UK university strikes: Walkouts at 60 institutions to hit more than a million students

Lecturers among workers taking action in disputes over pay and pensions 

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Tuesday 05 November 2019 15:33 GMT
University Strikes: Staff protest at University and College Union HQ

Universities face eight days of strike action starting this month amid disputes over staff pensions, pay and working conditions, the University and College Union (UCU) has announced.

More than a million students could be affected by the fresh wave of walkouts at 60 universities across the UK, according to the UCU. Universities were brought to a standstill last year by unprecedented strikes over pensions and some institutions were forced to pay compensation to students over lost teaching hours.

UCU members at 60 UK universities will walk out from 25 November until 4 December following votes in favour of strike action.

University staff will pay around £40,000 more into their pension – but they will receive nearly £200,000 less in retirement following reforms to the pension scheme, the UCU says.

Increased contributions and other changes to the universities superannuation scheme (USS) mean that many people are suffering substantial losses, the union has previously warned.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, said: "The first wave of strikes will hit universities later this month unless the employers start talking to us seriously about how they are going to deal with rising pension costs and declining pay and conditions."

She added: "Universities can be in no doubt about the strength of feeling on these issues and we will be consulting branches whose desire to strike was frustrated by anti-union laws about reballoting."

Last week, UCU members backed strike action in two separate disputes, one on pensions and one on pay and working conditions.

Overall, 79 per cent of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions.

In the ballot on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads, 74 per cent of members backed strike action.

A number of elite universities - including Cambridge, Durham and Bristol - are among the institutions being hit by strikes.

As well as the eight strike days, union members will begin other forms of industrial action when they return to work.

This will include working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues, and refusing to reschedule lectures lost to strike action.

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A Universities UK spokesperson said: "We are hopeful that the dispute can be resolved without industrial action, but plans are in place to ensure that any potential disruption to students and staff is minimised."

They added that the pensions changes were "both fair and reasonable" and said the scheme was one of the best in the country.

"We hope that UCU will now join us to consider governance reforms and alternative options for future valuations, which deliver a shared set of principles, increased transparency and a sustainable scheme," they said.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), which represents employers in the pay disputes, said the strike action will be "damaging to students".

A spokesperson said: “Having achieved strike votes in only 57 of the 147 Higher Education institutions where it balloted, we are dismayed to see UCU’s decision to ask its members to take such extensive and damaging strike action over its national pay demands.

"This is after UCU has failed to secure its members' support in the large majority (90) of institutions where it also balloted following a big campaign over nearly two months.

"It is completely unrealistic in the collective pay arrangements for UCU to attempt to force all 147 employers to re-open the concluded 2019-20 national pay round.

"The outcome was already at the very limit of what is affordable and the ballots confirm that the vast majority of employees in these institutions understand the challenging context."

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