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Pensions row could cause further strikes

ByJoshua Stein

Oct 7, 2014

A disagreement over pensions could lead to strikes by UK academics, the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) has warned.

The UCU, the largest trade union for academics in the UK, announced last week that it was balloting members over an exams boycott.

This boycott would be carried out over alterations to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), a pension scheme which covers staff at a number of UK universities, including members of the Russell Group.

The strike could result in students’ coursework and exams not being marked.

Staff at 67 universities, including the University of Edinburgh, will vote over whether the marking boycott should go ahead and a veto on marking exams is also being considered.

Speaking to The Student, Mary Senior, Scotland Official for the UCU, said: “It is clear that what is being proposed will lead to members losing tens of thousands of pounds.”

Senior added: “Rightly staff see their pensions as deferred pay and it’s essential to find a solution that protects the pensions of staff and ensures the pension scheme remains attractive to new members.”

The UCU released results of a study last week which claimed that a 40 year old academic earning £75,000 per annum would lose up to £230,000 in total under the new proposals.

The study also claimed that universities were looking to end the current final salary pension scheme, a change that would introduce a £40,000 earnings cap on benefit entitlements.

According to figures by the UCU, academics who had been rewarded with a pay rise recently would be worst hit by the proposed changes.

The UCU announced earlier this year that university Vice-Chancellors across the UK had experienced a pay rise of around £20,000 on average, whilst staff wages have dropped by an average of 13 per cent over the last five years.

A spokesperson for The University of Edinburgh told The Student: “If action is taken, the University will do all it reasonably can to ensure that academic and support activities continue to operate as usual”.

The Employers Pension Forum, an organisation set up by higher education institutions to discuss pension issues in the sector, has responded by saying that reforms are required.

A spokesperson for the Employers Pension Fund said: “Reform is necessary to address the sizeable and continuing deficit in USS.

“The employer’s objective is for the scheme to remain affordable attractive and sustainable for both employees and employers, while addressing the deficit and reducing the risk of future contribution increases.”

Strikes were planned for earlier this year, once again due to proposed changes to academics’ pensions alongside the rejection of pay rises of one per cent by academics across the UK who claimed that their pay had decreased by up to 13 per cent since 2009.

However, they were called off after last-minute talks between academics’ unions and employers.

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