Defined Benefit  

Calls for arbitration as universities staff strike over pensions

Calls for arbitration as universities staff strike over pensions

A union has written to university vice chancellors, asking them to support calls to involve arbitration in the discussions over a pension dispute, which will see staff strike for 14 days across 61 universities, starting tomorrow (22 February).

The current pension fund, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), is the largest private sector pension scheme in the country.

It has a defined benefit (DB) and a defined contribution (DC) section, but would become a full defined contribution fund as part of plans published in November by Universities UK (UUK), which represents 350 universities.

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The Universities and College Union (UCU) announced plans for industrial action last month, after balloting its members.

Unison, Europe's largest public service trade union with more than 1.3 million members, is now calling for conciliation service Acas to be involved in the negotiations seeking a solution to the pension dispute.

Acas provides free and impartial information and advice to employers and employees on all aspects of workplace relations and employment law.

The letter, signed by Unison's head of higher education Donna Rowe-Merriman, asks vice chancellors "to bring UCU and UUK together for meaningful negotiations with all interested parties".

She said: "We ask that you also make your views publicly known to UUK colleagues as soon as possible to try and seek a resolution.

"We understand that UCU has said they are prepared to involve Acas to try to resolve the situation."

Unison, which supports 50,000 staff working at universities, is currently consulting its members over the pension proposals.

There have 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.

The UCU has said a defined contribution scheme could lead to a final pension worth only around 20 per cent of the "best" defined benefit schemes.

The strikes starting tomorrow will affect over one million students and see 575,000 teaching hours lost, UCU has argued.

The union said it will meet on 2 March to consider universities' response to the first wave of strikes, and what further action might be necessary.

UCU said it hoped no universities would want a prolonged dispute that drags out towards exam season, but that members were determined to fight for fair pensions.

maria.espadinha@ft.com