Strike dates announced for Cambridge dons

Michael Yoganayagam - Deputy News Editor 10 March 2011

Cambridge academics could go on strike on 22nd and 24th March, as part of a UK-wide campaign of industrial action by the University and College Union (UCU) in protest at proposed changes to the national academics’ pension scheme.

In total, UCU members at 63 out of the 67 UK universities balloted voted in favour of strike action, including the Universities of both Oxford and Cambridge.

In Cambridge, of 649 ballot papers mailed, 235 valid papers were returned by branch members. 57% were in favour of strike action, versus 65% support across the country.

The changes proposed to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the national final salary occupational pension scheme for academic and related staff, are due to come into force on 1st April.

They include making current members a greater proportion of their salary into the scheme, while employers’ contributions are frozen at their current percentage, despite the scheme being in surplus at its last valuation in 2008.

In addition, the pension received by new members will no longer be calculated on members’ final salary upon retirement, but rather the typically lower ‘career average revalued earnings’.

Employers have also proposed raising the retirement age and linking the pension to a lower measure of inflation, leading to a real terms decline of payments. 

A report published by Stephen Cowley and Susan Cooper, maths professors at Cambridge and Oxford respectively, says that current members of USS will lose up to £9700 of their annual pension, and new and rejoining members could lose up to £27,850.

The UCU General Secretary, Sally Hunt, has written to the Employers Pension Forum (EPF) – the body which negotiates on the USS pension scheme on behalf of the employers – to request urgent talks through the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), to resolve the dispute.

Brian Cantor, chair of the EPF, has refused the offer, saying: “We are not persuaded that it is appropriate to re-open formal negotiations, even with the involvement of Acas”.

If negotiations fail, this would be the first national strike action in universities for five years. Strike action would take place in Scottish universities on Thursday 17 March, in Wales on Friday 18 March, in Northern Ireland on Monday 21 March and in England on Tuesday 22 March. A UK-wide day of action would then take place on Thursday 24 March.

This would mean Cambridge academics would strike outside of Full Term, which ends on 18th March.

Cambridge UCU is meeting next Tuesday to plan and organise the strikes. In previous disputes with the University in 2004 and 2006, academics have set up a picket line on the Downing Site.

David Goode, Vice-President of Cambridge UCU told The Cambridge Student: “Industrial action, especially strike action, is always a last resort, and deciding to take it is not a decision our members took lightly. We would rather see a negotiated settlement, which is clearly in everyone’s interests: students, staff, and the sector as a whole.”

UCU also balloted its members in higher education nationwide for strike action on the issue of pay and job security.

Members are being asked to accept a 0.4% pay increase for 2010/11, compared to RPI inflation in January of 5.1%. 53% of members voted to support this, and reports suggest that this action could take place at some point next term.

Michael Yoganayagam – Deputy News Editor