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Staff in 74 UK universities start 2-week strike over pensions

Xinhua | Updated: 2020-02-21 09:20
Members and supporters of the University and College Union (UCU) take part in a protest in London, Britain, on Feb 20, 2020. Up to 50,000 staff members in 74 universities across Britain started a 14-day strike on Thursday over disputes on pension, pay and working conditions. [Photo/Xinhua]

LONDON - Up to 50,000 staff members in 74 universities across Britain started a 14-day strike on Thursday over disputes on pension, pay and working conditions.

Members of the University and College Union (UCU), including lecturers, technicians, librarians and other academic and support staff, are joining the industrial action between Feb. 20 and March 13, potentially affecting 1.2 million students.

The UCU said 50,000 of its members will take the action over workloads, pay, a 15 percent gender pay gap, increased casualization and changes to pensions for staff in the Universities Superannuation Scheme -- one of the largest principal private pension schemes for universities and other higher education institutions in Britain.

However, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, the employers' association for universities and colleges of higher education, said it has invited the UCU to further talks and is dismayed by "damaging strike action".

The association said employers have increased their pension contributions from 18 percent to 21.1 percent of salary, paying in an extra 250 million pounds (321.9 million U.S. dollars) each year.

Meanwhile, students at some universities have launched petitions for compensation from their schools. Many students said they support the strikes but feel that they should be reimbursed for missed tuition time.

Emma Crawford, a third-year geography student at Exeter University, told the BBC that the time of the strike is a critical time for her and she was anxious because her final-year dissertation was due in March, adding the missing lectures and contact time is a waste of money.

This is the third set of strikes in Britain over university staff pension issues since 2018. Last November and December, staff from 60 British universities walked out over the same disputes for eight days, affecting around 1 million students.

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