Open University staff protest over ‘devastating’ 35% cut on guaranteed retirement income

  • Three weeks of protests by university staff in Manchester
  • More than 60 universities protest against decision by employer body, Universities UK, to cut pensions

University lecturers says cuts to their pension scheme would see a 35% cut to a guaranteed retirement income.

Protests against the decision by Universities UK also include a pay dispute, workload, casualisation and equality within the workplace.

University leaders have refused to withdraw the cuts to the universities superannuation scheme (USS) or accept University and College Union’s compromise proposals which would have seen employers pay slightly more to protect benefits and end the pension dispute.

Tom Saunders, an Open University associate lecturer and UCU branch rep, said: “There is a deep sense that higher education employers are destroying the sector with its sustained attack on our pay and conditions, and through the wholesale marketisation and commodification of education.

“There has been widespread support for the industrial action and we reached the legal threshold to strike in both the pension and four fights disputes.

“I’m hoping the industrial action will be effective and force the employers to back down.

“It would be great if we win all our demands outright, but this probably won’t happen unless we escalate the strike action and put sustained pressure on them to properly negotiate and compromise in good faith. 

“This hasn’t been the case in this lengthy dispute.”

Further disruption can be expected if University members do not reach satisfactory outcome. Credit: James Sumner / @JamesBSumner on Twitter
Further disruption can be expected if university members do not receive satisfaction Credit: James Sumner / @JamesBSumner on Twitter

Open University members are protesting at the student recruitment and support centre in Sharston, in solidarity with UCU members across the country.

However, the three weeks of strikes over the pensions and four fights (pay, workload, casualisation and equality) disputes are split up with only two days of joint strikes.

Saunders said: “In my opinion, as well as many fellow UCU members, the delinking of the two disputes (pensions and the four fights) was wrong and has limited the impact of the strike action.

“It would be much better to strike and fight together.

“Manchester has many HE institutions affected by this dispute and one of the densest concentrations of students in the country.

“When we strike together with the support of students, we are a very powerful force.

“I’m looking forward to 2 March when all UCU strikers in Manchester from the different institutions will join up with students in a day of solidarity. I just hope it doesn’t rain!”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “The USS pension trustee has now confirmed that UCU’s proposals are both viable and implementable.

‘As it pledged last week, Universities UK must now urgently consult employers and seek their agreement.

UUK say the cuts are essential because of a valuation of the pension scheme conducted as markets crashed in March 2020 due to the pandemic.

However, in the two years since this valuation, assets have reached an unprecedented level of over £92bn, more than £25bn higher than the previous valuation. UCU says, the ‘”employers’ justification for the cuts has now evaporated”.