Pay and pensions may be the immediate reasons behind the current academic strike action. But the wider context of marketisation is impossible to ignoreby Heather Connolly / November 25, 2019 / Leave a comment
Eight days of strike action announced by academics will run November 25 until December 4. After that, industrial action will continue with academics working to contract—this means they will be unable to cover for absent colleagues or reschedule lectures lost to strike action.
The universities affected include many of the biggest and most prestigious institutions in the UK. And the action comes less than two years after tens of thousands of workers walked out over changes to their pensions, striking for 14 days in 2018 in a wave of action on 65 British campuses.
Why are academics striking?
The dispute over changes to the universities pension scheme (known as the USS) is still unresolved meaning that academic staff still face cuts that could leave them significantly worse off in retirement.
During the last round of action in February and March 2018, 65 universities voted in favour of strike action in the USS dispute. And the resulting strikes saw the University and College Union (UCU) succeed in forcing employers to drop plans to change pensions at universities established before 1992.
The change would have moved academics’ pensions from a “defined benefit” scheme to a less favourable “defined contribution” scheme. In brief, “defined benefit” schemes are based on your salary and how long you’ve worked for your employer. Whereas “defined contribution” schemes depend on investments or how much has been paid in – and are therefore less secure.
Universities UK, the umbrella group for UK universities that manages the pension scheme, claims the change is needed because there is not enough money to make the scheme financially viable.
In August 2019, universities pushed through plans to make members pay 9.6 per cent of their salary into their USS pension. Employers argue that higher contributions are needed to meet increasing costs of the scheme. But a Joint Expert Panel report argued that employers should reevaluate their attitude to risk and dispute the USS valuation of contributions. The union is now challenging the size of staff contributions—currently at 8.8 per cent—which it thinks should be capped at 8 per cent of a lecturer’s salary.
On top of the pensions dispute, university workers in 2019 are also striking over pay, equality, casualisation and workload. Following the most recent ballot, staff at 43 universities will…