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UCU opens ballots on strike action over pensions and pay

The University and College Union has confirmed that strike ballots will open at 69 UK universities on Monday September 9 over USS pensions and pay, workloads, casualisation and equality.

The union’s higher education committee (HEC) has confirmed the timetable for a ballot of 69 institutions over USS pensions and also for a pay, workloads, casualisation and equality ballot that will run at 147 institutions at the same time.

The ballots, to be disaggregated so each institution will be polled separately, will run until 30 October and HEC will meet to consider the results on Friday 1 November.

In June the union wrote to the 69 USS institutions warning that if they failed to defend members’ pensions then the union would prepare for an industrial action ballot in September. UCU made clear that it did not expect members to have to face higher contributions or any loss of benefits. The union said if the employers failed to secure those commitments from USS then they should meet additional costs.

Last year, university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action. UCU members who lost 14 days’ pay to defend their pensions said it was "only fair" that any cost this time around should be shouldered by the employers.

The union said it rejected the employers’ latest offer as it "failed to avoid the imposition of unfair and unnecessary costs on scheme members". UCU said it wanted to work towards a long-term solution to address fundamental flaws with USS, how it is valued and how it is run.

At a meeting of the USS Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) in August, the universities’ proposals - that will see members pay 9.6 per cent of their salary into their USS pension, compared to 8.8 per cent at present and 8 per cent before the strikes, with further increases planned from 2021 - were backed by the chair Sir Andrew Cubie.

UCU tabled its own proposals to the JNC setting out why it felt universities should meet any additional costs. The union previously wrote to universities in June and warned that if they did not agree to limit members’ contributions to 8 per cent, or meet the cost of any additional contributions, then they faced the risk of a strike action ballot.

A separate ballot on pay, workloads and equality will also begin on Monday. It will affect the 69 universities being balloted over USS as well as another 78 institutions in the UK (147 in total). The union said universities had done nothing to address the declining value of its members’ pay, which it said had fallen in real-terms by 21 per cent in the last decade.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: "We have been upfront with universities for months about our intention to ballot members over pensions, pay and conditions, so it is incredibly disappointing that they have chosen not to engage properly with us.

"The ballots start on Monday, but we have no desire to take strike action and the employers still have time to avert a crisis on campus. However, in order to do that they need to start negotiating with us credibly.

"Aside from some last minute game-playing and misleading statements on pensions, the employers have done nothing to even try and avoid disruption. USS members should not be hit with extra costs  and we want to work towards a long-term solution to address fundamental flaws with USS, how it is valued and how it is run. We don’t want to be running ballots year after year, we want these problems properly sorted."


Where the ballots will take place:


University of Aberdeen

Aberystwyth University

Aston University

Bangor University

University of Bath

Queen's University of Belfast

Birkbeck, University of London

University of Birmingham

University of Bradford

University of Bristol

Brunel University, London

University of Cambridge

Cardiff University

City, University of London

Courtauld Institute of Art

Cranfield University

University of Dundee

University of Durham

University of East Anglia

University of Edinburgh

University of Essex

University of Exeter

University of Glasgow

Goldsmiths University, London

Heriot-Watt University

University of Hull

Imperial College

Institute of Development Studies

University of Keele

University of Kent

King's College London

University of Lancaster

University of Leeds

University of Leicester

Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine

University of Liverpool

London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

London School of Economics and Political Science

Loughborough University

University of Manchester

Newcastle University

University of Nottingham

Open University

University of Oxford

Queen Mary University of London

University of Reading

Royal Holloway, University of London

Royal Veterinary College

Ruskin College

School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)

University of Salford

Scottish Association for Marine Science

University of London (Institutes and activities)

University of Sheffield

University of Southampton

University of St Andrews

St George's University of London

University of Stirling

University of Strathclyde

University of Surrey

University of Sussex

Swansea University

University of Wales Trinity St David's

University of Ulster

University of Suffolk

The School of Pharmacy and IOE, University College London

University of Wales

University of Warwick

University of York

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