Category Archives: Pensions Campaign

Pensions Update: Is USS about to pull a fast one?

There is a serious danger that the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which runs our pensions, is about to ignore the findings and recommendations of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) which was the expert body set up at the end of the strike last year (and one of the key concessions we won).

Here’s what you need to know:

  • If implemented the findings of the JEP’s first report, underpinned and confirmed by expert and actuarial research and advice, although not perfect would result in no detriment to our pensions;
  • Because of this, alongside our own expert’s analysis, the UCU’s official position on USS is also a “no detriment” one, which does not accept anything which leaves our members paying more (there’s no need for this – the deficit is fictional);
  • Universities UK (UUK), which represents VCs, have accepted the findings of the JEP, as has Cardiff Uni (although beyond making some muted positive noises, they’ve done little/nothing to pressure USS to accept the JEP’s proposals);
  • USS, in its latest documents, does not come close to accepting the views of the JEP’s first report, and is advocating for both members and the employers to pay substantially more than they currently do;
  • This doesn’t bode well for USS’s likely reactions to the second JEP report, which is likely to be more detailed, and more wide-ranging in its recommendations;
  • This also means there’s a risk to the scheme’s long-term health, and even the possibility that our employers will drastically cut benefits and/or advocate for the closure of the scheme entirely;
  • In answer to all of this UCU has said that members will have the final say on any proposal coming from the next scheduled USS Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) meeting, on Friday 17th May (today), and the dispute will be further discussed at the next higher education sector conference at the end of May;
  • As many of us said last year when we ended the strike, we might have to re-ignite the pensions struggle in defense of our right to retire with dignity. Watch this space.

The best analysis and explanation we’ve found of all this comes from USS Briefs and you can read the most recent UCU statement on the national UCU site.

USS Pensions petition

Despite clearly winning the moral and intellectual argument over the sustainability of the USS pension fund, we are at a critical juncture and still face an uphill struggle in defense of our retirements. USS contributions will have their first increase imposed from April, talks continue but nothing is moving very quickly at the moment to sort out this dispute.

The current agreed UCU negotiating position over USS is a “no detriment” one, as explained in a helpful recent UCU primer. Members who support this position are invited to sign and share the petition, started, and circulated to us, by Jo McNeil from Liverpool UCU (currently campaigning to be the next UCU General Secretary).

Latest developments in the USS struggle

Here is UCU’s latest statement to members on the struggle to defend our pensions. A key paragraph is point 3, which states: “The union’s formal policy is that any outcome should provide no detriment to UCU members. The superannuation working group (SWG) which is the body that negotiates with Universities UK (UUK) welcomed the JEP report as ‘a significant and impressive piece of work’ and stated that its recommendations should ‘form the basis for negotiations’.”

UCU nationally also firmly believes that the Joint Expert Panel (JEP’s) recommendations should be implemented in full, and we now know that if this happens the valuation of the scheme would result in a surplus of £0.5billion, as explained by Denis Leach. As Mike Otsuka explains in this thread, USS will be making a statement very soon, and it remains to be seen whether it will itself implement the JEP’s proposals in full. Cardiff University is in favour of accepting the JEP’s proposals in full, as outlined in our joint statement earlier this year

In short, we have been completely vindicated in our arguments and analysis, and we still have the chance of keeping our DB pensions on current terms because we had the courage of our convictions, and backed them up with positive, firm, and militant industrial action.

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