UK universities and Scottish schools hit by strike action over pay and pensions

UK universities and Scottish schools hit by strike action over pay and pensions

Almost every university in the UK and schools in Scotland were hit by strikes on Thursday, as industrial unrest over pay and pensions spreads across the education sector.

Around 70,000 university workers are staging three walkouts this month in what their union has described as the biggest coordinated action in the sector’s history. Scotland’s Education Union, meanwhile, closed schools in the biggest national strike since the 1980s.

The countermeasures come amid growing unrest in the public sector over wage increases and inflationary pressures on the education system, already under pressure from tight budgets.

Across the country, staff at 150 universities took action which the University and College Union said could affect 2.5 million students.

UCU members will also strike on Friday and November 30, in an escalation of a year-long dispute over pay and pensions. The row has resulted in weeks of walkouts since 2018, but this is the first time action has occurred across all universities, rather than being called by individual university branches.

Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, blamed the action on the “suffering” sector management. “The staff are burnt out, but they’re fighting back,” she said. “They have had enough of falling wages, pension cuts and working conditions in the gig economy.”

The union has demanded a “meaningful” pay rise, after employers offered a rise from 3 per cent despite inflation last month reaching a 41-year high of 11.1 per cent. It has also called for a reversal of cuts to pension benefits, made to cover a shortfall in the sector’s pension fund that emerged when markets crashed at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Universities UK, which represents employers, said students were “well prepared to mitigate” the impact of strikes and had offered staff the “best possible” pension benefits.

In Scotland, schools were closed on Thursday after the main teachers’ union this month voted overwhelmingly in favor of strike action.

Andrea Bradley, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said members “really did not want to be in this position”. But she claimed they had been “forced” to strike because of the refusal of the Scottish Government and Cosla, which represents councils, “to make any improvements” to their offer of a 5 per cent pay rise.

After last-minute talks on Wednesday, the EIS rejected a revised offer of 6.85 per cent for the lowest paid teachers, saying it amounted to an average increase of 5.07 per cent. The union is asking for a 10 percent increase for all members.

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said on Wednesday her government had proposed a “fair and reasonable” pay rise for all public sector workers, at a time of “skyrocketing inflation”, which outstripped deals offered to workers in England.

“We are working not only within a fixed but a severely constrained budget,” Sturgeon said.

Teachers at schools across the rest of the UK are voting for strike action, which is expected to take place next year.

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