Academics and other staff in some Universities, including Kent, have been taking action over threatened cuts to our pensions. (We Are Being Used As Pawns In Their Game, Herne Bay Gazette, November 13). Deciding to take such action is definitely not a game, as it can have serious consequences for us and the people we wnrk with We can lose money and cause hardship for our families who depend on us. Most academics and professional services staff come into universities because we like teaching and dealing with students. Research and expertise is also important, and there is a significant burden of administration and other work. However no one doubts that students are at the heart of it, and when they enjoy their learning or make a breakthrough in understanding, it’s a great feeling. Some staff could earn a great deal more in industry and professional work outside. However, knowing there’s a decent pension to retire on is one of the compensations for being here.
Unfortunately, over the summer our employers have been discussing cutting that away, only three years after a previous round of negative changes. They want to change the bargain on past service that many of us signed up to, and have been paying for out of our salaries for 10,20, or 30 years. They also want to put us all into a worse scheme for the future. Work done for the University and College Union showing that the changes can cause losses in pension of up to 27%. That means tens of thousands of pounds of retirement income for many, hundreds of thousands for some, over a period of 20 years or so. Because students are at the heart of our work, if we take effective action students are likely to suffer. Nurses and doctors are in the same bind.
We don’t do this lightly, treating students as ‘pawns’ – some of them are our children and also some work alongside us. If we find what our employers are doing demands a reaction, anti-union laws don’t leave us a lot of choice what to do. The National Union of Students has recognised the pressures on us and agreed to support our assessment boycott. Only through industrial action could we persuade our employers to enter serious negotiations with us, and the action will probably be suspended from today (Thursday). But if we have to take action again next year, we hope students locally will support us too.
Paul Hubert, President, University of Kent branch, Kent Law School, University of Kent, Eliot College, Canterbury
Herne Bay Gazette, November 20th 2014