Category Archives: Pensions Campaign

In advance of the ballot: Update your UCU membership page!

Strike ballots can be invalidated by out-of-date information held on members (even on details such as whether a school or department is listed under an old, defunct, name). It’s essential that all our members keep their info updated on UCU’s database. To make sure you can vote this Autumn, and that your vote will be valid, please take a few minutes, and do the following now:

  1. Log into MyUCU here (or set up a UCU account here);
  2. Check and (if needed) update your mailing address (look for the “My Details” section & the “Personal” tab);
  3. Click the “Employment” tab and update your current institution & any other details (if you need to);
  4. Check your membership status to se if your membership type is correct (if you’re a non-voting student member check if you’re eligible for free membership here)

The Current UCU Negotiating Position on USS: How to avoid another USS strike

First up, something we all need to understand before reading on is that there’s no need for any contribution increase in our pensions. It has now been proven convincingly that the scheme is not in deficit. USS has lost its members’ trust and rejected some of the Joint Expert Panel’s (JEP’s) most important proposals. If implemented now, those proposals would lead to a contribution rate no higher than 26%, as it was before the 2017 valuation.

 

It is shocking that our employers have not joined us in pushing vigorously for USS to take the JEP seriously; it is highly unjust and suspect that USS has rejected so many of the JEP’s recommendations. Had our employers supported UCU’s calls for transparency & rigour in the valuation process these current proposals would be unnecessary. However, the employers’ behaviour since the JEP issued its first report makes it look a lot like they *still* intend to decimate our pensions with the eventual aim of doing away with the Direct Benefit part of the scheme entirely.

 

UCU’s position is that, absent any proper response to the first JEP report, the only fair outcome for this valuation cycle is that USS members should pay 8% and the employers everything else. This is even written into the current USS scheme rules, so it’s not like we’re asking for the moon on a stick here.

 

The employers are currently arguing that members should share a hefty chunk (35% of the costs over 26% that arise from the valuation). This is both unjust and irrational: the employers should cover the full costs of any increases. Why? Because:

  • The employers can benefit from overpayment in one valuation cycle by underpaying in future ones, whereas members cannot;
  • They’ve underpaid into the Scheme in the past (the so-called pensions “holiday”);
  • They can influence the contribution rate in various ways, whereas members can’t; and
  • Members have repeatedly suffered the impact of investment decisions they had no input into, in the form of benefit cuts and earlier contribution increases.

 

Also, they can *afford* to cover the increase, and we shouldn’t be swayed by arguments about costs. This is about priorities, and yet again our employers are choosing to de-prioritise staff.

  • The independent covenant assessments commissioned by USS, along with other factors, indicate that they can afford it;
  • Employers are better placed to absorb the increases than individual members;
  • Members’ wages have been systematically suppressed for more than a decade; and
  • Sector staff costs have fallen in the last decade from 58% of total expenditure to 54% now, and implementing our proposals would raise this figure no higher than 56%.

 

Given the history of cuts to our USS pensions over the last two decades (which staff accepted with little or no serious resistance), and given the vigorous suppression of our wages over the same period, members are in no position to shoulder contributions increases. Tragically, many have already left the scheme citing problems with affordability.

 

Yet the employers, as they always have, continue to work on the arrogant assumption that their own activities, and bottom lines, must never suffer, whatever the cost to us. The employers never:

  • countenance cuts to capital expenditure (“shiny new buildings”);
  • think about changes to their business models; and/or
  • draw on their (often huge) reserves, even in the case of emergency (and what greater emergency than this?).

Instead, they consistently tell us that *we* have to sacrifice our current (or retirement) income to deal with problems that are largely of *their* own making. Enough is enough: it’s time to level the playing field; it’s time, for once, for the employers to give us real support when it matters.

 

You can read the full UCU negotiating proposals here.

Two strike Ballots this Autumn: one on USS pensions; One on casualisation, pay, inequality & workloads

As you now know, UCU’s annual congress voted to prepare for another round of strike action to defend our pensions while also launching a new national campaign to secure a fair deal from both pre- and post-92 employers on pay, workload, equality, and job security. UCU’s Higher Education Committee then decided on 28 June to run both strike ballots at the same time, rather than consecutively.

 

These ballots will run from 9 September to 30 October. Members in branches where UCU has registered a dispute over USS will receive two ballot papers – one for pay, workload, equality and job security and one for USS. Members in other and post-92 branches will receive one ballot paper.

 

New UCU General Secretary-elect Jo Grady explains it like this:

“Those of us who went on strike over USS last year were motivated by a host of factors. Many members who are not even in USS joined us on the picket lines because they wanted to express their solidarity with us and send a signal to our employers that staff deserve better, not just in their pension benefits but in other areas, too. UCU has listened to those members and decided that nobody should be left behind. By balloting simultaneously, we can press employers to reach agreements that protect all of us.”

 

The rest of this post explains the strategies, demands, and rationale for both votes as they currently stand.

Our demands for USS
For USS, our demands are simple. USS has lost its members’ trust and rejected some of the Joint Expert Panel’s most important proposals. If implemented now, those proposals would lead to a contribution rate no higher than 26%, as it was before the 2017 valuation.

We want employers to use their considerable influence over the scheme to hold USS’s managers to account. If they refuse to do so, we want them to meet the full cost of contribution increases above the rate of 26%, rather than forcing some of them on to members.

A comprehensive deal for university staff on pay, equality, workload, and job security
At the same time, we want employers to move towards a sustainable, equitable business model that puts staff first. Our demands are laid out in the campus unions’ annual claim for 2019-20. These include:

  • reducing the number of zero-hours and hourly paid positions
  • working to close the gender and ethnicity pay gaps
  • limiting unsafe, excessive workloads
  • increasing pay by 3% plus RPI.

These are *all* things on which we represent our members, but we have been faced by remarkable intransigence from the employers at national negotiating level for years. If we don’t give our negotiators the leverage they need to improve our lot there is no indication this situation will change.

 

Practical questions
Once again, employers are leaving us with no resort other than a strike, even if it stops us all from doing the valuable work we entered this sector to do. But we should remember how quickly they came to the negotiating table once last year’s USS strike started. The more members take part in the ballot, the sooner employers will make us a serious offer.

UCU has the capacity to manage two campaigns. The fact that we are balloting simultaneously does not mean that we need to take twice as much action as we did for USS. After the ballots close, we have a six-month window within which to schedule any strikes, so we can be flexible in terms of the timing and amount of action we take.

The union will support branches in getting the vote out and preparing for action. I am pleased to announce that UCU’s National Executive Committee recently approved a trial expansion of the strike fund, so that members earning less than £30,000, and/or on fractional and hourly paid contracts, will be able to apply for more days of reimbursement than they could in the past. When you decide to go on strike, your action will be properly supported.’

I will be touring branches in September and October to meet members and discuss both campaigns. I will circulate dates and locations and provide further information about the ballots in due course. Until then, please continue to contact me with any questions you have.

UCU Warns Unis of September Strike Ballot Over USS Pensions:

Universities risk prompting a wave of industrial action across UK campuses later this year if they do not rule out benefit cuts or contribution increases for members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

UCU has written to 69 institutions warning that if they fail to confirm by Wednesday 19 June that they will limit members’ contributions to 8%, or meet the cost of any additional contributions, then the union will prepare for an industrial action ballot in September.

We all said at the end of our successful strike action in 2018 that if they came for our pensions again, and if they ignored the expert recommendations of the Joint Expert Committee (JEP), we would be prepared to strike again. It’s looking increasingly like this will be necessary.

We will keep you updated on important developments over the summer.

Sign a Petition to Support an Academic Boycott of Trinity College Cambridge Over Moves to Withdraw from USS:

The Council of Trinity College, Cambridge, has voted to withdraw the college from the USS pension scheme. USS is a mutual scheme with more than 400,000 members across the UK, and Trinity’s action undermines pension provision not only for its own employees but for staff across the entire pre-1992 Higher Education sector. They’ve admitted that the scheme is in good health, but are going ahead with this mover anyway. This needs to be resisted in the strongest terms, if necessary, by an academic boycott. So-called “grey-listing” procedures have already been initiated by UCU at its recent 2019 Congress.

Read more and sign the petition, initiated by UCU Branch Officers at Cardiff and Sheffield Universities, here.

Your views on the effects of your savings and investments:

The Ethics for USS campaign have made us aware of this survey being run by the Department for Work and Pensions.

If you could all fill it in and ask your friends (whatever pension scheme they are in) to do so, that would be great!

Background: Pension schemes like USS constantly use a definition of Fiduciary Duty which *only* takes into account monetary return and ignores ethical and environmental concerns. If the legislation were clearer, they would have to take members views into account.

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.