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Lecturer’s take to the picket line during the pension strikes

Around 25% of staff are UCU members


As the UCU strikes began this week, we all saw the vast number of staff on campus as well as the support from students. There were multiple picket lines around campus and we went to speak to a few to talk about the strikes.

We first spoke to Mary Morrison, a UCU exec member:

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What motivated you to come to the picket line, as not all of the lecturers who are striking have decided to come out?

I think it’s important to represent what we think about the lack of engagement in discussions by our VC and our university in the national discussions on the USS pensions.

What do you think about the student-made petition that has asked for their money refunded for the lectures that they have been missed/cancelled?

I think the issue is of huge importance both to staff and to students. Staff don’t take action like this likely, we will lose money for any day’s action that we take or even partial days action that we take. It’s not something that we’re just doing for the sake of it. We understand that it’s very important to students and I think it’s extremely important that students register their concern.

Do you think the strikes will last the whole 3 weeks, or do you think they’ll be called off because of the protest?

I very much hope that the VC here and that the other VC’s that are currently opposing further negotiation change their minds and go back for meaningful negotiations with UCS. I hope that does mean a fast end to the strike, but at the moment I’m not sure what’s going to happen. I very much don’t want to be on strike for the best part of a month, but I am prepared to do it if that’s what it takes.

Students do know that there are changes to the pensions. Could you explain to students what the affects would be onto you as an average staffer?

The thing about working in a university is that university salaries are not particularly high. One of the good things about coming to work at a university is that we knew that some of our salary was taken away and put into a pension pot. It’s something that made working in a university in the UK very attractive. If that goes, the whole system becomes less attractive to staff. We want to attract the best staff to teach students, we want to give students the best we can and the pension is a very important part of that package.

Do you have any opinions of the staff who have chosen not to strike?

People have to make their own choices. I understand that some people feel very uncomfortable about striking, I don’t feel particularly comfortable about it, but I think it’s very important. I would urge them even if they don’t feel able to strike, I feel they should do what they can to support the strike because ultimately all of us who are on USS pension will benefit from anything we manage to change.

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We also spoke to Linda Turner from the Faculty of Medicine:

"This is the second wave of changes where they're proposing to change it from a defined benefit to defined contributions meaning that the average pension looses out on £10,000. It also means the pension is also susceptible to the movement of the stock market, putting the risk on the employee."

"We have enjoyed a lot of student support this time and we're very grateful for it. It's made a huge difference to have the student's suport this time and that's given us a huge leverage nationally. It's understandable that students want to go to lectures if they're still on because every person's in a different situation."

"The Vice Chancellor could follow the example of some VC's such as the one in Newcastle (Professor Chris Day) who has said that Universities UK should get back round the table and negotiate"

Johnathan Shepherd also from the Faculty of Medicine said:

"The employers will also be making a smaller contribution to the pension than they currently are. They're justifying this because there is an apparent deficet in the pension fund but that is based on estimated calculations that were run on the worst case scenarios. Other calculations have been done to show the defecit is nowhere near as big as they say it is. "

"It'd actually be nice if the Vice Chancellor was visibly on campus and would actually come out and talk to us. This is what the previous VC did when we were on strike a few years ago. So far we've not seen Christopher Snowden at all"

Ivan Walton from iSolutions said:

"I'd love to be at work now but some things are more important"

"We've seen no sign of the VC. He doesn't seem to be recognising there's anything happening on campus. He can't claim that he has no influence over Universities UK."