UK academic staff to vote on strike over next academic year | Higher Education

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University staff are set to be called on strike over the next academic year, reigniting their battle with employers over deep cuts to pension benefits just as campuses are recovering from the effects of the disruption. Covid.

A special meeting of the higher education branches of the University College Union voted in favor of a series of motions calling for collective action on pensions, wages and other conflicts such as precarious workforces. work – with some motions calling for a swift poll of UCU members and potential strikes before Christmas.

But a final decision on the timing and legal issues involved will be made by the union’s higher education committee on Monday, with some members fearing that strikes at the start of the new academic year could erode public and student support. .

Jo Grady, general secretary of the union, said: “The UCU higher education committee will meet on Monday to determine the timetable for industrial action on the issues of declining wages, dangerous workloads, widespread precariousness. , gender and ethnicity pay gaps, and reductions in USS pensions.

“The university leadership still has time to avoid widespread disruption in the coming months, but to do so, it must resume negotiations and make credible offers on wages, working conditions and pensions. “

The higher education committee will need to distinguish between overlapping motions adopted by the special conference, including motions proposed by branches of Lancaster University and Glasgow University which call for the ballot to be ended at the end of October and a possible strike in November.

Any campus strike would be an early test for Nadhim Zahawi as education secretary, given the potential for disruption and demands for tuition reimbursement by students if the action is backed by a significant number of students. universities in England.

The unrest is a continuation of the long-standing dispute over pensions affecting teachers, technicians, researchers and administrators of institutions where staff are members of the University Pension Scheme (USS). Administrators say the plan cannot afford to pay the same level of retirement benefits in the future without higher contributions from staff and employers.

More than 50,000 UCU members at 74 universities, including Liverpool, Bristol and Cardiff, backed industrial action that spanned from November 2019 to February 2020, with the action finally coming to an end when the Covid pandemic s ‘is installed.

The latest dispute was sparked by pension cuts offered by Universities UK (UUK), which represents employers, to address an estimated £ 14 billion to £ 18 billion funding gap in the USS scheme. The union argues that an average staff member will lose about a third of their guaranteed retirement benefits. According to Grady, the cuts would also discourage low-paid staff from joining the USS, threatening the viability of the program as a whole.

Employers – which include nongovernmental agencies and research institutes as well as universities – say a planned consultation on changes to the scheme could still lead to changes in their proposals.

A spokesperson for USS employers said, “We hope that the UCU chooses not to vote in favor of industrial action, given that the USS’s formal assessment of the size of the deficit of the plan means that no change is an option, and employer proposals are the only formal alternative. at unaffordable contribution rates.

“The next member consultation on the UUK package is important and open – and could lead to changes in the proposals. Employers will continue to consider other benefit structures and formulas, provided they are viable, affordable and enforceable.

“The universities concerned would do their utmost to minimize the impact of any industrial action and to support student learning.”

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