Lancaster University pensions strike to start this week

Lancaster University. STOCK IMAGE.
Lancaster University. STOCK IMAGE.

Staff at Lancaster University are due to stage 14 days of escalating strikes, including a five day walkout starting this week, in a row over pensions.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) will walk out on Thursday February 22 as a wave of strikes hits 64 universities across the UK.

Students at Lancaster University. STOCK IMAGE.

Students at Lancaster University. STOCK IMAGE.

The strike will be the biggest ever seen at Lancaster University, and will include lecturers, researchers, library staff, IT staff, administrators and student support staff.

The strikes will affect 13,615 students, and staff will be on picket lines from 8am, including at the main campus entrance off the A6.

Hundreds of lectures and seminars are being cancelled and students will miss crucial teaching over the stoppages.

Many have protested to the Vice Chancellor, Prof Mark. E. Smith.

The dispute centres on proposals to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme.

UCU says this would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up.

A spokesman for the union said the universities’ representatives – Universities UK (UUK) – are seeking to push through the changes and have refused to negotiate with UCU.

The union says this has left it with no alternative but to strike.

A spokeswoman for Lancaster University said that whilst it recognises the right of staff to take industrial action, student welfare and their academic progress are its top priorities. It said it is working to mitigate any negative impact on students’ education.

Some 89 per cent of UCU members at Lancaster who voted in a recent ballot backed strike action on a turnout of 73 per cent.

Julie Hearn, UCU chair at Lancaster University said: We are devastated to be forced into taking this action but we have been left with no choice given the employers’ shockingly aggressive new plan agreed on the casting vote of one man. Our staff are facing huge cuts to their pensions. The USS Pensions Board has betrayed the trust of its members by not acting in their best interests.”

Striking staff will also be holding a series of events while they are not at work.

A spokeswoman for Lancaster University said: Lancaster University recognises and shares staff concerns about the proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme and the effect these could have on the benefits that members will accrue in the future.

“The industrial action is taking place in over 60 universities across the UK in response to planned reforms to USS – the main pension scheme for many staff in those universities. While the University recognises the right of staff to take industrial action, student welfare and their academic progress are the University’s top priorities. Not all staff are members of the UCU and not all members may choose to strike – this means the impact of the strike is likely to vary in different parts of the University at different times. Colleagues across the University are working to mitigate any negative impact on students’ education.

We have no reason to believe, at this stage, that any graduations will be delayed or that the action will prevent students completing their programmes of study.

USS is one of the largest private pension schemes in the UK and is currently in significant deficit due to rising costs of the scheme and changes are needed to address this. As employers, universities pay a contribution into the scheme of 18% - one of the most generous rates of any sector – and there is no proposal to cut this and universities are not seeking to make any financial savings here. To address the rising costs, proposals have been made to change pension benefits by Universities UK (UUK), a body representing all higher education institutions who are employers in the USS scheme. The lecturers, represented by the staff union UCU, have also made a proposal. The two parties unfortunately could not, within the time allocated for the formal national negotiation process, reach a consensus on the benefits changes.

Although formally these national negotiations have finished, Lancaster continues to work to see what further flexibility may be possible. Any decision to start negotiations again would require the majority of universities to agree and even then there is a high risk that the process will not conclude by the date required by the Pensions Regulator, which would then likely result in a much worse settlement for all parties.

We are doing everything we can to support staff to meaningfully engage with the USS consultation process, including the commissioning of expert support and advice to help individuals understand the actual impact of the proposals on them.

However for this to be successful, movement will be required in the UCU position, particularly as they have to convince not only the universities, but more importantly also the independent Pensions Regulator and the USS Trustee (its Board) who ultimately make the decision on the pension benefits and costs that any solution is affordable. The University has tried to engage with the Lancaster branch of the Union in regards to the planned industrial action on several occasions and continues to maintain our strong track record of partnership working.”

PROGRAMME OF EVENTS

Thursday 22 February

What is a strike anyway?

Learn more about industrial action and how it has made a difference

2pm Gregson Centre

Friday 23 February

Alternative research methods

Trial alternative research methods in an interactive workshop with the Lancaster Environment Centre

1pm Gregson Centre

Monday 26 February

Walk it out

Lunchtime walking talk about the future of higher education

12:30pm Pavilion Café, Williamson Park

Pensions, pay and protest

What are pensions? How can we protect them? Why does it all matter?

2pm Gregson Centre

Tuesday 27 February

Universities Inc.

Sociology professor Bob Jessop explores the “financialisation of universities”

2pm Gregson Centre

Wednesday 28 February

Women decolonise the curriculum

Women from across the university will look at how to rethink what and how we teach and learn.

2pm Gregson Centre

Music and arguments

Heated discussion shouting over the Clougha Mountain Bluegrass Band

9pm Three Mariners Pub