University staff to vote on strikes in row over pay, pensions and conditions

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Thousands of lecturers, researchers and other academic staff are being voted on strike over wages, pensions and working conditions, threatening to disrupt more than 150 universities before the end of the year.

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a member of university and college association (UCU) will vote over the next few weeks on whether to launch a campaign of industrial action, which could extend into the new year if the impasse remains unresolved.

The union says it is fighting universities’ retirement plan (USS) pension cuts, dwindling pay, the use of unsecured contracts, unsafe workloads and “serious” equality failures.

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UCU Secretary General Joe Grady said while wages and working conditions have worsened over the past decade, employees are now at a “breaking point”.

He said workloads are rising, wages and pensions are falling, so employees are now ready to take action before it gets worse.

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University employees are the backbone of the sector, but for a decade they have been stymied thanks to steep cuts in their pensions, dwindling wages and the widespread use of unsecured contracts.

The union expects a major vote in favor of action, leading to strikes before the end of the current term, and other forms of industrial action in the new year.

UCU said employer body University UK (UUK) voted to cut thousands of pounds from retirement benefits for university employees based on a “flawed assessment” of the plan conducted at the start of the pandemic, as markets were crashing, and represented a cut of 35%. Was doing. Member’s annual guaranteed pension and guaranteed lump sum amount.

Salary Inflation for university employees declined by 17.6% between 2009 and 2019, and employers have offered below-inflation rates since then, with the latest 1.5% priced in despite employees’ “commemorative” efforts during the pandemic. , the union said.

The union also claimed that there is a 16% gender pay gap across universities, with some rising to 19%.

UCU said the pay gap between black and white employees is 17% and the disability pay gap is 9%.

UCU is calling for £2,500 pay increases, a framework to end the race, gender and disability pay gap, zero-hours and other indefinite contracts, and meaningful action to tackle the unbearable workload.

Ms. Grady has written to UUK Chief Executive Alistair Jarvis and UCEA Chief Executive Raj Jethwa urging them to meet staff demands and avoid disruptions during this term.

She said: “University workers are the backbone of the sector, but for a decade they have been stymied thanks to drastic cuts in their pensions, reduced pay and the massive use of unsecured contracts.

“The university sector is worth billions of pounds, but the uncomfortable truth is that this success is built on exploitation, with employees denied respect at work and in retirement on eye-watering salaries by the vice chancellor.”

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She warned that the attacks would cause “huge disruption”.

A University UK spokesperson said: “We are disappointed that UCU is moving forward with an industrial action ballot on the USS pension. The proposed reforms secure USS status as one of the most attractive pension plans in the country, and largely eliminate the need for contributions that would severely reduce wages and force employers to cut other budgets.

“Discussions on evaluation are still on. Employers met with UCU representatives last Tuesday and further meetings are planned for the coming weeks.

“However, it is difficult to see how the demands of UCU can be resolved without the alternative solution that we have consistently sought from them and are willing to consult with employers.

“After 18 months of hard work, the students do not deserve any further disruption. It is not clear why UCU thinks it is justified to disadvantage students because of the increased cost of the scheme and the regulatory constraints under which pensions operate in the UK.

Raj Jethwa, chief executive of employers’ union UCEA, said: “We are disappointed that UCU is encouraging its members to vote for action specifically designed to disrupt teaching and learning for those students. who have endured many upheavals in the recent past.

“It is disappointing that UCU has not at any stage in recent months given its members, representing a minority of employees, an opportunity to accept or reject offers on pay, equality, contract and workload.

“Instead, the lengthy delays for a ballot and strike action over the past months have clearly targeted the autumn term and our students, when we are finally back on campus.”

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