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Universities on strike warning as UCU announces pay and pension ballots

28 June 2019

Universities will be hit with industrial action later this year if they do not make a decent pay offer to staff and secure pensions for members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS)

Earlier this month the union wrote to 69 institutions warning that if they failed to defend USS pensions then the union would prepare for an industrial action ballot in September. The union's higher education committee (HEC) has now set out a timetable for that ballot and also for a pay ballot to run at the same time.

The ballots will run from Monday 9 September to Wednesday 30 October and the union's HEC will meet to consider the results on Friday 1 November. The ballots will be disaggregated so each institution will be polled separately. Last year, university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action.

The union said universities had done nothing to address the declining value of its members' pay, which has fallen in real-terms by 21% in the last decade. UCU members in around 140 universities will be balloted over pay. Those institutions include the 69 where members will also being balloted USS pensions.

The USS pension scheme has been hit by a series of high-profile scandals in recent weeks after a trustee spoke out saying her efforts to establish the level of the scheme's deficit had been obstructed. That claim is now being looked at by the Pensions Regulator. Instead of dealing with the claims, USS has launched a probe into the whistleblower.

The universities' representatives, Universities UK (UUK), has said it is confident that the USS trustee board is "conducting business in line with its fiduciary responsibilities" and that expressing no confidence in the USS board or executive "would be an irresponsible move".

Despite the inaction from both USS and UUK, the chair of the work and pensions select committee Frank Field has written to the chief executive of the Pensions Regulator asking a series of questions about the whistleblower's complaint.

UCU head of higher education Paul Bridge said: 'Pay has been held down for too long and USS members are running out of patience. Every day seems to bring some new damning revelation about USS. Their response has been wholly inadequate, as has that of Universities UK. If universities are not prepared to work with us on pay and pensions, then they will face serious disruption later this year.'

Last updated: 28 June 2019