Labour councillors back striking University of Sheffield staff in row over pensions

Labour councillors supporting strike action.
Labour councillors supporting strike action.

Labour councillors have backed striking University of Sheffield staff who led a walk out in a row over pensions.

Academics and university support staff have returned to work this week following several days of strike action, but are still undertaking action short of a strike.

READ MORE: University of Sheffield staff to begin strike action this week

Sheffield's Labour councillors have now pledged their support to union members.

In a joint statement, they said: "This unfair downgrading of the pension scheme will also affect recruitment and retention and will ultimately undermine higher education throughout the country."

They added that there "needs to be a compromise found which protects pensions, while ensuring students’ education is not affected."

Councillor Jackie Drayton, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for children and young people, added: "The skill and expertise of University staff can, and does change peoples lives and they should be valued by Universities UK and university vice chancellors and treated with respect."

The dispute centres on a proposal by Universities UK, which represents higher education institutions, to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme pension scheme.

UUK said the scheme is in deficit and the only way to make it sustainable is to change it from a defined benefit scheme, giving members a guaranteed income in retirement, to a defined contribution scheme, where pensions are subject to changes in the stock market.

READ MORE: Striking University of Sheffield lecturers in fresh row over 'pay deductions'
But members of the University and College Union insist the existing scheme is performing well and claim the new set up would leave a typical lecturer almost £10, 000 a year worse off in retirement.

Staff from more than 60 universities across the country took part in 14 days worth of planned strike action before it was called of in midweek.

However, members of the UCU are still undertaking action short of a strike, which consists of working to contract, not covering for absent colleagues, not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action and not undertaking any voluntary activities.

Representatives of the union, UUK and conciliation service Acas are due to hold talks on Monday.

Professor Sir Keith Burnett, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield, said: "In the interests of students and university staff, it is vital that there is a fair and sustainable resolution to the dispute about pensions.

READ MORE: Hopes of ending University of Sheffield strike action as talks begin

"I have conveyed to UUK our belief that talks should take place without any pre-conditions so that all options and potential solutions can be explored.

"The aim must be for a resolution to the current dispute which works for all."