strike action today (Monday 25 November 2019) in a dispute over pay, conditions and pensions.
The strike, which will affect institutions across the UK, including York, St Andrews, Cardiff, Cambridge, Oxford and several in London, is set to last for eight days, ending on Wednesday 4 December.
The action is being taken following two ongoing disputes. The first relates to changes made to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) since 2011, which UCU argues has put university staff at a disadvantage regarding their pensions. UCU has stated that modelling by First Actuarial shows that a typical member will receive almost £200,000 less in retirement compared to a hypothetical member unaffected by the changes.
Regarding this dispute, Jo Grady, general secretary at UCU, said: “Universities have to recognise the anger and frustration that members feel about the recent changes, how the scheme has been valued and how it has been run. It is not good enough to come back time and again with proposals that force members to pay more for reduced benefits.”
The second dispute, about which members were balloted at the same time, concerns findings from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) which UCU argues show that staff pay has dropped by approximately 17% in real terms since 2009.
About the pay dispute, Grady added: “We believe the true decline over the past decade is over 20%, but whichever way you look at it staff pay has plummeted. Universities need to immediately take steps to reverse the decade of decline.”
Of the 60 universities due to be involved in the strike, 42 are affected by both the pensions and pay disputes, while 14 are affected only by the pay and conditions issue and 4 are involved in just the pensions dispute.
In addition to eight days of strike action, members will begin action short of a strike, such as working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues, and refusing to reschedule lectures disrupted by strike action.
The industrial action taking place today will include a rally in Manchester at 11.15am, at which shadow education secretary Angela Rayner is due to speak, in addition to rallies in Bristol and Newcastle. Further demonstrations are planned to take place in other cities later in the week.
Professor Mark Smith, chair of UCEA, said: “The universities represented in both these sets of negotiations have shown that they place a high value on their employees and have increased their investment in both pay and pensions to continue to offer fair pay and excellent pensions benefits as part of a national, sector-wide framework.
“We continue to talk to the union in the hope of finding a way of averting industrial action. We respectfully ask UCU, and its members, to reconsider whether the proposed action is the best approach to expressing and addressing their concerns.”
Professor Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK, said: “In recent months, employers have taken significant steps to protect the value of both pensions and pay because we care about our dedicated and talented staff.
“Universities will do all they can to minimise the impact of any strike action on students, their other staff and the wider community and they know that their colleagues contemplating strike action will want this too. We sincerely hope UCU will see the merit in seeking negotiated solutions.”
Grady said: “It is quite staggering that the employers have allowed things to get to this stage and done so little to avoid the upcoming disruption. Instead of engaging seriously with us over the various elements of the disputes, they have been all spin and no substance.
“Universities appear to have learnt nothing from last year’s USS dispute, and are once again showing a dangerous level of complacency that completely underestimates the scale of anger among staff.
“If universities don’t change their tune, then next week’s action could just be the start with further waves of strikes involving more staff in the new year.”