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Strike debate: gloves off as union and employers have their say

Images: Universities UK; University and College Union

No punches pulled as the UCU and UUK write exclusively for Research Professional News

As nationwide strikes over university pay and pensions enter their second day, leading figures on both sides of the dispute have pulled no punches in making their respective cases.

In two exclusive opinion articles written for Research Professional News, UCU general secretary Jo Grady and Universities UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis have their say on the ongoing strike action.

The UCU is taking strike action on pay and pensions at 60 UK universities. UUK represents employers in pensions negotiations, and Research Professional News will publish a third article from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which represents employers in pay talks, later today.

“On picket lines up and down the country, the mood is buoyant but the anger is palpable,” Grady writes. “Staff are understandably furious that they have been pushed to take strike action for the second time in two years in a bid to keep their pensions affordable.”

She says universities are failing to take the issue seriously, have underestimated the anger among staff, and that employers have spent months seeking to downplay the disputes.

“Employers appear to have learnt nothing from last year’s dispute and their response to these serious problems has been woefully inadequate,” Grady writes. “Unless they bring forward improved offers, then more action, involving even more members, could be on the way in coming months. They underestimate the scale of members’ anger at their peril.”

She adds that university leaders “with six-figure salaries and a handy expenses account” might not notice the latest increase in pension contributions, “but for many staff that rise makes staying in the scheme unaffordable”.

Jarvis, writing for UUK, says it is “the challenge of how to address the financial deficit in the scheme and the question of how to fairly share the increased costs” that lies at the centre of the pensions dispute

“The UCU leadership’s current ‘no detriment’ demands—that employers must pick up all the increased costs of the scheme rather than them being shared—are unacceptable and unaffordable for the vast majority of employers,” he writes.

“Maintaining benefits at current levels has been one of UCU’s key demands, and employers have listened: agreeing to a rise in contributions—for both employers and scheme members—to preserve retirement benefits in their current form,” he adds.

Rather than continuing with strike action, Jarvis urges the union’s leadership “focus its efforts on reaching a joint and fair solution—and to working together on future reforms”, saying that it is “is in the best interests of all our staff and students that this dispute is resolved as soon as possible”.