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Sussex UCU lecturers vote for strike action

Sussex lecturers have voted to go on strike against cuts to their pensions.

Members of Sussex UCU, the trade union representing lecturers, tutors and academic support staff, voted 73 percent in favour of strike action on a turnout of 34 percent.

Sussex is one of 63 universities where lecturers voted to strike in the national ballot over changes to pensions, which are negotiated at a national level by representatives of university bosses and trade unions.

Under plans put forward by university bosses, new employees would receive less money when they retire, and all employees would have to pay a greater proportion of their salary into the pension fund.

UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt said strike action was a last resort and called for university employers to resolve the dispute through talks, which are ongoing. But she added: “This is a fantastic result and a clear mandate for action should the employers push ahead with their plans.”

Sol Schonfield, speaking on behalf of the Students’ Union, said strike action could disrupt courses and classes, but called for students to support their lecturers.

“We recognise that this attack on pay and pensions is part of a wider assault on Higher Education, an assault that has removed unprecedented levels of public funding from the University and raised the tuition fee cap up to £9,000.

“If industrial action, as part of a wider anti-cuts strategy, is not taken now, we risk losing even more lecturers, courses and even departments.”

UCU negotiators said they would be recommending two weeks of rolling strike action starting from Monday 21 March, with each individual employee going on strike for two days, unless the dispute is resolved. By law the union will have to give a week’s notice of strike action, and the final decision will be down to union members at each university.

UCU also balloted its members over rates of pay and job cuts. That vote also went in favour of strike action, but by a narrower margin of 53 percent. Union officials are due to meet this week to discuss whether to call for strikes over this issue too.

Jim Guild, Vice-President of Sussex UCU, said: “I’m pleased that our members have shown a determination to defend their pension rights and to stand up for reasonable pay even in these difficult financial times. Obviously we regret any inconvenience this causes to students but we know that students are behind us, and working together I’m sure that we can produce the best results.”

Across the country thousands of university staff have already lost their jobs, including over a hundred at Sussex, and UCU said up to 40,000 more jobs could be at risk, as a result of government plans to cut the university teaching budget by 80 percent.

Last year Sussex was one of the first universities to make compulsory redundancies after the government announced funding cuts. Sussex lecturers held several days of strike action, which failed to stop job losses but did secure bigger payouts for those made redundant.

Since the government’s October budget announcement detailing its austerity programme – which some critics dubbed “the Bullingdon budget” – campaigns have sprung up in defence of jobs and services. Some trade union leaders have mooted the possibility of co-ordinated strike action, and the unions have called a national demonstration in London on 26 March.

The government says the cuts are necessary to cut the budget deficit, but campaigners say cuts could be avoided, pointing to what they say is billions of pounds of tax avoidance by British companies and the multi-million pound bonuses paid to bankers.

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