Belfast Telegraph

Lecturers would face impoverished retirement under pension changes – union

Five-day walkout at Queen’s and Ulster University either side of this weekend due to begin on Thursday.

University staff in Northern Ireland face an impoverished retirement after a lifetime of dedicated service, a trade union leader said.

A five-day walkout at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) and Ulster University (UU) either side of this weekend is due to begin on Thursday in a dispute over pensions.

University and College Union Northern Ireland official Katharine Clarke claimed the universities had “refused” to exercise their influence to help find a negotiated solution.

“Clearly the managements of our universities are unconcerned about their staff facing poverty in retirement after a lifetime of dedicated service.

“This is totally unacceptable and has left our members with no alternative but to strike to defend the pensions they have paid into over the course of their employment.”

Clearly the managements of our universities are unconcerned about their staff facing poverty in retirement after a lifetime of dedicated service. Katharine Clarke

Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, has said it is working to make the scheme sustainable while offering the very best pensions that can be afforded.   ​

The Northern Ireland universities are joining industrial action being taken by 61 UK universities on Thursday February 22 and continuing over a four-week period.

There will also be four days of strikes from Monday March 5 to Thursday March 8 and from March 12-15.

The union said the strike was the biggest to hit the higher education sector with 88% of members voting in favour.

It said the dispute centres on Universities UK’s proposals to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme, replacing it with a defined contribution scheme based upon stock market investment performance.

UCU predicted that will leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up.

Universities UK said it would cost close to £1 billion extra each year to maintain current benefits, which would have had to be split 35:65 between members and employers if reforms are not agreed.

“Such increases in contributions would be unaffordable for both employers and employees,” a spokesman said.

Queen’s said it was disappointed by the industrial action.

“The university does not support industrial action and will be taking all necessary steps to ensure that it is ‘business as usual’, with minimal impact on the quality of services and support provided to our students and other stakeholders.”

Student unions at QUB and UU have voted to support striking lecturers and will be attending the UCU’s strike rally scheduled for 11am on Thursday at Queen’s.

An Ulster University statement said the reform process was challenging and pension provision was important for employees.

A spokesman said: “However we are committed to find a solution which is equitable for both the university and its employees.

“The USS pension scheme is facing a significant deficit and an affordable solution is crucial to the sustainability of the higher education sector.

“At a national level, negotiations between Universities UK (UUK) and University & College Union (UCU) have been ongoing for many months to identify a way forward in building a stable and secure pension fund, whilst ensuring contributions are affordable for both employees and the universities, and a proposal is now to be consulted upon.”

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