Lecturers strike over pensions
Staff at 61 universities have voted to strike in a dispute over pensions, beginning on 22 February.
University bosses want to remove guaranteed pension provision, in favour of a “defined contribution” scheme where the eventual pay-out is dependent on performance of investments. Staff face losing up to £200,000 over the course of retirement.
The ballot achieved a 58% turnout nationwide with an impressive 88% vote for action. The universities involved are primarily the older “pre-92” universities, and the affected workers are academic and academic-related staff plus some senior administrators. The vote for action was on an individual branch basis: six branches that did not meet the 50% threshold for action are to be reballoted.
Fourteen days of escalating strike action have been announced over four weeks, beginning with two days in a week and rising to five with a work-to-contract alongside. We need strike committees to involve new activists, and solidarity from other campus unions and the wider labour movement. Fundraising for strike pay should be a priority now. Much university teaching is delivered by hourly-paid or nine-month-contract staff for whom two weeks’ lost pay is a very big hit. The Picturehouss dispute has shown how important strike pay is in sustaining action among casualised workers, and without these staff on board the strikes have little chance of success.
Student support is also vital. Many branches are already working with student unions to plan teach-ins for the strike days. The autonomous nature of academic work means strikes don’t necessarily feel like a collective experience unless there’s a conscious effort to organise pickets, protests and direct action alongside.
The backdrop to the dispute is a long-running row about the operation of the Universities Superannuation Scheme. This is the UK’s largest private employer pension scheme, and is subject to new regulations that in theory are supposed to prevent scheme collapses like the one currently affecting Carillion workers. But the Pensions Regulator (which answers to the Government) is taking no account of the difference between a large collective university scheme and a private firm’s provision. Instead, it has insisted USS switch its money into lower-risk, lower-return investments, which in turn make the scheme look unsustainable without much bigger employer contributions. At the same time the Regulator overlooked an actual private sector shambles and allowed Carillion to keep paying shareholders while its pension deficit mushroomed.
On the positive side for UCU, the employers are split. A significant number know it is not in their interests to offer a pension that is substantially worse than the post-92 universities do (their staff are in the Teachers Pension Scheme). On top of that, Brexit is already affecting international staff recruitment and this will only make matters worse.
Only a small number of employers need to be swung towards a deal and the worst of the pension cuts could be halted.
Home care workers strike over 40% cuts
Home care enablement workers in Birmingham struck on 20 January over plans to make 40% of them redundant and to institute a shift pattern that would see workers being given three split-shifts in a day.
The plan to give workers three split shifts over a day would see them expected to work 7 a.m.-10 a.m., 12-2 p.m., and then 4-10 p.m. The council sees this as three separate shifts with breaks in between, but in reality workers would not have adequate time to go home and have a break at all. These workers provide a service in the home for people who have just left hospital, meaning they have to travel to different people′s homes over the course of a shift. The new work patterns would leave workers exhausted, and less able to provide good care to patients.
In 2010 Birmingham Council employed 7,000 people in social care, today that workforce is less than 2000, with 40% more to be cut.
A demonstration in support of the home care workers′ strike gathered over 350 people in central Birmingham on 20 January, and marched through the city centre to the council offices on Victoria Square.
Workers will strike again on Tuesday 6 February.
Cleaners refuse to work for half the pay
Outsourced night cleaners at the Royal College of Music, employed by outsourcing company Tenon FM, are facing unfair dismissal after they refused new contracts that would see their hours cut in half.
Cleaners and their supporters will be protesting outside the college on Thursday 1 February demanding that their original contracts be restored, that dismissals be stopped and that the company reinstate the cleaners that have already been sacked.
Cleaners have been virtually unanimous in rejecting the new terms that would require them to clean the college in half the time and for half the pay. The new conditions would not only put the cleaners in significant financial hardship, but would also impact their physical and emotional well-being, due to the strain resulting from having an increased workload.
And the burden would not only fall on them, but on the families for whom they provide.
According to their union, the college, which has a multi-million pound budget, has imposed these changes in order to save little more than £50,000.
This is not the first time these migrant workers have faced outsourcing companies. Last year the IWGB initiated legal proceedings against Kingdom, the company that was then in charge of cleaning services for the Royal College of Music, Royal College of Arts and Heythorp College, after it had illegally deducted thousands of pounds in wages from its cleaners.
The company ended up settling the claim, paying the workers what it owed and damages, but this didn’t stop the new provider from trampling all over these workers’ rights.
• Support the workers strike fund here
Reinstate Ian Allinson!
Fujitsu workers fighting job cuts and union-busting victimisations have started an 11-day round of industrial action with strikes over 24-26 January.
On Friday 26 January hundreds of Fujitsu workers demonstrated alongside Manchester Mears housing maintenance workers and First Manchester bus workers, who are engaged in long-running strikes over pay.
Fujitsu workers have balloted for strike action against compulsory redundancies and breaches of redundancy procedures, as well as the victimisation of Ian Allinson and other reps – all of which take place in the context of a culture of bullying.
For example, one of the workers faced with compulsory redundancy has claimed that her selection for dismissal was linked to the fact that she has an ongoing grievance against the company for sexual harassment at work.
On 12 January Fujitsu dismissed Ian Allinson, chair of Unite in Fujitsu UK, under the pretext of redundancy.
While Ian was on compassionate leave for a family funeral Fujitsu wrote to tell him he would be dismissed later that week. Fujitsu refused to allow him to work his notice, despite not yet having responded to his application for a job they encouraged him to apply for, breaking previous promises. This is not the first time Fujitsu has tried to victimise Ian, and Ian is not the only rep they have targeted.
Fujitsu’s aggressive approach is shown by their threat to withhold bonuses, often worth up to 20% of annual income, from anyone who strikes.
This latest round of action comes in the same month that engineers at nearby GNB Industrial Power in Horwich won an average pay increase of £3,500 by taking four days of strike action.
• Sign the petition here
Ballot on Tyne and Wear Metro
The RMT is balloting workers on the Tyne and Wear Metro over the 1% pay cap.
Because the Tyne and Wear Metro drivers are employed by local government they have been subject to the public sector pay cap. While workers doing similar jobs in other forms of transport have had at least small pay rises, these workers have been kept below 1%.
The RMT organises 250 workers on the Metro system.
DLR workers to strike again
Cleaners and security workers employed by ISS on London’s Docklands Light Railway will strike again from 1-3 February.
Following a solid strike on New Year’s Eve, the RMT union is organising further action in an attempt to force ISS to adhere to its own agreed procedures for negotiating changes to working practices. The union also wants ISS to respond to its pay claim.
As well as the strike, RMT has also called action-short-of-strike from 5-10 February, in the form of a work-to-rule around risk assessments.
Royal Mail deal on the cards
A deal has been reached between CWU and Royal Mail in the CWU′s dispute over pensions, job security and a shorter working week.
The CWU′s postal executive is due to meet to consider the deal as Solidarity went to press on 30 January. It is expeced this meeting will make a decision either to recommend the deal to members in a ballot or return it to negotiations.
As we go to press, details of the deal are not yet clear.