‘UNIVERSITY LEADERS HAVE FAILED STAFF AND STUDENTS!’ says UCU trade union as ten days of strike action begin

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Students joined striking UCU staff on the picket line at Sheffield University in December

UNIVERSITY leaders have ‘failed staff and students’, the University and College Union (UCU) said today as up to ten days of strike action began at universities across the UK over devastating cuts to pensions and deteriorating pay and working conditions.

Staff at 44 universities walked out today after university employers refused to withdraw cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) or accept UCU’s compromise proposals which would have seen staff and employers pay slightly more to protect benefits and resolve the pension dispute.
Last week, the pension scheme trustee USS, which runs the scheme, confirmed UCU’s proposals are viable and implementable. Universities UK’s (UUK’s) proposals, which will see 35% cut from the guaranteed retirement income of members, are set to be formalised on Tuesday 22 February.
Next Monday (21 February) strike action over pay and working conditions will also start with 24 further universities joining the action, bringing the overall total to 68 universities.
This dispute is over a 20% real terms pay cut over the past 12 years, unmanageable workloads, pay inequality and the use of exploitative and insecure contracts, which are rife across the sector.
Altogether, more than 50,000 staff are expected to walk out, with well over a million students set to be impacted.
The full strike dates, with numbers of institutions involved, are:

  • Week 1 (USS pension dispute only, 44 institutions): 5 days; Monday 14 to Friday 18 February.
  • Week 2 (both the pension and the pay and working conditions dispute, 68 institutions): 2 days; Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 February.
  • Week 3 (pay and working conditions dispute only, 63 institutions): 3 days; Monday 28 February, Tuesday 1 and Wednesday 2 March.

The final day of strike action in week three has been called to coincide with the student strike on Wednesday 2 March, organised by the National Union of Students (NUS). The NUS is supporting UCU’s industrial action and is calling for better working conditions, pay and pensions for staff.
Staff are also engaged in action short of a strike (ASOS) which involves working strictly to contract, not covering for absent colleagues, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action, or undertaking any voluntary activities.
In retaliation, employer representatives have authorised bosses to withhold the pay of staff taking ASOS. Six universities are claiming they will deduct 100%. UCU has warned that this may lead to even more strikes being called.
To resolve the pension dispute UCU is demanding employers revoke the cuts to staff pensions and formally accept the union’s compromise proposals.
To resolve the pay and working conditions dispute UCU is demanding a £2,5000 pay increase for all staff, as well as action to tackle unmanageable workloads, pay inequality and the use of insecure and exploitative contracts.
In December, 2021, staff at 58 universities took three days of strike action.
Following a successful reballot over Christmas, staff at ten more universities will join this latest wave of strikes.
The union said universities can more than afford to meet the demands of staff. University finance figures, from 2019/20, show total income across the sector was £41.9bn with reserves of £46.8bn.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: ‘The action that begins today and will eventually hit 68 universities is down to vice-chancellors who have failed staff and students.
‘They have pushed through brutal pension cuts and done nothing to address falling pay, pay inequality, the rampant use of insecure contracts and unmanageable workloads.
‘It is outrageous that when they should be trying to resolve this dispute, employer representatives have instead been finding new ways to deduct pay from university workers. Rather than punishing their workforce, these so-called leaders need to look in the mirror and ask why students support staff taking strike action and why their own workforce is so demoralised.
‘Throughout these disputes, our union has offered simple solutions that would avert industrial action and benefit the sector in the long-term, but time and again employers have chosen to continue pushing staff to breaking point, while the sector continues to bring in tens of billions of pounds each year.
‘To avoid this period of industrial action all vice-chancellors had to do was accept UCU’s viable pension proposals and take action over worsening pay and working conditions. That they didn’t is an abject failure of their leadership.
‘Students are standing by our members because they know university staff are overworked and underpaid. And they know that this sector, which is awash with money, can afford to treat its workers with dignity.
‘As ten days of action begins today vice-chancellors urgently need to get around the table and help UCU resolve these disputes.’

  • More than 500 families have signed an open letter demanding improved support for children with special needs.

The Worcestershire group accused local care providers of ‘delaying tactics, unlawful practices and treating parents and carers as adversaries’.
Concerns about the county’s services for children with special education needs and disabilities (SEND) were raised during a recent Ofsted review.
Worcestershire County Council admitted it had ‘not been getting it right’.
Ofsted’s latest inspection with the Care Quality Commission (CQC) found that, despite many improvements, Worcestershire Children’s First (WCF) – owned by the council – was still failing families in key areas.
In recent months, several senior staff have resigned and the organisation has apologised to the affected families and promised to make improvements.
Representing 512 families, Worcestershire SEND Crisis Action wrote to the education and health secretaries as well as the chief inspector of Ofsted to say they still have no faith in WCF.
Tracy Winchester’s son Rowan, who is 10, has a variety of complex needs. Her daughter Maive, aged 7, is autistic.
Both suffer from severe anxiety, which has been exacerbated by the long battle the family has fought to get the right support.
In the past year, they have both been found settings where they are making progress. It has been an incredibly stressful experience, Winchester said – she is not alone.
‘I run a support group for parents of autistic children and if anything now it’s worse than it’s ever been,’ she said.
Winchester lives in Bromsgrove – where support for children like Rowan and Maive is provided by WCF. The company was set up after a damning inspection into the county’s provision for SEND published in 2018 which found 12 areas of significant weakness.
A reinspection in November last year found improvements in eight areas, but said more needed to be done in four.
In particular, it highlighted the fragile relationships with parents and carers and the lack of the provision of adequate care plans.