University staff to strike over pensions row

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) at the University of Leeds will walk out on Thursday as a wave of strikes hits 64 universities across the UK in a row over pensions.

The University of Leeds.
The University of Leeds.

Striking staff will protest on picket lines at all entrances to the university from 8am, including the landmark Parkinson Steps entrance to the Parkinson Building.

On Thursday and Friday strikers will set off from there at 12pm and march to Victoria Gardens on the Headrow by Leeds Art Gallery for a 12:30pm rally.

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Speakers at the rally on Thursday will include staff from the University of Leeds and the president of Leeds TUC Jane Aitchison.

On Friday they will be joined by Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel, who has vowed not to cross a picket line during the strike

The university is among 64 institutions, including Sheffield, Hull and York, that will be hit with 14 days of strikes over the next four weeks if the dispute over changes to staff pensions is not resolved.

The full strike dates are:

Week one – Thursday, February 22 and Friday 23

Week two – Monday, February 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28

Week three – Monday March 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8

Week four – Monday, March 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16

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.

The universities’ representatives – Universities UK (UUK) – are seeking to push through the changes and have refused to negotiate with UCU, according to the union.

The union says this has left it with no alternative but to strike and it is asking students to get their vice-chancellors to put pressure on UUK to return to the negotiating table.

In the recent strike ballot UCU members overwhelmingly backed industrial action. Overall, 88 per cent of members who voted backed strike action. The turnout was 58 per cent. Locally, 87 per cent of UCU members at Leeds who voted backed strike action on a turnout of 55 per cent.

UCU rep at the University of Leeds Vicky Blake said: "Nobody wants to take strike action, we feel we have no choice. These hardline proposals would slash staff pensions and are simply uncalled for.

"It is staggering that the universities have refused to engage with the union and a real insult to staff and to students. We hope students will continue to put pressure on the vice-chancellors to get their reps back round the negotiating table."

Leeds North West MP Alex Sobel said: "Hundreds of thousands of students at the University of Leeds and across the country are having their studies disrupted because universities plan to end the defined-benefit pension scheme for staff, and those staff, understandably, don’t want that to happen.

"I won’t cross a picket line and I applaud my Labour colleague Lucy Powell MP for pulling out of an event she was due to attend during the strike at the University of Manchester.

"I urge all the universities to get back around the table and commit to maintaining a good pensions scheme for their employees so the staff here can get back to their excellent, world-class teaching and research."

A University of Leeds spokesperson said: “While only a minority of our staff are members of the UCU, we are planning for every eventuality, and our priority is to minimise any disruption to students, including through asking striking staff to reschedule their teaching.

There is a general consensus about the need to tackle the pension deficit – which is in the billions – and doing so now gives us a better chance of delivering a scheme that is sustainable and stable, as well as valued and fair, particularly to younger staff. We already make a standard contributes to staff pensions of 18 per cent of salary and this will continue under the proposed reforms.”