University leaders have ‘failed staff and students’, the University and College Union (UCU) said today (Monday 14 February) as strike action began at universities across the UK over devastating cuts to pensions and deteriorating pay and working conditions.
UCU members at the University of Nottingham and Open University Nottingham Campus have joined the UK wide strike and will be on picket lines throughout the action.
In total, staff at 44 universities began strike action today (Monday 14 February) after university employers refused to withdraw cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) or accept UCU’s compromise proposals which would have seen staff and employers pay slightly more to protect benefits and resolve the pension dispute.
Last week the pension scheme trustee USS, which runs the scheme, confirmed UCU’s proposals are viable and implementable. UUK’s proposals, which will see 35% cut from the guaranteed retirement income of members, are set to be formalised on 22 February.
Next Monday (21 February) strike action over pay and working conditions will also start with 24 further universities joining the action.
This will bring the overall number of universities hit with strike action to 68. The second dispute is over 20% real terms pay cut over the past 12 years, unmanageable workloads, pay inequality and the use of exploitative and insecure contracts, which are rife across the sector.
Altogether, more than 50,000 staff are expected to walkout with well over a million students set to be impacted.
The full strike dates, with numbers of institutions involved, are:
- week 1 (USS pension dispute only, 44 institutions): 5 days; Monday 14 to Friday 18 February
- week 2 (both the pension and the pay & working conditions dispute, 68 institutions): 2 days; Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 February
- week 3 (pay & working conditions dispute only, 63 institutions): 3 days; Monday 28 February, Tuesday 1 and Wednesday 2 March
Staff at the Open University are taking two extra days of strike action because the teaching model is different to a standard university week with the bulk of tutorials taking place during the weekend.
The final day of strike action in week 3 has been called to coincide with the student strike on Wednesday 2 March, organised by the National Union of Students (NUS). The NUS is supporting UCU’s industrial action and is calling for better working conditions, pay and pensions for staff.
Staff are also engaged in action short of a strike, which involves working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action, or undertaking any voluntary activities.
To resolve the pension dispute UCU is demanding employers revoke the cuts to staff pensions and formally accept the union’s compromise proposals. To resolve the pay and working conditions dispute UCU is demanding a £2,500 pay increase for all staff, as well as action to tackle unmanageable workloads, pay inequality and the use of insecure and exploitative contracts.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘The action that begins today and will eventually hit 68 universities is down to vice chancellors who have failed staff and students. They have pushed through brutal pension cuts and done nothing to address falling pay, pay inequality, the rampant use of insecure contracts and unmanageable workloads.
‘Throughout these disputes, our union has offered simple solutions that would avert industrial action and benefit the sector in the long-term, but time and again employers have chosen to continue pushing staff to breaking point, all whilst the sector continues to bring in tens of billions of pounds each year. To avoid this period of industrial action all vice chancellors had to do was accept UCU’s viable pension proposals and take action over worsening pay & working conditions. That they didn’t is an abject failure of their leadership.
‘Students are standing by our members because they know that staff working conditions are their learning conditions. And they know that this sector, which is awash with money, can afford to treat its staff with dignity. As action begins today vice chancellors need to urgently get around the table and help UCU resolve these disputes.’