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Strikes threaten campus chaos

Sussex technicians on strike over pensions. If other staff join them, disruption will be severe

Sussex technicians on strike over pensions. If other staff join them, disruption will be severe. (Photo: Tom Wills)

Sussex University came a step closer to being shut down by strikes as support staff gave an ultimatum to university bosses last week.

Members of Unison, the trade union representing clerical staff, have decided they will ballot for industrial
action unless management start negotiating over proposed cuts to staff pensions.

Unite, the union for technical staff, has already held two days of strike action. The union called off a third day of strike action last Friday after management agreed to speak to mediators about the possibility of talks. But Unite said they would strike again this Friday if talks fail.

Unison represents many front-line staff including porters, security, library and catering staff. If they join Unite in taking strike action the running of the university will be seriously affected.

The unions have called a joint rally this Friday outside a meeting of Senate, one of the university’s governing
bodies. The lunchtime rally outside Bramber House is expected to draw hundreds of staff and students, as well as delegations from Unite branches across the country, who are keeping a close eye on development at Sussex.

The campaign has been boosted by the news that 95% of UK university bosses think Sussex is taking the wrong approach on staff pensions. A survey by the University and Colleges Employers’ Association found that 88 of 93 institutions surveyed thought that ‘defined benefit’ pensions were “the most appropriate form of pension” for university staff.

Sussex managers have provoked strikes from support staff after proposing to close their ‘defined benefit’ pension scheme to new members in favour of a less secure ‘defined contribution’ scheme.

Tom Armour, chair of the Unite branch on campus, said Sussex bosses were “out of line with the rest of the Higher Education community.”

A petition in support of the striking staff has attracted over 1500 signatures.

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