University lecturers set for another round of strikes over pensions, pay and working conditions

Staff from three universities in the Anglia region have voted to strike for 14 days, starting later this month.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) at the universities of Essex, Cambridge and East Anglia have backed industrial action.

They voted to walk out over two complaints: a controversial pensions scheme, as well as pay and working conditions.

The walkouts will take place between 20 February and 13 March at 74 universities across the UK.

UCU said it has been clear that it will take "serious and sustained industrial action" and is prepared to run fresh ballots for further strikes if the disputes are not resolved.

University employers in the pensions row said that they "regret" UCU's decision to strike, while those representing institutions in the pay and conditions dispute said they were "dismayed".

This is the second round of industrial action by UCU members in the ongoing bitter disputes.

Staff at Essex, the UEA and Cambridge all took part in strikes in November and December 2019.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: "We have seen more members back strikes since the winter walkouts and this next wave of action will affect even more universities and students.

"If universities want to avoid further disruption they need to deal with rising pension costs, and address the problems over pay and conditions.

"We have been clear from the outset that we would take serious and sustained industrial action if that was what was needed.

"As well as the strikes starting later this month, we are going to ballot members to ensure that we have a fresh mandate for further action to cover the rest of the academic year if these disputes are not resolved."

A spokesman for UCEA, which represents employers in the pay dispute, said: "We are dismayed, and many higher education institutions will be so too, to see UCU's HEC decide to ask the union's members to once again use damaging strike action over last year's national pay demands.

"Strike action should always be a last resort and we believe that UCU's 70,000 members in the 147 institutions should now be given a say.

"There are new ways forward being offered by HE employers, UCEA has made available significant positive proposals on key issues in UCU's dispute - contractual arrangements, workload/mental health and gender pay gaps/ethnicity pay - developed following two months of talks with UCU.

"Strikes in less than half the universities in the multi-employer negotiations are not the answer and are in real danger of undermining the national collective pay bargaining arrangements."

A spokesman for Universities UK, which represents employers in the pensions dispute, said: "We regret that UCU are planning further strike action at a time when positive talks on the future of the scheme are making significant progress and are ongoing.

"Despite this, UCU continue to request that employers pay still higher contributions at unaffordable levels.

"By law, pension costs had to rise to maintain current benefits. Employers have agreed to cover 65% of these increased costs, taking their contribution to 21.1% of salaries from October 2019 - together committing £250m more a year. Members have been asked to make a fair contribution too.

"The best way forward is to work collectively to secure a pension scheme that is highly valued and affordable for all.

"The current tripartite talks between UCU, USS, and UUK, which are set to continue at least until March, are building a shared understanding on the future of the scheme, jointly developing governance reforms and considering alternative pathways for the 2020 valuation.

"Universities will put in place a series of measures to minimise the impact of industrial action on students, other staff and the wider community."

UCU members backed strike action in the two disputes in October.

Overall, 79% of UCU members who voted backed strike action in the ballot over changes to pensions.

In the ballot on pay, equality, casualisation and workloads, 74% of members backed strike action.

The union said strike mandates are only legally valid for six months, so the branches that took action in November will need fresh ballots to be able to take action after April.

A breakdown shows that 47 institutions will be affected by action over both disputes, while 22 will be affected by strikes over pay and conditions only, and five will be hit due to the pensions dispute only.