Durham academics vote to strike for up to two weeks over pensions dispute

By Cameron McIntosh

Durham students could face major disruption next month after staff at the University voted to strike over proposed changes to their pension schemes.

Durham is among 61 British universities that will face up to 14 days of strike action from the 22nd February if the dispute over pensions cannot be resolved.

A ballot presented to Durham’s teaching staff by the University and College Union (UCU) resulted in 88% approval for strike action and 93% support for other forms of industrial action, with a 57% turnout of academic staff. These figures matched the average across 61 British universities, which includes Oxford, Cambridge and Imperial College London. In total, strike action was approved by 21,685 UCU members nationwide.

Industrial action is planned to begin with a staged two-day walkout on February 22 and 23. The UCU then plans on striking in blocks of up to five days, alongside actions short of a strike, such as lecturers refusing to reschedule classes or provide cover.

The dispute is over proposed changes to pensions for University staff, which could result in lecturers losing as much as £200,000 in retirement. The Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) currently guarantees a defined income in retirement, however, the new plans set out by Universities UK (UUK) would make pensions subject to changes in the stock market.

General Secretary of the UCU, Sally Hunt, said: “UCU members have made it quite clear that they are prepared to take sustained strike action to defend their pensions.

“USS already offers worse benefits than other schemes available in universities, and UUK’s proposals would make matters worse. I hope more vice-chancellors will pressure their negotiators to work with us to resolve the matter without strike action.”

A joint negotiating committee comprised of five union delegates and five representatives from Universities UK was assembled on Tuesday for resolution talks. However, according to the UCU, the committee was deadlocked, with five votes cast for and five against the pension changes. The Chairman cast the deciding vote to back the new proposals, which has increased the likelihood of strike action.

A spokesperson for Universities UK said the new ruling was “made in the best interests of university staff, to put USS on a sustainable footing for the long term.”

“The scheme will continue to offer attractive pensions, through market-leading defined contribution benefits” she added.

Durham University Labour Club (DULC) issued a statement of support for those involved: “DULC would like to express our solidarity with all staff members affected by these changes and we hope that Universities will work with the UCU to reach an agreement that protects the pensions of University staff. We hope that Durham students will join us in expressing solidarity and supporting the planned strike action.”

Photograph: Nick Efford Via Flickr 

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