UK: higher education personnel full steam ahead to protect social benefits and decent pensions

Thousands of university staff have taken part in the biggest strike the UK higher education sector has ever seen, and successfully brought employers to the table for negotiations on social benefits.

Education International affiliate in the UK, the University and College Union (UCU), at the centre of the fight against the end of guaranteed pension benefits in the British higher education sector, has managed to get the university employers association to agree to negotiations through the national arbitration and conciliation body (ACAS). The discussions begin on 5 March.

Entering into talks to try and end strike action affecting 61 universities

The UCU said it was pleased that Universities UK (UUK) had agreed to further talks to try and end the strike action currently affecting 61 universities. “For our part, we are committed to resolving the dispute and welcome the opportunity to negotiate. We believe that negotiations should continue until we reach agreement,” the education union underlined.

The first phase of UCU’s strike action induced ACAS to get involved in trying to resolve the dispute. The upcoming week will be critical in the effort to save educators’ pensions. The strike action will continue. Staff were on strike on 28 February, and will be on strike on 5 March. This initial wave of 14 days of strikes will then conclude with a five-day walkout from 12-16 March.

UCU proposals

In the talks, UCU tabled a set of proposals it said it believed could resolve the dispute. The union explained that its proposals were drawn from both its members' demands and ideas put forward by many university vice-chancellors. It further insisted that its plans would provide a guaranteed pension for members of the USS at approximately half the extra cost attributed to the union's previous proposal. Also the wide-ranging agreement it proposes addresses the short-term concerns of its members about the current pension cuts and long-term issues with regard to the future of the fund.

No to punishment of  university staff

The UCU, however, warned that “universities looking to exploit the law to withhold large sums of money from staff involved in industrial action are storing up problems for the future and could prolong strike action”.

“Action short of a strike highlights just how much universities rely on the goodwill of their staff who go the extra mile. Universities will need that goodwill when this dispute is all over, so it seems foolish to find ways now to maximise the punishment of their staff,” UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt noted.

Wide support from global education community

Educators worldwide, and especially from Europe, show support to their UK colleagues.

“If the governments want to preserve the profession, they should start moving from rhetoric to concrete actions. Teachers and education personnel all over the European region want to see the governments’ commitment to give more support to teachers in practice and not only on paper”, stressed Susan Flocken, Director of EI European region, the European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE).

In her support letter dated 12 February and sent to UCU, she had already firmly asserted that “ETUCE stands firmly at your side in the fight for high quality education for all. Decent social benefits for the work of those who dedicate their life to the education of students is the cornerstone of a sustainable and effective education system.”

You can listen to the RadioLabour special report on the UCU strike here

To show solidarity with UCU on twitter, please use @ucu and #ucustrike.

You can also learn more about UCU strike fighting fund here

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