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University Picket

University strikes begin after bosses refuse to budge on pensions, pay & working conditions

1 December 2021

Three consecutive days of strike action hit 58 universities today after university bosses and their representatives refused to withdraw pension cuts or address falling pay and worsening working conditions.

After notifying vice chancellors that staff would take strike action unless they saw movement, UCU continued to meet with employer representatives Universities UK (UUK) over pension cuts, but UUK refused to reverse them.

On pay and working conditions, meanwhile, employers, represented by University and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) still won't meet without preconditions, and refuse to engage in agreeing action plans that would address widespread casualisation, excessive workloads and pay inequalities. UCEA has also refused to move on another below inflation pay offer for staff.

Last month UCU members at 58 institutions backed strike action in two separate ballots, one over pension cuts and one over pay & working conditions [NOTE 2]. Research by the National Union of Students shows 73% of students support university staff taking strike action. 42 branches that just failed to meet the Conservative anti trade union threshold of 50% are being reballoted to join escalating action next year.

This week, UCU exposed how UUK had misled staff and vice chancellors about the true scale of the cuts they were pushing through. UUK had repeatedly said that its cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension would lead to staff pensions being cut by 10% to 18%. This was a claim communicated by UUK to university senior managers, and in turn university staff, in attempts to persuade them not to take action. However, the USS trustee's own modelling shows that a typical member will see a 36% pension cut.

Staff pay has fallen by 20% after twelve years of below inflation pay offers whilst almost 90,000 academic and academic-related staff are employed on insecure contracts.

The gender pay gap in UK universities sits at 15%, whilst the disability pay gap is 9% and the race pay gap is 17%, staff are also experiencing a crisis of work-related stress with over half showing probable signs of depression.

To resolve the pension dispute UCU is demanding employers revoke their pensions cuts. To resolve the pay & working conditions dispute UCU is demanding a £2.5k pay increase for all staff, as well as action to tackle unmanageable workloads, pay inequality and insecure contracts that blight the sector.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'It is deeply regrettable that staff have been forced into taking industrial action again, but sadly university bosses have shown little interest in negotiating in good faith and addressing the serious concerns of staff over falling pay, massive pension cuts, equality pay gaps and the rampant use of insecure contracts.

'The truth is that staff are asking for the bare minimum in a sector awash with money. But sadly, the only time vice chancellors seem to listen is when staff take action, and those leading our universities should not underestimate their determination to change this sector for the better.

'We are grateful to all the students who are supporting staff taking industrial action because they understand that staff working conditions are student learning conditions. Vice-chancellors now need to concentrate on asking themselves why strikes have become an annual occurrence and seek to resolve this dispute in order to avoid more needless disruption to learning. If they continue to ignore the modest demands of staff then we will be forced to take further industrial action in the new year, which even more branches will join.'

Last updated: 2 December 2021