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Lecturers threaten to strike over pension dispute

University staff have threatened to stop lecturing and marking work if employers refuse to negotiate the terms of their pensions.

Lecturers at 67 universities, including the University of Manchester have begun “working to contract” in an attempt to force employers to negotiate over changes to pensions, and have promised to step up their action if their demands are not heard.

Working to contract would mean lecturers refusing to work outside of their contracted hours or undertake extra duties such as voluntary meetings or uncontracted cover. A recent survey has shown that lecturers work an average 55-hour week, despite the national working time limit being set at 48 hours a week.

The industrial action comes in response to a package of changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) implemented this month. Under the new scheme, new members would be put on Career-Average, rather than Final Salary, pensions. This modification, combined with increased contributions and less protection against inflation, could make the average lecturer lose £100,000 over the course of their retirement, said the University and College Union (UCU).

The UCU has expressed opposition to the package ever since it was proposed in June 2010. 90 percent of those pension scheme members who voted opposed the changes, while an industrial action ballot saw 77 percent of union members backing a sustained action campaign.

The UCU maintains that it had hoped to avoid industrial action, and that its hand has been forced by the stubbornness of the universities. ‘The union has consistently called for a negotiated agreement, offered counter proposals and sought the assistance of Advisory, Consolation and Abitrary Service (ACAS) to try and resolve the dispute. The employers have refused to talk,’ said the union’s dispute briefing.

The UCU hopes the new tactics of working to contract will convince universities to reconsider their terms without having a detrimental impact on the students themselves. If not successful it has warned that rolling strikes will follow, along with a boycott of student assessment, affecting up to one million students.

“Despite our best efforts to resolve this dispute, we cannot negotiate with an empty chair,” said Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary. “Our action will start today and will see thousands of UCU members at universities across the country stop going the extra mile.”

“We are keen to resolve this dispute as quickly as possible with minimal disruption and hope those universities keen to avoid unnecessary confrontation and disruption will start to apply pressure on those refusing to talk.”

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