University of Sheffield staff suspend further strikes in pension dispute

University staff, supported by members of the students' union, during strike action
University staff, supported by members of the students' union, during strike action

Further strike action at the University of Sheffield has suspended after lecturers agreed to new proposals in a row over pensions.

Changes to pensions saw staff walk out for 14 days in February and March along with colleagues from 63 other universities.

But members of the University and College Union have now voted to call off more action after bosses at Universities UK agreed a joint panel would be set up to reassess the pension issue.

READ MORE: VIDEO: Hundreds gather in Sheffield to support university lecturers' strike action

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "Members have participated in record numbers in the consultation, with a clear majority voting to accept the proposals.

"The union has come a very long way since January when it seemed that the employers' proposals for a defined contribution pension were to be imposed.

Further strike action at the University of Sheffield has been suspended

Further strike action at the University of Sheffield has been suspended

"Now we have agreement to move forward jointly, looking again at the USS valuation alongside a commitment from the employers to a guaranteed, defined benefit scheme.

"USS, the regulator and government now need to ensure that UCU and UUK have the space to implement the agreement effectively.

"We hope this important agreement will hearten workers across the UK fighting to defend their pension rights and was won through the amazing strike action of UCU members.

"UCU has more work to do to ensure that the agreement delivers the security in retirement that university staff deserve.

Students supporting the strike action

Students supporting the strike action

"On behalf of all UCU members I want to say thank you to students and other staff for their inspiring support throughout the dispute."

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

The dispute centres on a proposal by UUK, 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.

But members of the UCU 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.

A spokesman for Universities UK said: "The decision by UCU members to support the creation of a joint expert panel means that strike action is immediately suspended.

"This gives students important reassurance that they won't be affected by further disruption during their summer study and exam period. ​

"Reviewing the methodology and assumptions in the current valuation will build confidence, trust and increase transparency in the valuation process.

"It will provide an opportunity to consider the questions raised about the valuation by scheme members and employers. It is important that interested parties engage with the panel and remain open-minded about its possible findings.

"Working in partnership with UCU, we will now appoint a jointly agreed chair for the panel as soon as possible before developing its terms of reference, order of work and timescales.

READ MORE: Sheffield lecturers strike to continue after talks break down

"Alongside UCU, we will seek support for this process from USS and the Pensions Regulator, fully recognising their statutory responsibilities and accountabilities.

"Current pension benefits are guaranteed until at least 1 April 2019​, so the panel will need to conclude its work in time to put in place a sustainable way forward for USS from that date." ​