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Strikes to bring universities to a standstill if urgent talks do not take place, Rayner warns

STRIKE action will bring universities and colleges across Britain to a standstill next month if urgent talks do not take place to tackle falling wages and cuts to pensions, Labour’s Angela Rayner warned today.

The shadow education secretary urged union and employers to come together to settle the disputes as University & College Union members at 69 institutions are being balloted in the row over pensions, while members at 147 institutions are being balloted at the same time as part of a dispute over pay, workloads, casualisation and equality. The results are expected on Friday November 1.

Years of real-terms wage cuts, job insecurity and increasing workloads are coming to a head and have been compounded by an attack on lecturers’ pensions that will cost them at least £50,000 a head in increased contributions, the UCU has warned.

The union says the higher education system has been identified as the worst employment sector in Britain for insecure zero-hours contracts, with thousands of lecturers being laid off without pay at the end of each term, not knowing if they will have a job when term recommences.

Ms Rayner said she “fully supports” UCU members fighting for fair pay and decent pensions and called for “unconditional talks.”

She said: “The success of our higher education sector is built on the hard work and dedication of thousands of staff.

“Ensuring that we can continue to attract talented people to work in our universities and deliver education for the public good is crucially important.

“I am deeply concerned that a combination of falling pay, rising workloads and increasingly insecure employment is making a career in higher education less sustainable.

“On top of this, recent changes to the universities superannuation scheme (USS) risk pricing staff in many institutions out of their pension provision altogether.

“All staff in our universities deserve fair pay, a secure contract, a sensible workload, opportunities for professional development and a decent affordable pension.

“I fully support higher education staff in their fight to defend pay and pensions for the future, but I also know that students and parents will want to see the current disputes resolved as soon as possible and avoid unnecessary disruption.

“I am therefore calling on both sides to urgently return to unconditional talks, assisted by [conciliation service] Acas as appropriate, and negotiate for as long as it takes to agree a way forward.

“In building the national education service, Labour will put investment in education staff at the heart of our plans; I urge the employers and USS to do the same by working with trade unions to find a sensible solution which addresses these important issues.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “UCU welcomes the call by Angela Rayner for unconditional talks aimed at resolving these disputes.

“For our part, we are fully prepared to meet the employers in good faith for further negotiations on the two disputes now facing the sector.”

In a separate dispute that highlights the crisis in further education yesterday, lecturers at Nottingham College announced a further 14 days of strike action starting on Tuesday November 5, accusing management of reneging on promises over workloads.

They have already staged 15 days of strike action.

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