University staff strike on pensions

STAFF at Sheffield University are set to strike tomorrow (Friday) in a dispute over pensions.

Unions are angry because they say the introduction of a new pension scheme which has been approved by the University Council will mean lower-paid workers lose out on thousands of pounds each year.

Unions Unite and Unison say the lowest-paid staff – porters, cleaners and office workers – will be offered the chance to join a new Cash Balance Scheme which in some cases will halve the amount of pension they receive.

But higher-paid workers in grades six and above, including university Vice Chancellor Keith Burnett who earns £294,000 per year, will continue to benefit from membership of the Universities Superannuation Scheme and its final salary pension provision.

This, say the unions, will create a two-tier system with lower-paid staff losing out while those on higher rates continue to benefit from a superannuated scheme.

Staff represented by Unite and Unison were balloted earlier this month.

Unite were first to confirm members had voted to take industrial action. Unison followed suit at the weekend by announcing that a massive majority of those balloted wanted action.

Unite’s Martin Bentley explained why staff were angry: “The change means a member of support staff earning £15,000 per year under the cash balance proposals could expect to receive a pension in retirement after 40 years’ service of approximately £3,750 – compared to £7,500 under the current scheme.”

The university maintains that the new scheme was a measured, balanced decision for the long term which takes into account the realities of rising pension costs and risks being faced in all sectors.

A university spokesman added: “The rising risk and cost of the university’s local pension provision meant that the university’s pension scheme was no longer sustainable and affordable.”