UK: Solidarity with education union’s fight over university pensions

published 16 February 2018 updated 15 February 2018

Education International’s European region, ETUCE, has sent a message of solidarity to University and College Unions members at 61 UK universities who are due to walk out soon in a dispute over changes to the universities’ pension scheme.

UCU: Time is running out to stop USS pensions strikes

The University and College Union has planned a series of strikes which are to start on 22 February, to push public authorities to preserve the defined benefit pension of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) scheme. This proposal, it says, will result in the pensions of higher education personnel being dependent on their 'investment' performance and not on guaranteed payments based on contributions and years of service. According to UCU this leaves a typical lecturer approx., 11,270 Euro a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up.

If universities want to stop unprecedented disruption on their campuses then they need to show courage and call on their representatives to negotiate meaningfully with UCU, UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt warned on 9 February.

Not ruling out the possibility of an agreement before the first walkout, she insisted that her message to their employers’ representative, Universities UK (UUK), is simple: “Stop spinning and start talking. Students have called for both UCU and UUK to go to the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service and UCU is happy to say yes to that. We believe it is still not too late to reach an agreement that avoids disruption.”

Hunt went on to note that she has spoken to many vice-chancellors in the past few weeks who are deeply unhappy with what is being done in their names by UUK: “Unhappy with the proposal yes. But also with the perception that goes with it of an uncaring, unyielding employer who refuses to negotiate.”

“My message is that you can only change that by speaking out. We are long past the time when corridor diplomacy works - what we need now are university leaders with courage,” she stated.

As things stand, Hunt explained, in 12 days' time, tens of thousands of staff will begin 14 days of strike action. “When the employers first set out their plans to axe the guaranteed pension for USS members I said it was the worst offer I had seen in 20 years of negotiating for university and college staff,” she also pointed out.

ETUCE: Educators’ decent social benefits, cornerstone of a sustainable and effective education system

Susan Flocken, the Director of Education International’s European region, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE), has sent UCU a support letter, expressing “its indignation and discontent” regarding the UUK proposal.

“ETUCE stands firmly at your side in the fight for high quality education for all. Decent social benefits for the work of those who dedicate their life to the education of students is the cornerstone of a sustainable and effective education system,” the letter underlines.

The ETUCE stresses that the governance of higher education institutions should be based on principles that secure that academic rationales at all times prevail over political or economic pressure from external forces, such as national governments and/or economic/financial interests.

The letter recalls that effective social dialogue with education trade unions, collegial governance, peer review and involvement of staff and students in collaborative and democratic governance has proven to fulfil this principle.

Flocken cautions that “The practice of many countries shows that poor working conditions in education, including social benefits such as pensions, inevitably lead to the unattractiveness of the profession and shortages in qualified education personnel.”

More information is available here