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More universities join pensions and pay strikes

UCU march, Glasgow city centre, 14 February. Photo Workers.

Staff at a total of 68 universities were on strike in February after university employers refused to withdraw cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) or accept the University and College Union's (UCU) compromise proposals which would have seen staff and employers both pay slightly more to protect benefits and resolve the pension dispute.

Despite the USS confirming that the UCU’s proposals are viable and implementable, the employers’ organisation Universities UK has said it will formalise its own proposals on Tuesday 22 February. These are expected to result in a 35 per cent cut in the guaranteed retirement income of members.

The dispute is over a 20 per cent pay cut in real terms 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 walk out, with well over a million students set to be affected.

Student support

The final day of this round of strike action, Wednesday 2 March, was called to coincide with the student strike organised by the National Union of Students. The students are supporting UCU's industrial action and their union is calling for better working conditions, pay and pensions for staff.

The UCU action had re-started last December (having been interrupted by Covid in March 2020), when staff at 58 universities took three days of strike action. Following a successful reballot over Christmas, staff at ten more universities will join this latest wave of strikes. Since December, staff have been engaged in action short of a strike (ASOS), 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. 

In retaliation to the wave of action, employer representatives have authorised withholding the pay of staff taking ASOS. Six universities are claiming they will deduct a full day’s pay for each day of action short of a strike. The UCU has warned that this may lead to even more strikes being called.