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UCU calls for “further waves of strike action” in late March

UCU strike action

The University and College Union (UCU) has announced that another round of strike action is set to take place during the last two weeks of March, protesting both the USS and the Four Fights dispute.

Despite having reached an agreement with the College over the USS pensions dispute, KCL UCU has been called to strike for five consecutive days, beginning Monday, March 28, and continuing until April 1.

The call for strike action comes just after staff finishing taking up 10 days of strike action. However, according to UCU, since “employers forced through pension cuts and refused to negotiate meaningfully over pay and working conditions”, further action has been called. In addition, all branches of the UCU will be reballoted in preparation for potential industrial action in the following term.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady has said: “Vice chancellors could easily end this dispute and prevent further disruption in our universities, but they would rather attack the pensions, pay and working conditions of their own staff and damage the sector at the same time. Students and staff alike deserve better leadership than this, and we hope that this action and our reballot of members for future action will make employers see sense.

“Universities in the UK bring in tens of billions in income each year and have tens of billions more hoarded in their reserves. There is no justification whatsoever for slashing staff pensions or refusing to take action over falling pay, shocking equality pay gaps, rampant casualisation and unsafe workloads. For years our union has been offering sensible and deliverable solutions that would benefit staff, students and the entire sector, but employers are just not interested.

“Students support staff because they know that staff working conditions are their learning conditions. They also know that universities have the money to give staff what they deserve. Until vice chancellors get the message, staff will continue to take action to defend themselves.”

In response to UCU’s decision to take further strike action, a Universities UK (UUK) spokesperson, on behalf of USS employers, said: “Taking university staff out on strike again will not remove the need to reform USS to ensure it remains affordable for members and employers. The package of reforms proposed by employers has now passed the JNC and the USS Trustee Board, and will be implemented from 1st April 2022.

“February’s industrial action did not achieve the outcome UCU intended, and data gathered by UCEA suggests turnout on picket lines was even lower than before, with limited disruption to students. With news of more strikes and yet another ballot, reasonable onlookers will conclude the union has an ideological fixation with strike action and is determined to pursue it, no matter the cost. Since 2019, an average member of staff earning £55,000 per annum taking strike action has forgone over £4,800 in pay deductions, to no avail. Scheme members should ask themselves whether they are willing to sacrifice even more to pay higher pensions contributions based on UCU’s unsubstantiated view that another valuation will yield a better outcome.

“Employers have repeatedly made clear that current contributions are at the very limit of affordability, and a majority of those responding to a consultation on UCU’s proposal for higher contributions rejected it. Recent government announcements underline the wider financial uncertainty universities are facing, and with the 2020 valuation now concluded, it is time to look forward and identify lasting improvements to USS that can be made ahead of the next valuation.”

Roar has reached out to KCL UCU for comment and will continue to update you as the situation develops.

7/3/22 Update:

Roar received the following comment from KCL UCU: “There’s three main things: First, the national University and College Union has declared a further 5 days of strike action in our last week of term, the 28 March because the employers including King’s continue to drive through vicious cuts to pensions and pay. A typical academic would lose over £100,000 in retirement pay, and real wages have fallen 20% since 2010, while student fees have soared. This is wrong.

“Second, we produced a joint statement on the pension with KCL senior management, only for them to immediately support the pension cuts within the employer lobby group, Universities UK. The statement recognised that improving, not cutting, the pension was desirable and this should be a matter for future negotiation. Many staff feel deeply betrayed by certain senior management figures. The statement also calls for divestment from fossil fuels – and this is especially important since the USS just lost £500 million in investments in Russia because it did not divest already as members wanted in November 2020.

“Third, we are proceeding in legal action against the USS directors for the harm they have caused, and won our first oral hearing last Monday. At a time when universities and the world are going through avoidable crises, we need our university managers to back our staff, not continue with an authoritarian track that degrades everyone’s livelihoods.”

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