Many of our lecturers have voted to go on strike to challenge changes to their pension benefits. UCU (University and College Union) Bristol announced over 90% support in their ballot for industrial action.
This dispute comes after Universities UK proposed to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation (USS) pension scheme, which could cost the average lecturer over £10,000 a year in retirement. Strike action has been taken as the last resort.
We believe that fairly rewarded staff are the cornerstone of the university experience and in the past our students have voted to support strikes over pension disputes. This time round the strike is significantly longer than it has been in the past, with 14 days of striking announced. This will have an impact on students, but we still believe that it is vital that we continue to support our lecturers, as well as our Postgraduate students who teach, by supporting this strike.
Strikes are planned for the following days:
Week 1 - Thursday 22nd - Friday 23rd February
Week 2 - Monday 26th - Wednesday 28th February
Week 3 - Monday 5th - Thursday 8th March
Week 4 - Monday 12th - Friday 16th March
In addition to this, many staff will be taking “action short of a strike”, e.g. refusing to do any work beyond that required to fulfil their contract.
The university has told staff that anyone on strike will lose 100% of their pay for the days they are not working, and any staff who take “action short of a strike” will be docked 25% of their pay, despite the fact that they will continue to come to work.
We put out a google form to consult with students on this issue (to gather their views on what they think about the strike and how they feel it will impact them/people on their course). We released this google form through our Education Network and Postgraduate Network groups.
After reviewing the feedback from students, we found that 78% of respondents were either completely in support of the strike, or supportive of the strike with concerns about the impact it will have on their studies, understandably. We strongly believe that the money the university saves from forgone salaries should be re-invested in the student interest, as UCU has requested in the past, and as did the majority of respondents. When we asked students where they think this money should be spent, most students suggested mental health and wellbeing services. We do not believe that we should be requesting refunds of student fees as this feeds into the marketisation of higher education narrative and we have active policy to fight this.
Meanwhile, I sit on a committee at the university where we meet weekly to track what is going on with the strike and to understand how students will be impacted. I have also attended Senate and other meetings and have been keeping track of the conversations going on nationally between UCU and Universities UK (UUK) and locally between the Bristol branch of UCU and the University.
There will also be a motion at our Annual Members Meeting (AMM) to debate the renewing of policy that supports future UCU strikes. More details on this will follow from our democracy team.
Mason Ammar, Undergraduate Education Officer