LECTURERS manned picket lines at Sheffield’s universities as they began two days of strike action in a row over pensions.
Members of the University and Colleges Union walked out at both Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam universities, the first such stoppage for five years.
A further national stoppage is planned tomorrow with staff from 47 universities opposing changes to the University Superannuation Scheme pension fund.
The national walk-out is expected to affect more than a million students.
UCU members at Sheffield College are also taking action tomorrow in a related dispute over pay and pensions, and proposed job cuts.
The union’s general secretary Sally Hunt said there was a tremendous strength of feeling over the pensions issue.
She added: “Strike action is always a last resort and we have always wanted to meet the employers to avoid widespread disruption.
“However both sides had to be prepared to go that extra mile and the employers clearly weren’t. I share the frustration that students must be feeling at the employers’ intransigence.”
The Sheffield action yesterday followed other strikes by UCU members in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
A Sheffield UCU spokesman said the dispute centred on attempts to raise the retirement age, increase contributions and end the final salary element of the scheme for new joiners.
He added: “University staff really value their pension rights and have made it clear from the start of this dispute that if the employers were not prepared to negotiate then we would be left with little option but to take strike action.”
The strikes were backed by Sheffield Trades Council, which represents unions across the city.
Professor Brian Cantor, chairman of the Employers Pensions Forum, said the universities were disappointed at UCU’s decision to take industrial action over the scheme.
He added: “An enormous amount of work has gone into the development of the package of reforms. The changes are in response to the increasing costs to the scheme from improved longevity.”
He claimed the retention of a final salary pension for all existing scheme members was an exceptionally good benefit and the career average scheme for future employees was in line with what looks set to become the norm in all sectors.