Strikes at Dundee University have been suspended for possible negotiations in an ongoing pension dispute.
Staff have been striking for three weeks over plans to change pension schemes, which union members claim would leave the lowest paid employees up to 40% worse off in retirement.
But Unite and Unison have now confirmed they have suspended strike action as a possible deal may be struck with university bosses.
‘Flawed’ pension reform
Phil Welsh, branch secretary of Unison, said: “We are delighted the university has stepped up and realised their plan for pension reform was flawed.
“We are now running a short consultation with our membership.
“If the way forward is accepted we are now ready to negotiate with the employer on a pension which will not plunge out members into a retirement of poverty.”
Mo Dickson, Unison regional organiser, said: “Our members have shown great industrial strength but they understand that recent developments may not resolve this dispute entirely.
“If a defined contribution scheme reappears then our members will recommence strike action.”
Susan Robertson, Unite industrial officer, said: “It has taken the strike action by our members, and the unanimous backing from Dundee city councillors to get [the university] back round the table.
“We still have a long way to go as we may have won the first battle, but we have not won the war.”
Why are staff striking?
Unison union members voted overwhelmingly to reject proposed pension changes in March and later decided to support strike action.
The changes would see the current pension superannuation scheme – which is only available to the six lowest pay grades – replaced by a privately administered scheme with no guaranteed benefits in retirement and subject to the performance of the investments selected by its provider.
The union claims changes will affect around 900 staff and leave many members in “pension poverty” with some losing up to 40% of their pension.
Those on higher pay grades will not be affected by the changes as they have a different pension.
What do unions want?
Unison says it wants the following actions before it suspends the strikes:
- Withdrawal of a defined pension contribution proposal
- Detailed joint work on defined benefit alternatives in an effort to address the dispute and avoid future strike action
- A University Executive Group and court decision at the end of joint work on a defined benefit alternative
Professor Iain Gillespie, principal and vice-chancellor of the university, said: “Following a constructive dialogue between the three campus unions – Unite, Unison and DUCU – and university leadership, we have agreed a way forward for discussion on the future of the University of Dundee Superannuation Scheme (UoDSS).
“The unions have recently been holding strike action in relation to proposals to change the scheme. The unions have agreed to withdraw from strike action immediately as we return to discussions.
“We have agreed to engage fully in a discussion of all defined benefit options for future pension provision with immediate effect, and to commit to exploring all options constructively and comprehensively, with both the union and management sides openly bringing forward ideas for consideration.”
Professor Gillespie says no more discussion on the defined benefit scheme will take place before the next meeting of the university court, the governing body.
“I am encouraged by the return to discussions, which both sides have been keen to do, and sincerely hope we can reach a resolution on this matter,” he added.