University staff go on strike after rejecting pension proposals

Security, administration, library, catering, and finance department workers at the University of Dundee take strike action.

University staff go on strike after rejecting pension proposals Stephen McLellan via Unison
Dundee of University staff taking strike action.

Staff at the University of Dundee took strike action on Wednesday amid an ongoing dispute over pensions.

Security, administration, library, catering, and finance department workers voted to reject proposals to end their current pension scheme and replace it with a more affordable option.

They say university bosses want to replace the existing scheme with a “cheaper, inferior defined contribution scheme which looks likely to be the worst Higher Education pension scheme in Scotland”.

Staff members gathered outside the university on Wednesday morning and then moved onto Dundee’s City Square.

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The strike action will continue on Thursday and Friday, and again on Monday and Tuesday next week.

Unison branch secretary Phil Welsh said: “Our members are absolutely determined to fight this proposal.

“Unison has put forward a number of compromise proposals which would share the risks and costs of future benefits. The university has failed to engage adequately with these proposals.

“Instead, it has attempted to disarm critics through spin and misdirection. Our members are not fooled by this rhetoric. Our members have worked to keep the university functioning throughout the pandemic.

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“They want to assist students and do so every day. Any disruption caused is regrettable, but can be laid firmly at the door of the principal, Iain Gillespie, who has failed to get a grip of this situation.” 

Staff in grades one to six are affected by the proposal as staff above that grade are in a different scheme that is negotiated nationally. 

Unison says the proposal will “leave many staff in pension poverty and will see some losing up to 40% of their pension in retirement”. 

Unison Scotland’s head of higher education Lorcan Mullen said: “The management at the University of Dundee has shown an arrogance and intransigence which is harming the reputation of the university.

“This approach has angered staff who have lost all faith that the university can deliver a fair resolution to this crisis. 

“The First Minister has made it clear that she wants a resolution which does not penalise staff, but the university has yet to offer anything beyond its existing plan, which would leave the affected staff in uncertainty and poverty in retirement.

“This strike is a result of an arrogant and high-handed approach to negotiation by an out of touch management more interested in their own performance bonuses than the welfare of hard-working staff.”

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The University of Dundee Superannuation Scheme has a current deficit of around £55m and, like the UK-wide Universities Superannuation Scheme, has been undergoing a consultation period to find a way of tackling the funding shortfall.

Dundee University has proposed replacing the current defined benefit scheme with a defined contribution scheme which, Unison said, would offer no guaranteed benefits in retirement.

The university says strike action would impact on students just as they are being welcomed back.

Professor Iain Gillespie, principal and vice-chancellor of the university, said: “We remain in a consultation period on the proposed changes to the University of Dundee superannuation scheme, which was extended at the unions’ request, and is still scheduled to run to 14 November.

“We remain very much keen and open to discussion with the campus unions on proposals for the scheme and we have called for them to return to negotiation.

“The pension scheme has a significant deficit according to the latest valuation, at around £55million, and remains high risk and unaffordable, which is why we are proposing changes. We have already committed to putting an extra £40m into the scheme over the next ten years to help address the deficit.

“We hope a resolution can be agreed to both offer strong pension benefits to our staff and remove the risk of any disruption to students.

“The campus remains open and the majority of university staff are working, with only limited disruption of some services.”

The Scottish Government said pension matters are “for universities as independent institutions”.

Jamie Hepburn, minister for higher and further education, said: “We strongly encourage both the university and unions to continue with the current negotiations in an attempt to resolve this situation without the need for further industrial action, which is absolutely not in the best interests of our learners.

“I have reinforced this point in my discussions with both Dundee University and unions this week.”