Dr Sam James described "a generally painful moral situation"Daniel Gayne

Around 800 University staff members will strike for 14 days in February in protest against changes to university staff pensions.

The Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) confirmed today that the two weeks of escalating strike action will take place in 61 universities nationwide, including the University of Cambridge.

The strike action will take place over a four-week period, beginning with a five-day walkout from Thursday, 22nd February to Wednesday, 28th February. The following two weeks will see four-day and five-day walkouts, respectively. The action will take place alongside action ‘short of a strike’, such as academics refusing to cover or reschedule lectures lost on strike days.

Lectures taught or covered by non-union members or those not on strike will go ahead during the period of industrial action, as well as any college-based teaching such as supervisions. Because college teaching officers are paid by individual Cambridge colleges which do not have a stake in national negotiations, union members are only legally capable of withdrawing their labour from their teaching and research paid for by the university.

The UCU confirmation of strike action follows the results of a nationwide ballot, in which 89.4% of Cambridge UCU members voted in support of industrial action over pension reforms, mirroring a national result of 88.1%.

The UCU called for widespread industrial action, with the support of UCU members reflected in the ballot results, after national-level talks with the employers’ representatives Universities UK (UUK) stalled last Monday.

The strikes concern a pension dispute with UUK, which proposed in November to replace ‘defined benefit’ pension schemes with ‘defined contribution’ pension schemes for incomes under £55,000. Unlike ‘defined benefit’ schemes which provide a guaranteed income upon retirement, the value of ‘defined contribution’ schemes will depend on returns from underlying investments in the stock market.

The UUK argues that such a proposal is necessary in order to lessen a £12.5bn shortfall in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the pension scheme for staff at pre-1992 universities. However, the UCU disputes the cited deficit, deeming it overly pessimistic, and says that the end to defined benefit schemes would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off upon retirement.


Mountain View

Staff prepare to strike after pension talks fall apart

The Cambridge UCU told Varsity that they are “optimistic” that a nationwide strike will prevent the implementation of ‘defined contribution’ funds for all income levels.

In a statement to Varsity, the University of Cambridge said: “The University is committed to providing all of its staff with access to the best pensions it can”. It added, “The University is considering a range of precautionary measures to minimise any disruption to its day-to-day operations.”

Varsity spoke to university staff last week on the prospect of a strike, in which Director of Studies for History at Christ’s College, Dr. Sam James, said, “I’m sure that everybody who’s striking will make every effort so that it’s not seriously damaging to students’ education”, though he noted, “it’s a very difficult balance.”

CUSU Council voted last Monday in support of a motion which backed any industrial action taken by university members, and which encouraged students to join staff on the picket line in February.