BREAKING: Strikes to be suspended as UCU members vote “Yes” to new proposals

Image credit: Sophie Laura Weymes-McElderry

A record number of University College Union (UCU) members have voted to accept the current proposals in the long running pension dispute, leading to strikes being suspended and the creation of joint expert panels alongside Universities UK (UUK) to review the previous Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) valuation.

The national ballot saw a record turnout, with over 60% of current members casting their vote. The result swung overwhelming in favour of “Yes”, with only 36% of voters choosing to reject the UUK offer.

The result means that further strikes, due to start next week and planned to last over the exam season into June, will no longer go ahead. However, UCU will keep its strike mandate live as a precaution until the discussion process has been completed.

Strike action took place following UUK’s proposals to cut the Defined Benefit pension for members of the USS, a move which UCU said could see a typical scheme member losing around £10,000 a year in their retirement. 14 days of strikes took place over 65 universities, with numerous proposals set forth by UUK over the course of action.

As well as setting up a joint expert panel to review the Universities Superannuation Scheme, universities have also stated that they do not intend to return to their original proposals to end the guaranteed pension, and have made a clear commitment to supporting Defined Benefits and other issues raised by UCU. UCU and UUK will now jointly present the plans to the USS Board and the Pensions Regulator, with the agreement between the two expected to meet a warm welcome.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Members have participated in record numbers in the consultation, with a clear majority voting to accept the proposals. The union has come a very long way since January when it seemed that the employers’ proposals for a defined contribution pension were to be imposed.

“Now we have agreement to move forward jointly, looking again at the USS valuation alongside a commitment from the employers to a guaranteed, defined benefit scheme. USS, the regulator and government now need to ensure that UCU and UUK have the space to implement the agreement effectively.

“We hope this important agreement will hearten workers across the UK fighting to defend their pension rights and was won through the amazing strike action of UCU members.

“UCU has more work to do to ensure that the agreement delivers the security in retirement that university staff deserve. On behalf of all UCU members I want to say thank you to students and other staff for their inspiring support throughout the dispute.”

Cambridge Defend Education have stated the following in the wake of the news: we are "disappointed that members of UCU have voted nationally to accept the proposed deal. The result of the vote does not match the stance of the Cambridge UCU branch committee, which recommended a “No” vote based on the deal’s failure to provide even the most minimal assurances for staff pensions after April 2019.

"We recognize that the pensions dispute is not yet settled. We hope that the steps UCU leadership will now take to reach an agreement with UUK on an acceptable Defined Benefit pension are successful, but we are under no illusion that the dispute about staff pensions will go away. We will continue to stand with our staff as they fight for fair, secure, and dignified employment. We appreciate the sacrifices that staff have made over the 14 days of strike action and hold them in no way accountable for the disruption caused in their efforts to secure a fair pension deal.

"We remain immensely proud of the incredible staff and student solidarity that emerged as a result of industrial strike action. This was never just about pensions. The attack on pensions was part of the wider project of turning education into the business of profit, and the strength of opposition to these cuts demonstrates that students and staff will not take the marketisation of our universities lying down.

"We welcome the wider engagement over the past term from the student body in support of education as a right, rather than a privilege. We look forward to seeing this continue in the future."

This article was updated to include the statement from CDE.

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