Lecturers vote to strike over pension scheme deficit

Lecturers vote to strike over pension scheme deficit

Strikes on university campuses are a step closer after staff backed industrial action over their pension.

The ballot by the University and College Union (UCU) showed overwhelming support for industrial action to protect pensions.

It won the support of 87 per cent of UCU members, who voted in the consultative ballot in favour of industrial action to defend the existing benefits of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

The scheme, the largest private sector pension scheme in the UK, covers the majority of staff mainly in the older "pre-1992 universities" including Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester and Imperial.

There have also been concerns about the scheme's £12.6bn deficit, with employers and members warned they may need to increase contributions by up to 7 per cent to maintain their current benefits.

But this is beyond what universities are willing to pay and Frank Field, chairman of the work and pensions select committee, has written to ministers, the pension regulator and the trustees of the scheme to understand why its deficit has increased £7.3bn in three years.

The UCU has said benefits from the USS have fallen behind those available for members of the Teachers' Pension Scheme, whose members include staff at post-1992 universities.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, said: "This result sends a clear message that UCU members are prepared to take sustained industrial action in order to protect their pensions.

"USS members work at some of the most celebrated universities in the UK and yet their pension benefits are the worst in the sector. Further cuts in benefits will only make this situation worse.

"Staff are totally fed up with being treated poorly by employers who seem only to be interested in defending their own sky-high salaries and bloated pension pots. 

"The employers need to act now to avoid a major, damaging dispute at time when universities are already in the news for all the wrong reasons. We hope this ballot result finally concentrates the employers' minds."

Pension negotiations with Universities UK, the representative body for universities, resumed on Thursday but analysis commissioned by USS found universities were able to pay extra to safeguard existing benefits but have so far said they will not.

The UCU said universities have also not done enough to challenge the valuation methodology used by USS, which the union says bears little relation to the underlying health of the scheme.

The strike would make lecturers the latest in a string of workers to threaten strikes over their defined benefit pension.

Staff at Royal Mail have voted in favour of industrial action, as have Capita employees and BMW workers.

British Airways has also found itself in dispute with its workers over its plans to close down its DB pension while Marks & Spencer has also closed down its scheme.

Meanwhile Tata has offloaded its £15bn British Steel Pension Scheme onto the Pension Protection Fund, the government's pensions lifeboat, after the scheme proved a millstone around the business's neck, which was at risk of closure last year.