Category Archives: Pensions Campaign

Some light reading about the USS pension dispute

As ever, our colleagues at USS Briefs have been working hard to keep up the pressure over pensions. This piece, co-written by Cardiff UCU’s Nicky Priaulx, provides an excellent overview of how we’ve been completely vindicated in striking and fighting to retain our pensions.

Cardiff UCU’s Woon Wong has been tirelessly engaging with all of the relevant stakeholders to advance his analysis of the “phantom deficit” behind USS – read his most recent piece.

And finally, this one isn’t about pensions per se, but instead about the dangers of Universities acting like banks and issuing large public bonds. As you read, remember that Cardiff University issued a £300 million bond a few years ago, and that all our employers’ upcoming decisions (about pensions, pay, and broader working conditions) are likely to be in some way affected by this increasing financialized debt:

Universities UK Supports JEP Recommendations on Pensions

Financial Times Journalist Josephine Cumbo reported on Twitter a few days ago that UUK has now, in principle, accepted the Joint Expert Panel’s recommendations on the future of USS. You can read the thread on Twitter.

While there is still a way to go in the pensions dispute, the fact we have moved our employers from wanting to do away with our DB pensions entirely to basically accepting our critiques and points of view is a massive testament to all of us who took the difficult and brave decision to strike last winter.

If we’d caved in, we’d not have our pensions any more.

UCU National Disputes Committee (NDC) statement to the UCU Superannuation Working Group (SWG) on the JEP and the USS dispute

One of the things we won in the USS Strike was the opportunity to re-form and democratise our union’s handling of the dispute. The NDC was formed so that rank and file UCU members would have an on-going say in how we manage the pensions issue, and it recently released a statement to the UCU’s Superannuation Working Group which should guide union policy. This conclusion sums up their “no detriment” position nicely, but you can read more in the link below:

“The NDC believes that the precipitate and misleading attempt to impose a DC scheme on members was a disappointing and unwarranted breach of promise by employers. Given no reform of the scheme was required, and therefore UCU members were compelled to take strike action that was unnecessary, the NDC adopts the following:

  1. UCU members should suffer no detriment in any proposed resolution of the USS dispute. Lost earning should be repaid, any interim contribution increases should be shouldered by the employer, and USS benefits should remain the same.
  2. UCU should call upon UUK and individual Vice Chancellors to apologise to their staff for their role in triggering the dispute.
  3. UUK and individual Vice-Chancellors should also apologise to students for their actions and offer appropriate compensation for lost teaching.

The NDC notes there are important areas of concern to UCU members and matters of UCU policy that are not covered in the JEP report. The NDC recommends that the SWG push for negotiations on these issues. The NDC also recommends that the SWG insists that resolution of the dispute incorporates reform of the Joint Negotiating Committee so that the scheme cannot be modified without the approval of members.”

You can read the full statement, and you can keep yourself informed of the work of the NDC.

Vindication from the Joint Expert Panel on USS

On 13 September the USS Joint Expert Panel (JEP) published its first report on the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), dealing with controversial 2017 valuation. The formation of the JEP was one of the main wins from 2018’s strike action. Its first report supports almost all of UCU’s claims around the existence and size of the “phantom deficit” in our pension scheme, our employers’ attitudes to risk, and the fact there’s no need to slash our future pensions. Importantly, it says that only a very small increase in contributions is needed to keep our benefits at the same level. Continue reading

75% Vote “Revise and Resubmit” on UUK Proposal

75% of 600+ Cardiff UCU members voted overnight for Universities UK to #ReviseAndResubmit its proposal on staff pensions. (You can read the full proposal and the letter from Sally Hunt on the national UCU website.)

The proposal is broadly welcome, but today UCU nationally will hear from us that explicit assurances on fair pensions are needed to end the strike.

The vote followed a meeting of over 100 members yesterday which agreed to put four options to the whole membership, and the results were as follows:

  • 19% – Yes the proposal from UUK is sufficient
  • 75% – Revise the proposal and resubmit
  • 5% – No, the proposal from UUK is insufficient
  • 1% – Abstain

Here is the full text of the ‘revise and resubmit’ option:

This branch welcomes the recent proposal from UUK in the pensions dispute, and is pleased that the employers have now seen the need for a joint approach to re-valuing the USS pension scheme. We instruct our negotiators to seek some further assurances from UUK before the new offer is put to all members; in essence, to ask the employers to revise and resubmit.

In particular, these assurances should establish:

  • that a pension ‘comparable with current provision’ means one that provides defined benefits that are not inferior to our existing provision;
  • that all valuations are carried out on a transparent basis in relation both to data and decision-making, and subject to reporting at regular intervals to allow UCU to engage in effective industrial action; and
  • that there should be no recriminations for students or staff, including any requirement to reschedule work lost as a result of industrial action.

If these assurances cannot be given by 16 April, then the current programme of industrial action should continue.

Strike Bulletin #14

Picket - Hadyn Ellis - 16th March

Picket – Hadyn Ellis – 16th March

Well done, everyone! We’ve completed fourteen days of striking over four weeks, and we have reached the end in a much stronger position than when we started. Clearly, we’re not out of the woods yet, but UUK has learned that we are not to be coaxed back to work by a modest improvement on the position they gave us back in January.

Membership has grown over the four weeks. Attendance on the picket lines has grown. Despite rejecting an offer, our relationship with the students remains strong, as seen in the open meeting organised by the students’ union and by the presence of fabulous students at our rallies and picket lines.

Locally, we have pressed our vice-chancellor to support an independent valuation of the USS. Moreover, this week had the university agree to divide the deductions for strike action over three months, and we have an (albeit ambiguous) relaxing of the university’s strict stance on action short of a strike. Hold that in your heads and hearts as you return to work next week, when you face questions about rescheduling teaching that was missed during the strike.

Rally Alexandra Gardens 16th March

Rally Alexandra Gardens 16th March

Rally Alexandra Gardens 16th March

Rally Alexandra Gardens 16th March

Support and cameraderie
We’ve been pleased by the strong attendance at the individual picket lines. And our habitual gathering at 11 was, as we hoped, sufficiently strong that we moved around Main Building to the Alexandra Gardens1. There, we had rousing speeches, excellent fancy dress, and musical support as well. Our thanks to Dominic McAskill from Unison for his message of solidarity as well as impassioned speeches from our own members Paul Brennan of MEDIC and Andy Williams of JOMEC.

Then it was time for our collective creativity to shine. MC VC and the Regulators entertained us with renditions of Jolene and Tubthumpin’, along with a popular reprise of Steven Stanley’s original rap, Get Your Paws Off Our Pensions. A group of singers from Biosciences at the Hadyn Ellis Building led us in adapted lyrics to Bohemian Rhapsody, accompanied ably if inadequately by the ukulele2. And local skiffle band Railroad Bill sent us out with great tunes about gambling and debt – just perfect for a strike centred on pensions…

MC VC and the Regulators

MC VC and the Regulators

What happens next
We’ve all earned a rest this weekend. Next Monday, it’s back to work as usual. But we’re not clear of the dispute. Strike days are set by the national union, and we remain in negotiation with UUK over the terms of the pension. We don’t want to lose touch with members and other colleagues after all this effective enthusiasm.

First we have arranged a lunchtime open meeting on Monday 26th March in the Wallace Lecture Theatre. We may well organise another one that week at the Heath Park campus if that makes sense. This and any other open meetings will be aimed at communicating our position on the USS Pension to all staff. This then opens up a channel for communication with staff who are in USS but did not support the strike. More information about this event will be communicated on Monday.

Meanwhile, our resident pension experts have prepared to talk about the issues at the core of this dispute. Woon Wong will speak on Wednesday, 21 March at 3pm in Room 0.16 Post-Graduate Teaching Centre. The presentation will explain the basic principles used in the valuation of a defined benefit pension scheme, and then discuss the valuation methods adopted by USS as well as the guidelines of the Pensions Regulator. Empirical evidence from data analysis concludes that the annual valuations from 2012-2017 by USS are predicated on a flawed basis and it is necessary to fundamentally re-think how the correct message should be communicated to UUK, UCU, the Pensions Regulator as well as the public. Phantom Deficit of USS Pension – Summary version.

Staying involved with the conversation on the dispute and related matters
Once back at work it will be harder to sustain the conversations we’ve been having on the picket lines and at the rallies. These conversations have been immensely beneficial, not least because we’ve had the opportunity to communicate with colleagues normally separated from us by the organisational divisions within Cardiff University.

Cardiff UCU has available various online methods to enable us to extend the opportunity for these conversations to continue (between our meetings) but in a way that will dovetail with normal working practices or home life (you get to choose which or both).

Best,
Cardiff UCU Strike Communications Team

1More photos will be on the website version of this bulletin by Saturday morning

2The editor for Bulletin #14 is being too self-effacing! [Managing Editor]


More Images from the Rally on 16th March

 

Strike Bulletin #13

Ides of March

Beware the Ides of March! It’s a fateful day for our employers. Faced with such unity from UCU members here in Cardiff and across the country, as well as a substantial list of student occupations on campuses from Aberdeen to Exeter, we’re hearing VCs climb back on the removal of Defined Benefits and the undermining of strike activity, as with Cambridge. Others, such as Glasgow, say their position is ‘essentially the same as that of UCU’. Others still, such as Queen’s Belfast, state a commitment to independent valuation of the USS. Here in Cardiff, we received the welcome news through Twitter that Cardiff University will spread deductions over three months. Furthermore, they ‘do not envisage circumstances where colleagues [that’s us] will have pay withheld for action short of a strike.’ This is the effect our collective action has taken – the commitment to 14 days of strikes and the courage to say no to a bad deal offered this week.

Ways of reaching out

Members of Cardiff UCU continue to find new ways of reaching staff, students, and the public. Colleagues at the School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, conveniently located in Main Building, have set up a stall to explain their teaching, their research, and the reasons why they’re out on the picket line. It’s a high-traffic, high-visibility spot, and everyone’s welcome to come and find out a bit more about what they do. The idea comes from Marc Millet and Dave Thompson, and we thank Stephen Barker for telling us all about it at today’s rally. (Thanks also to Daniel Hobley for sharing his photo with us.)

People of Earth

Meanwhile, Paul Brennan and Renata Medeiros-Mirra represented UCU at an open session with about 50-60 students, including undergraduates and postgraduates, organised by the Students’ Union. This was a student-only affair, with Karen Holford and Amanda Coffey representing university management. Students were naturally worried about the impact of the strike action on their learning, but they showed strong support for the action and for the right and need to decent pensions. Their questions were directed mainly at the university management to understand what will be done to support them, whether they will receive compensation, and why the university isn’t communicating more with them. Many thanks to Paul and Renata for taking part.

Our continuing series of teach-outs met this afternoon. Environmental issues were on the table, including a provocative session from UCU environmental officer Paul Rock, Trevor Dale from Biosciences, and People Planet on sustainability and the kinds of companies and initiatives our contested USS currently invests in.

Taking the struggle further

An open letter is circulating to put our concerns about the USS in writing to the Welsh Government. Cardiff UCU member Vicki Wass has been invited to meet with Lynne Neagle Chair of the Education Committee to expand the discussion started in the open letter. There’s still time to sign the letter, however, by clicking here.

We had the potential for a double appearance of MPs at our rally. Sadly, Jo Stevens was called away to Westminster. We were nonetheless cheered to hear from Stephen Doughty, a firm union supporter. He reiterated what we heard at the Assembly on Tuesday: support for our struggle and affirmation of our vote to reject the proposed deal. Further, he agreed with our broader struggle to ensure universities are fair, open, and administered in line with public values. Steven told us he will be meeting with our vice-chancellor, Colin Riordan, next Tuesday, and he promised to report back on the outcome of that discussion.

Stephen Doughty with picketers

We’ll be back to work by then, but we have one day of strike action left.

Tomorrow

We want to put on the biggest rally yet to demonstrate the solidarity and growth that Cardiff UCU has shown over the last four weeks. If you haven’t joined us yet, here is your chance. If you have come down – once, twice, or every day – don’t miss it.

  • Join your school picket line from 8am.
  • A special note that CARBS will not be picketing at their building tomorrow, out of respect for the funeral that day. But any CARBS members who want to take some action prior to the funeral are encouraged to convene at Main Building so IT staff can picket outside their buildings instead of at Main Building.
  • That’s where everyone can gather at 11 for a mass rally of music, speeches, and fancy dress.

We’ve been so impressed by everyone’s commitment, and we’ve got a lot to be proud of. We’ll see you there tomorrow.

Best,
Cardiff UCU Strike Communications Team

Andy Williams in the Western Mail

Coverage in the Western Mail

Andy Williams in the Western Mail

Opinion piece by Dr Andy Williams