University staff strikes could continue if pensions row not resolved
Members of the University and College Union (UCU) at 61 institutions are to begin a wave of walkouts this Thursday.
University staff could stage further strikes in the coming months, potentially running into the summer exams season, if a bitter dispute over pensions is not resolved.
Members of the University and College Union (UCU) are due to begin a wave of walkouts on Thursday after they backed action in an industrial ballot over proposed changes to pensions covered by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).
Lectures and classes at 61 institutions across the UK are due to be affected.
University employers have said changes to the pension scheme are necessary.
Ahead of the strikes, UCU general secretary said union officials are meeting on March 2 to discuss the response from universities to the industrial action and warned that if the dispute is not settled then “nothing is off the table”.
The union has a mandate to take industrial action up until July 19, which covers the period when exams are being taken by students and marked.
It means that institutions could potentially face industrial action during this important point of the academic year.
Ms Hunt said: “The key now is how universities react to the action this week. We hope they will react responsibly. If they don’t we will be meeting on 2 March to consider what wave two of the action will involve and nothing is off the table at this stage.
“We doubt any universities want a prolonged dispute that carries on towards exam season and would urge vice-chancellors to put pressure on Universities UK to get back round the table with us.”
UCU has announced it will stage 14 days of action if there is no resolution, starting with a two-day walkout this Thursday and Friday, and continuing with three-day, four-day and five-day strikes into next month.
To maintain current benefits, overall contributions would have to increase by approximately £1 billion every year Universities UK spokesman
Other action is likely to include members working to their contracts, meaning they could refuse to cover classes, reschedule classes lost on strike days or undertake voluntary duties.
Hundreds of thousands of university workers are understood to be enrolled in the USS pensions scheme, mainly those working at older institutions established before 1992.
A Universities UK spokesman said: “The USS pension scheme has a deficit of £6.1 billion and the cost of future pensions benefits has increased by one third since 2014.
“To maintain current benefits, overall contributions would have to increase by approximately £1 billion every year.
“We hope that employees recognise that changes are necessary to put the scheme on a secure footing, and that the proposed strike action will only serve to unfairly disrupt students’ education.
“Universities are committed to making pensions contributions of 18% of salaries. This allows them to continue to offer attractive and sustainable pensions to their employees under the proposed changes to USS.
“Universities UK met with UCU over 35 times during the last year in an attempt to find a joint solution to address this deficit and the significant rise in future pension costs.
“Unfortunately, the only proposal put forward by UCU would have led to unaffordable contributions for employees and employers. The UCU proposal would necessitate large cuts to budgets in other areas such as teaching and research, and put many jobs at risk.”
The last time the UCU took industrial action over the USS was in November 2014 when it staged a boycott of assessment and marking.
This was called off after two weeks to allow for fresh talks, which resulted in the dispute being resolved.