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Lecturers' union begin talks as strikes at Brunel and other universities continue

Photo Credit: Bradley Hayden

Lecturers at Brunel and 60 other universities throughout the UK will continue to strike next week over proposed cuts to pensions.

However, talks between the University and College Union and Universities UK will take place on Monday, in a bid to prevent further industrial action from going ahead. Lecturers are set to protest for a total of nine days over the next two weeks.

The ongoing row between the UCU and Universities UK, the organisation which represents universities throughout the United Kingdom, is over proposed cuts to pensions.

Lecturers are set to witness a ‘drop of £10,000 annually after retirement’, according to Brunel’s UCU chair Stanley Gaines, with pensions being based on stock market performance rather than an individual’s current salary.

Over the past week, a total of five days of strike action have taken place, with lecturers walking out from Thursday until yesterday. At Brunel, strikers have been on the picket lines each day, greeting students as they have tried to enter the university’s car park.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt told the union’s website on Tuesday: “We are pleased the employers have agreed to more talks. Today UCU tabled proposals which provide the basis for settling this damaging dispute. We have listened not just to our members, but also to the many university leaders who have contributed ideas.

“At the core of our proposals is for universities to accept a small amount of increased risk, but only at a level a majority have recently said they are comfortable with. Doing this would enable us to provide a decent, guaranteed pension at a more modest cost with smaller contribution increases.

“UCU has been impressed by the ideas of many vice-chancellors who have intervened in the dispute. Our proposals for long-term reform reflect an attempt to reach a consensus around the challenges we face.”

As it stands, lecturers will walk out from Monday to Thursday next week and then on Monday to Friday the following week, meaning a full week of lectures will not take place for some students between the 12th and 16th March.

In an email, Brunel Vice Chancellor William Leahy advised students to turn up to lecturers as normal on strike dates.

However, speaking to IKB Insider before industrial action took place, Brunel’s UCU chair Stanley Gaines adopted a different approach.

He said: “I would not encourage students to show up for lectures, see if lecturers are there and leave the class if the lecturer doesn’t show up. Going into a classroom under these conditions would constitute crossing that picket line. Students might want to have a think about how they respond and I totally encourage every student to contact his or her module leader to get a sense of what is going on.”

In a statement to IKB Insider, Brunel University London said: “At Brunel, we estimate that 150 of our 800-academic staff have supported the ballot and may strike, so the majority of our students could well be unaffected. For those that are, we will ensure that the impact is minimal, by rearranging lectures or using pre-recorded materials, for example, and we have communicated this to our students. Since we cannot ask for staff’s intentions prior to the strike, we ask that students turn up for lectures and submit work as usual.”

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