Academics strike over pension changes

22 Feb 18

Strikes over proposed changes to university staff pensions are expected to affect 500,000 teaching hours over 14 days, the University and College Union has said.

The strikes are taking over plans to end the defined benefit aspect of the Universities Superannuation Scheme. Defined benefit pensions guarantee retirement income as a proportion of salary, whereas defined contribution schemes offer much less certainty.

This change is backed by Universities UK, but the union claims this would leave lecturers almost £10,000 a year poorer in retirement.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: “We deliberately announced these strike dates to give universities time to come back round the table with us and get this mess sorted out.”

“They have refused to do so and want to impose their reforms on staff.”

Universities UK has pointed out that the cost of funding future pensions has risen by one third in the last three years, and the USS has a deficit of £6.1bn, which by law must be reduced.

A Universities UK spokesperson said: “Union leaders need to listen to the concerns of the Pensions Regulator and USS.

“Their dismissal of the funding challenges is hugely concerning, the very reason employers and the scheme must act responsibly to protect pensions and students.

“We remain at the negotiating table to engage with UCU on the long-term sustainability of the scheme and we continue to seek further talks.

“It will be the young people and the next generation of students who will also suffer if their education deteriorates because employers are forced to make cuts to pay more into pensions.”

In total, 64 universities in all areas of the UK will strike over separate two- to five- day periods until 16 March, affecting 575,000 teaching hours.

The National Union of Students has urged its members to stand in “full solidarity” with the striking lecturers by attending pickets and writing to their institution to complain about the impact of strikes.

Additionally, Unison has written a letter to university vice-chancellors encouraging them to support calls to involve the arbitration service ACAS in resolving the dispute.

Universities minister Sam Gyimah and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have both called for talks to resume. Gyimah said these talks should be “without preconditions”.

Last year it was reported that the USS had the largest deficit of any British retirement fund.

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