Today, (Monday 14) staff at the University of Lancaster have begun a 10 day walkout in disputes over pension cuts, pay and working conditions.
From next Monday (February 21), staff at the University of Central Lancashire will also join the strike action for a 5 day walkout regarding pay and working conditions only.
In total, UCU members at 44 universities began strike action today over pensions, whilst a further 24 will join the following week over pay and working conditions, bringing the total to 68 striking universities, equating to 50,000 staff members, with over a million impacted students.
Staff are also engaged in action short of a strike (ASOS) which involves working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues, not rescheduling classes cancelled due to strike action, or undertaking any voluntary activities.
A spokesperson for Lancaster University said: "Staff across the University are taking steps to try to ensure there is as little disruption as possible for students during this time. As not all staff are members of the staff union the impact of the strike will be varied across different parts of the University. Where disruption has been unavoidable we are deeply sorry.
"Departments are notifying students how they can obtain help and advice during the industrial action and those students with concerns specific to their programme should approach a member of department such as their Programme Director or Supervisor."
The action follows two separate national ballots in November 2021 – one over the recent USS pension valuation, and one over sector pay and working conditions – which saw staff at 58 universities take three days of strike action in December, but following a successful reballot over Christmas, ten more universities have joined this wave.
Strikes over pensions come as UCU says university employers refused to withdraw cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), or accept UCU’s compromise proposals which would have seen staff and employers pay slightly more to protect benefits and resolve the pension dispute.
Last week the pension scheme trustee USS confirmed UCU’s proposals are viable and implementable, but the UUK’s proposals, which will see 35% cut from the guaranteed retirement income of members, are still set to be formalised on February 22.
UCU say the second dispute is over 20% real terms pay cut over the past 12 years, unmanageable workloads, pay inequality and the use of exploitative and insecure contracts, which are "rife" across the sector.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: "The action that begins today and will eventually hit 68 universities is down to vice chancellors who have failed staff and students. They have pushed through brutal pension cuts and done nothing to address falling pay, pay inequality, the rampant use of insecure contracts and unmanageable workloads.
"Throughout these disputes, our union has offered simple solutions that would avert industrial action and benefit the sector in the long-term, but time and again employers have chosen to continue pushing staff to breaking point, all whilst the sector continues to bring in tens of billions of pounds each year. To avoid this period of industrial action all vice chancellors had to do was accept UCU’s viable pension proposals and take action over worsening pay & working conditions. That they didn’t is an abject failure of their leadership.
"Students are standing by our members because they know that staff working conditions are their learning conditions. And they know that this sector, which is awash with money, can afford to treat its staff with dignity. As ten days of action begins today vice chancellors need to urgently get around the table and help UCU resolve these disputes."
To resolve the pension dispute UCU is demanding employers revoke the cuts to staff pensions and formally accept the union’s compromise proposal, whilst to resolve the pay & working conditions dispute UCU is demanding a £2.5k pay increase for all staff, as well as action to tackle unmanageable workloads, pay inequality and the use of insecure and exploitative contracts
The union says universities can "more than afford" to meet the demands of staff with university finance figures, from 2019/20, showing total income across the sector was £41.9bn with reserves of £46.8bn.
The final day of strike action in week 3 has been called to coincide with the student strike on Wednesday 2 March, organised by the National Union of Students (NUS), who are supporting UCU’s industrial action and demands.
The full strike dates, with numbers of institutions involved, are:
*Week 1 (USS pension dispute only, 44 institutions): 5 days; Monday 14 to Friday 18 February
*Week 2 (both the pension and the pay & working conditions dispute, 68 institutions): 2 days; Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 February
*Week 3 (pay & working conditions dispute only, 63 institutions): 3 days; Monday 28 February, Tuesday 1 and Wednesday 2 March
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