Lecturers’ futures at risk: support the strike

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Protestors outside the university

Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Kirsten Colligan

Jonathan Peters
News Editor

Lecturers’ union announces 14 days of strike action, across the UK

The University and College Union (UCU) has announced that its members will undertake 14 days of industrial action between February and March.

This comes after a ballot of members, in which 87% of Scottish members voted to support strike action, with a turnout of 63%.

The strike begins on Thursday 22 February and ends on Friday 16 March. The anticipated days of industrial action are: Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February; Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February; Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March; ending on a full week of strike action between Monday 12 and Friday 16 March.

The UCU has written to all universities affected, including nine Scottish institutions. It is expected that members from the University of Glasgow will participate in all strike dates.

This wave of industrial action comes after talks between UCU and Universities UK (UUK), the body which represents universities, broke down on 23 January. The dispute centres around proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the standard pension system for all academic staff in the UK.

The proposed changes could see a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off on retirement, according to independent experts First Actuarial.

In an open letter signed by over 1,000 professors, the changes were described as potentially disastrous for employment, with USS regarded as “arguably the best aspect of the employment package.”

However, UUK warns that USS is unsustainable in its current form. Alistair Jarvis, the Chief Executive of UUK, has argued that leaving USS intact is “a dangerous gamble. It is a risk that employers cannot take.”

The proposed changes would see the replacement of guaranteed pensions with a defined contribution scheme. There are fears that this would expose the pension scheme to undue market risk, as well as cutting new employees’ pensions by up to 40%, compared with the current system.

According to UUK, USS is one of the largest private pension schemes in the UK, and is the main pension system for academic staff.

Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the UCU, said: “Staff who have delivered the international excellence universities boast of are understandably angry at efforts to slash their pensions. They feel let down by Vice-Chancellors who seem to care more about defending their own pay and perks than the rights of their staff.

“Strike action on this scale has not been seen before on UK campuses, but universities need to know the full scale of the disruption they will be hit with if they refuse to sort this mess out.”

The nine Scottish universities expected to take part are: University of Aberdeen, University of Dundee, University of Edinburgh, University of Glasgow, Heriot-Watt University, University of St Andrews, University of Stirling, University of Strathclyde and the Scottish Association for Marine Science at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

UCU has released the breakdown of the ballot by institution, and nearly 90% of those balloted at the University of Glasgow supported strike action.