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

Almost every university in the UK and school in Scotland was hit by strike action on Thursday as industrial unrest over pay and pensions spills over into the education sector.

About 70,000 university workers are planning three walkouts this month in what their union says is the largest coordinated action in the sector’s history. The Scottish Education Union, meanwhile, closed schools in the biggest national strike since the 1980s.

Organized action is taking place amidst growing unrest in the public sector due to wage increases below inflation and tensions in the education system, already under the pressure of tight budgets.

Staff from 150 universities across the country have walked out, and according to the university and college union, it could affect 2.5 million students.

UCU members are also on strike on Friday and November 30 as the years-long dispute over pay and pensions escalates. The dispute has resulted in weeks of walkouts since 2018, but this is the first time action has been taken across all universities, rather than individual university branches.

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UCU general secretary Jo Grady blamed “dismal” sector leadership for the action. “The staff is burnt out, but they are fighting back,” he said. “They are fed up with the pay cuts, pension cuts and gig economy working conditions.”

The union demanded a “meaningful” pay rise after employers offered a 3 percent rise despite inflation hitting a 41-year high of 11.1 percent last month. He also called for the reversal of retirement cuts, as they filled the gap in the sector’s pension fund, which was created by the collapse of the markets at the start of the coronavirus epidemic.

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

Schools across Scotland were closed on Thursday after the main teaching union voted overwhelmingly in favor of strike action this month.

Andrea Bradley, general secretary of the Scottish Institute of Education, said members “really didn’t want to be in this position”. But he argued they were forced to strike because the Scottish Government and Cosla, who represents councils, refused to improve their offer of a 5 per cent pay rise.

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

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said on Wednesday her government had proposed a “fair and reasonable” pay rise for public sector workers at a time of “absolutely high inflation” that outstrips the deals offered to employees in England.

“We’re not only working on a fixed budget, we’re working on a severely constrained budget,” Sturgeon said.

In schools across the rest of the UK, teachers are voting on strike action, which is expected to take place next year.