1. What is happening?
The University and College Union (UCU), which represents University lecturers and professional services staff, has called for 14 days of strike action across 4 weeks, starting 22 & 23 February.
2. What is the strike about?
Universities UK (UUK), which represents Universities and their Vice Chancellors, has proposed to change the national universities pension scheme (USS) from a defined benefit pension* to a defined contribution plan.**
USS's managers and trustees state that the current pension fund deficit is £7.5 billion. UUK argues that the proposed changes will secure the sustainability of the scheme.
UCU opposes these proposals and argues that they risk significantly reducing the future value of their pensions, potentially to below subsistence levels. National negotiations between UCU and UUK have thus far failed to produce a mutually acceptable alternative to the initial proposal and as a result UCU has called a strike.
At Newcastle University, 62.1% of UCU members voted in a ballot regarding strike action. 90% voted in favour of a strike.
3. How will the strike affect students?
During this time, University staff who are UCU members will not be :
- holding office hours
- answering emails.
The strike action does not include a marking boycott.
The work missed in this period, including teaching, will not be rescheduled.
The first phase of industrial will be taken in the form of two days’ strike action, on Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February 2018.
Further periods of strike action are also planned, bringing the total to 14 days of action:
Week two – Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)
Week three – Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days)
Week four – Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)
4. What do I do if I want to come onto campus during a strike day?
Pickets must not stop someone going to work or doing their usual work if they want to, and it is illegal for pickets to stop people doing so. You can find out more about picketing code of practice here.
Dr Bruce Baker, President of the UCU Newcastle Branch has stated that UCU "are more than content to depend on the power of persuasion amongst colleagues, staff an student, at an institution that is founded on the principles of academic freedom and open debate". All UCU staff participating in pickets at Newcastle will be briefed on UCU's picketing guidelines, which you can read here.
NUSU is also aware of the appearance on campus of some stickers and posters regarding the strikes which use violent or threatening imagery. These do not reflect the views of NUSU or UCU, and Dr Baker has stated that UCU "condemns all calls for illegality and especially violence".
Students are welcome to join a picket if they wish (see point 7 for how to get in touch with UCU).
5. What is NUSU doing about the strike?
As a result of the Student Council meeting held on 8th February NUSU will take a neutral stance on the proposed strike action.
NUSU will instead fully focus on supporting all students that may be impacted by the action. This includes gaining ring fenced assurances on PEC forms for affected dissertations and assignments.
6. What measures have the University put in place to ensure students are not adversely affected by the strike?
Dr John Hogan, University Registrar, has assured NUSU that students will not be directly assessed on any material which would have been delivered during the strike period.
Dr Hogan has also stated that all pay deductions from striking staff will be "invested directly for the benefit of students".
The University has published a series of FAQs about the strikes and their impact on your studies which you can read here.
7. How can I show my support for the strike?
UCU Newcastle has published an article on their website explaining the rationale behind the strike action in more detail, which you can find here. This is includes information about how students can get involved and show their support for the strike. UCU materials can also be found in the foyer of the KGVI Building, and you can find information about the UCU Teach-In here.
* In which an employer promises a specified rate of payment on retirement based on factors such as the employee’s earnings, tenure and age.
** In which an employer and employee both make contributions to an account whose value at retirement is not specified in advance but is instead determined by how much has been paid into the account and any returns on investments.