Further strikes likely in academics’ pension dispute


The University and College Union (UCU), which represents approximately half of Lancaster University’s academic staff, is balloting its members over further industrial action in protest at changes to pensions. The dispute has already seen lecturers walk out in two days of strikes in March this year, and it is expected that this vote will lead to further action in the new term.

Action is likely to include at least a one-day national strike as well as action short of a strike, both of which would disrupt teaching.

The dispute between UCU and the Employers’ Pension Forum (EPF) is over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), a pension scheme for academics and related staff. The changes proposed by the employers were narrowly approved at a meeting between the parties in May, much to the displeasure of the academics, and come into effect from October 1st.

James Groves, Press Liasion over the dispute for Lancaster University’s UCU branch, spoke to SCAN about recent developments. He stressed that saying the changes have been “approved” is an over-simplification; “the employer and UCU reps were deadlocked and the Chair’s casting vote was used to approve the employers’ proposals,” he said, adding that “this did not come as a surprise to UCU’s national negotiators (or to Lancaster UCU).”

Under the new system, those joining USS after October 1st will be on a different type of pension scheme from existing members, effectively creating a two-tier scheme. The key difference is in the way pension payments are calculated; existing members will retain their final salary pension, but new entrants will be on a career-average system.

On the final salary scheme, members are paid a percentage of their final salary throughout retirement. Under a career-average system, payments are calculated at the end of each scheme year and added to previously accumulated benefits. These benefits accrue interest up to the age of retirement.

UCU argue that new entrants will receive a significantly smaller pension as a result, potentially 30% less than existing members. In a letter to members in June, UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt said, “if you are a new entrant to the scheme, you will now join a vastly inferior pension, with a very poor average benefit structure.”

Hunt also stressed that the changes will disadvantage all members of the scheme, not just new entrants. “While our campaign has won protection for existing members, who can stay in the final salary pension scheme, the employers are pushing through changes that remove your right to an unreduced pension if you are made redundant. At a time when we face tremendous insecurity in our sector, this is a naked attempt to make it cheaper to sack you and your colleagues,” the letter said.

It is now likely that strikes will take place in Michaelmas Term, with the result of the ballot being announced in September expected to be in favour of action. Groves sees a one-day national strike as “pretty much inevitable,” and also suggested that action short of a strike “could well include a marking boycott of some form.”

UCU are also hoping to promote their cause with some “high-visibility protests” in Intro Week.

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