University employees commence four-week strike action in dispute over pensions


University staff who are members of the University and College Union (UCU) are taking part in a two-day strike to commence a four-week industrial action programme in a dispute over pensions.

The initial two-day strike, which is to be held on Thursday 22 February and Friday 23 February 2018, will take place across 64 national universities and include picket lines at university entrances as well as various rallies.

The industrial action regards proposals from Universities UK (UUK), the representative organisation for UK universities, to close the defined benefit (DB) element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) to future accrual and to instead move members to a defined contribution (DC) arrangement. The UCU states that this change would result in a typical lecturer having £10,000 a year less in retirement compared to what they would receive through their current pension provision.

In total, 88% of UCU members voted in favour of strike action, based on a turnout of 58%. The planned industrial action, which will take place over a four-week period, will continue next week with a three-day strike on Monday 26 February, Tuesday 27 February and Wednesday 28 February, a four-day strike between Monday 5 March and Thursday 8 March, and a five-day strike between Monday 12 March and Friday 16 March 2018.

Universities that will be involved in the strike action include the University of Bath, Cranfield University, Imperial College London, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, University of Oxford, University of London Royal Veterinary College and the University of Wales.

The UCU states it will meet on Friday 2 March 2018 to consider UUK’s response to the first wave of strikes, and discuss whether any further action will be required.

Sally Hunt, general secretary at the UCU, 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. Unsurprisingly, staff are angry and significant disruption on campuses across the UK now looks inevitable.

“The key is how universities react to the action this week. We will be meeting on 2 March to consider what wave two of the action may need to involve and nothing is off the table. We doubt any universities want a prolonged dispute that carries on towards exam season and would urge vice-chancellors to put pressure on Universities UK to get back round the table with us.”

A spokesperson at Universities UK added: “The changes proposed will make USS secure, and sustainable, safeguarding the future of universities. University staff will still have a valuable pension scheme, with employer contributions of 18% of salary, double the private sector average. This makes strike action very disappointing. UUK remains at the negotiating table, but so far UCU has refused to engage on how best to address the funding challenges facing USS.”