Strikes could be suspended from tomorrow following resolution to pensions row

By Cameron McIntosh

The ongoing strike of Durham University academics could be suspended from Wednesday after a provisional agreement was struck over proposed pension cuts.

Breakthrough talks between Universities UK (UUK) and the University and College Union (UCU) have provided fresh hope that a resolution to the strike action can be found. However, thousands of members have called for the deal to be rejected.

An open letter rejecting the proposals states: “The current agreement kicks a serious solution to the pension dispute in the long grass, committing to a three-year process of re-evaluation. It further does so at the very moment we are strongest and able to force a more decisive victory.

Widespread disruption to the teaching timetable prompted over 5,000 Durham students to demand compensation for lost contact hours, amid the fourth week of industrial action by the UCU. Further disruption to the examination period was also threatened by strikes.

The agreement – to be debated and voted on at a meeting of union officials today – entails a three-year interim deal to come into effect from April next year. It will require employers to increase pensions contributions to 19.3% of salary, in conjunction with a rise in members’ contributions to 8.7%. This temporary arrangement will provide time for a long-term solution to be found.

However, a number of UCU branches and members have taken to social media to voice their opposition to the proposals, urging their leaders to reject the offer reached following six days of conciliation talks at Acas.

An open letter addressed to the national leadership of the UCU, signed by over 5,200 people, states: “The current agreement kicks a serious solution to the pension dispute in the long grass, committing to a three-year process of re-evaluation. It further does so at the very moment we are strongest and able to force a more decisive victory.

“The employers’ valuation has been demonstrated to be bogus, yet the UCU leadership is now accepting to increase our contribution while we re-evaluate. Employers’ contribution however will rise by only 1.3%.

“In three years time we will be demobilised and pressured to accept a worse deal. In our opinion we should keep going and throw UUK’s offer out all together.

“Furthermore, the UCU is effectively calling on us to both reschedule as well as calling off the action before having put it to the membership, two positions that are absolutely unacceptable.”

A statement from the UCU said: “Both parties agreed to a transitional benefit arrangement outcome for this valuation which maintains a meaningful level of defined benefits (DB) for all scheme members. The transitional arrangement will take effect from 1 April 2019 lasting for 3 years.

“The agreement on benefits noted above is transitional for the period of this valuation (from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2022). Recognising this both UCU and UUK agree to work together to explore alternative options for the future of the scheme.”

It concluded: “The work outlined above demonstrates a commitment by both parties to work together and avoid damaging disputes in the future.”

The umbrella organisation UUK, at the heart of the pensions dispute, issued a public statement on Twitter to welcome the progress: “An agreement has been reached between Universities UK (UUK) and the University and College Union (UCU) under the auspices of Acas following six days of talks. UUK is now consulting with Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) employers about a revised mandate for a forthcoming joint negotiating committee on Wednesday 14 March.”

A meeting of union officials is expected to take place later today and, should the interim proposals be sanctioned, the strikes could be suspended from tomorrow.

Photograph: Chris Bertram via Flickr

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