University of St Andrews staff may take 14 day strike action after the University and College Union (UCU) members voted that they were prepared to take industrial action against pension cuts.

The days of action are set to take place during February and March after the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) announced pension cuts.

The cuts to USS could result in lecturers losing up to £10,000 per annum on their pension scheme.

Nine Scottish universities will be affected during these protests, including the University of St Andrews, Edinburgh, and Glasgow.

A total 61 UK universities could see teaching disrupted.

Strike action has been planned by the UCU on the following days.

 

February

Thursday 22

Friday 23

Monday 26

Tuesday 27

Wednesday 28

March

Monday 5

Tuesday 6

Wednesday 7

Thursday 8

Monday 12

Tuesday 13

 

So far, it is unclear how many University of St Andrews staff will participate and for how long.

Members of the UCU at the University held a vote on the possibility of strike action earlier this month.

UCU Ballot

Out of the 278 of 437 UCU members of the University who voted, 90.9 per cent said they were “prepared to take industrial action consisting of strike action.”

When asked if they were prepared to take industrial action consisting of action short of strike action, 95.3 per cent agreed.

On the strike action vote, 276 valid votes were cast.

251 votes were cast in favour of strike action with only 25 against.

Many staff members fear the changes announced by the USS could cost lecturers £200,000 on average over the course of their retirement.

The USS announced plans to change from defined benefit scheme, where they had a guaranteed income in retirement, to a defined contribution scheme, where their pensions are subject to stock market changes.

This comes after the scheme was reported to have a £17.5 billion deficit last year.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt spoke on why a majority of the UCU members voted that they would take action and the significance of these protests.

“Staff who have delivered the international excellence principals use to justify their own lavish pay and perks are understandably angry at efforts to slash their pensions. They feel let down by leaders who seem to care more about defending their own perks than the rights of their staff,”

Ms Hunt continued, “Strike action on this scale has not been seen before on Scottish or UK campuses, but universities need to know the full scale of the disruption they will be hit with if they refuse to sort this mess out.”

Out of the 278 of 437 UCU members of the University who voted, 90.9 per cent said they were “prepared to take industrial action consisting of strike action.” When asked if they were prepared to take industrial action consisting of action short of strike action,” 95.3 per cent agreed.

The UCU argues on their website that while the strikes could have short-term disadvantages, all involved will see long-term advantages if action is taken.

“We are a union of professionals and we know that our members don’t like taking any action that affects students …  However, when we take action, we are generally making a case for greater investment in or defence of the quality of the service we provide.”

“Undermining the strike might feel like the right thing in the short term but will only serve to encourage management and we will all suffer more in the longer term.”

The University of St Andrews, among many other institutions, will not budge or compromise on the issue at all

Elisa Walker, postgraduate representative for the UCU, criticised the University for their lack of support on these efforts.

Ms Walker said, “The University of St Andrews, among many other institutions, will not budge or compromise on the issue at all. Their unreasonable and evasive response led UCU members to vote overwhelmingly in favour of strike action in January because there simply was no other alternative left.”

Three board members of the USS are appointed by the UCU, and the University is periodically consulted about actions of the scheme.

A spokesperson for the University of St Andrews spokesperson said, “The University will do all it can to minimise any adverse impact on our students, and we hope that UCU will take a similarly responsible stance.”

The University also reiterated their position in a staff email on 16 January 2018.

“The University firmly believes that staff should have access to an attractive, affordable and well managed pension scheme.”

“But we are also clear that reform to the governance and management arrangements of USS is essential for any Defined Benefit scheme to be sustainable and credible going forward.”

The St Andrews Socialist Society has advised students to not cross the picket line and not attend class on days of action.

Tom Williams contributed to this article. 

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