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February 04, 2020

University staff in the UK are set to strike for 14 days this month

University staff in the UK are set to strike for 14 days this month

According to the University and College Union (UCU), university staff in the UK will walk out for 14 days amidst disputes over pay, pensions, and working conditions. UCU members will go on strike between February 20 and March 13, affecting 74 universities across the UK. “If universities want to avoid further disruption they need to deal with rising pension costs, and address the problems over pay and conditions,” Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, commented. In the event that the disputes are not resolved, the Union has also said it will run fresh ballots to authorize more strikes during the summer term.

When it comes to the challenges of pension burdens, IZA World of Labor author Carol Graham has written on the topic. In her article she links the financial crisis in 2008–2009 with how it exasperated the problem: “The challenges of unemployment, aging populations, and unsustainable pension burdens were heightened by the 2008–2009 global financial crisis and the uneven recovery, with new entrants to the labor force taking the hardest hit. […] At the other end of the age distribution, given rising life expectancy and low and falling fertility rates, unsustainable fiscal deficits are forcing the reconsideration of public pension and retirement schemes.”

Marek Góra, also an IZA World of Labor author, believes that policies alone cannot substantially alter demographic trends. In his article he notes that: “[I]nstitutions need to adapt to demographic developments. If pension systems are not adjusted to population developments, huge social and economic problems will arise, including increasing intergenerational conflict.”

As a result of the last strikes over pensions, students, who have to pay up to £9,250 a year in tuition fees, have asked for compensation. The upcoming walkout also involves “action short of strike” where staff will not be covering for absent colleagues and will not be rescheduling lectures lost to strikes.

On the other hand, a spokesperson for Universities & Colleges Employers Association (UCEA) has said that “strike action should always be a last resorts. “Strikes in less than half the universities in the multi-employer negotiations are not the answer and are in real danger of undermining the national collective pay bargaining arrangements,” they added.

Read Carol Graham’s article Late-life work and well-being and Marek Góra’s article Redesigning pension systems.