University staff have rejected a deal proposed by employers and union leaders to resolve the pensions dispute, meaning industrial action is set to continue after Easter.
At a meeting on Tuesday 13 March, UCU and UUK representatives met at the union headquarters to discuss a proposal drawn up after six days of talks mediated by the conciliation service Acas. The proposed deal involved a temporary pensions agreement with higher contributions from both staff and employers, and a resumption of talks in 2020 to find a more long-term solution. An independent re-evaluation of the pensions scheme was also proposed.
The deal was overwhelmingly rejected by members, meaning the deal was thrown out. An open letter signed by over 9,000 staff called the proposal “completely unacceptable”, arguing that it was only postponing a long-term solution and calling for “a more decisive victory” to be brought about through continued industrial action.
Last week UCU sanctioned another 14 days of strike action to target the examination period between April and June if the dispute was not resolved. The union have said they are now preparing for this to go ahead.
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: “Branches made it clear today that they wanted to reject the proposal. UCU’s greatest strength is that we are run by and for our members and it is right that members always have the final say.”
Hunt said: “The strike action for this week remains on and we will now make detailed preparations for strikes over the assessment and exam period. We want urgent talks with the universities’ representatives to try and find a way to get this dispute resolved.”
“We want to return to teaching as soon as we can but you and we have all given up far too much in the last three weeks to accept a proposed agreement that refuses to recognise our collective value: as teachers, students and members of the university community. Our teaching conditions are your learning conditions. We, together, are the University. Thank you for standing in solidarity with us.”
@NewcastleUniversityUCU on Twitter
In response to the rejection of proposals, a Universities UK spokesman said: “It is hugely disappointing that students’ education will be further disrupted through continued strike action.”
Prior to Tuesday’s meeting many were already expressing hostility toward the proposal, using the hashtag #NoCapitulation on Twitter to encourage members to reject the deal. In the end, 61 local branches of UCU voted against the proposal.
A leaflet being circulated by UCU entitled ‘Why We Rejected the Proposal’ explains the union’s perspective on the outcome. It says: “The proposal accepted implicitly that the valuation is wrong yet wanted to proceed with cuts anyway of between 30-35% to all colleagues’ pensions”, and that the proposed deal would “especially disadvantage lower-paid colleagues.” The union also rejects plans to reschedule lost teaching time as undermining the principle of the industrial action and “logistically impossible” as rooms are fully booked until the end of the semester.
The leaflet reads: “This is not just about pensions: this is a fight for a higher education system in which students are NOT left in debt and their teachers are NOT left impoverished.”
Newcastle University UCU’s Twitter @NewcastleUniUCU gives a message to students following the explanation of their stance: “We want to return to teaching as soon as we can but you and we have all given up far too much in the last three weeks to accept a proposed agreement that refuses to recognise our collective value: as teachers, students and members of the university community. Our teaching conditions are your learning conditions. We, together, are the University. Thank you for standing in solidarity with us.”