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.

Last Chance to Vote in the UCU General Secretary Election

You should have all received your postal ballot papers for the election of the UCU General Secretary. They need to be returned by Thursday 23rd May and the postage-paid return envelope is 2nd class post, so please do send your ballot ASAP (by Monday at the latest).

Turnout in the these elections tends to be very low (13-14% in the last three General Secretary elections), with membership inertia playing a greater role than is desirable.

The retirement of Sally Hunt has created an opportunity for a more open contest this year with two candidates from the Union’s membership in HE choose from (this is unprecedented) as well as a long-standing national UCU head office employee.

We urge you to read or listen to the manifestos of the three candidates, and to exercise your right to vote on the future leadership of the union:

You can also watch a video of a recent hustings event.

UCU General Secretary Hustings, Cardiff, Saturday 11th May

The election for the new General Secretary of UCU is open and closes at noon on Thursday 23rd May. The General Secretary is the most senior position in the Union and the General Secretary will lead the Union over the next 5 years UCU has only ever had one General Secretary since its founding, Sally Hunt, who was General Secretary for 12 years.

This election is arguably the most important one in the Union and it is crucial that everyone votes! We are hosting a ‘hustings’ where candidates for General Secretary talk about why we should elect them and respond to questions from the floor.

Do you want to find out more about the current state of University and College education in the UK – across higher, further, adult, and prison education sectors? Do you want to influence the direction of the University and College Union for the next five years?

Find out how the candidates for General Secretary will address issues across the sector and change UCU for the better! We encourage all UCU members to attend!

When and where: Saturday 11th May, 1pm-2.30pm, Room E0.15, School of Mathematics, Senghennydd Road, Cardiff.

Progress in anti-casualisation negotiations for postgraduate tutors

The Cardiff UCU branch anti-casualisation working group are very pleased to report progress in our campaign for the work of post-graduate students who teach/demonstrate to be recognised as employment. The university’s management have agreed to set up a working group to explore the status of postgraduate researchers, tutors and demonstrators, and to explore the options that may be available in order to move towards a more clearly defined framework of employment.

This working group will allow close collaboration between UCU, our sister unions, the Students’ Union, and senior University management. It’s Cardiff UCU’s sincere hope that the work of this group will enable us to move towards contracted-employee status for this group. In the meantime, please read this fantastic resource that Cardiff Student Union’s Jake Smith (Vice-President Postgrad) has created to ensure that PGRs who teach are aware of their rights. Please pass it on to the students who teach on your modules, and check if there are any areas where your department does not meet the Code of Practice requirements. You can also read a more general guide to supporting PGRs.

Vote in the UCU National General Secretary Election

Following the resignation of Sally Hunt, a vacancy has arisen in the position of general secretary of the University and College Union. The position of general secretary is a full-time, salaried position as the union’s chief executive – in other words this is the most important vote for a UCU officer in a long while.

The candidates, with links to their manifestoes, are:

You can view a video of hustings hosted by Cambridge UCU. You can also read the emails written to members and already circulated by UCU head office.

The election for UCU General Secretary opened on Monday 29 April and closes at noon on Thursday 23 May 2019. Ballot material will be dispatched on 29 April – the union knows that this can take a few days to arrive.

If any member has not received the ballot paper to which they are entitled by Tuesday 7 May, they should request a duplicate using an online form which will be made available on this page. If you have any queries about the election process, please contact Catherine Wilkinson on: cwilkinson@ucu.org.uk (she’s head of constitution and committees).

Candidate info for position of UCU General Secretary

The candidates for UCU General Secretary have now been announced and campaigning has begun. The candidates (in alphabetical order) are listed below, linked to their websites, where you can read about how they’d run our union, as well as find out about who’s endorsing their campaigns and why:

Your vote will be a postal ballot (between 19th April and 23rd May), and we urge you all to use it. As we’ve seen over the last year, whoever is in charge of our union has a huge say over momentous decisions about our futures. This is an important one.

Anti-casualisation update and petition

  • Our Anti-casualisation working group is still in discussions with the University over a range of issues including contracts and terminology around those employed on non-permanent contracts and the employee/contractual status of postgrad students who do teaching/demonstrating work. We hope to be able to share more concrete info about these talks soon.
  • In the meantime, to get an idea of what other branches across the country are asking for to improve the working lives of casualised colleagues, take a look at this excellent claim now formally submitted by Newcastle UCU.
  • Colleagues at Leicester UCU need your support on a petition against Leicester Uni employing teaching fellows on non-academic contracts. The issues are discussed, and the petition can be signed, here.

Stop the victimization of UCU reps for trade union duties

Your elected trade union branch reps do a lot of (unseen, voluntary) work on your behalf, but sometimes (& especially when they’re successful) these campaigns and negotiations place them at risk of victimization and bullying from unscrupulous employers.

When this happens it’s our duty to support them – to have their backs as they’ve so often had ours.

  • Lee Humber, Ruskin College UCU Membership Sectretary was suspended from work shortly after successfully campaigning for a vote of no confidence in the college principal. The local UCU petition can be found here, and you can read more here.
  • UCL UCU Branch Secretary Tony Brown was subject to a disciplinary sanction by UCL for setting up an email list on behalf of union reps. An employment tribunal ruled that “the main purpose of disciplining [Mr Brown] was to penalise him for taking part in trade union activities”, but UCL hasn’t accepted the ruling. You can read more and sign the petition here.

Meeting with management about Transforming Cardiff and the University’s finances

Cardiff UCU’s Finance Group has made an important step in the history of Cardiff UCU by presenting to the VC and others an analysis of the state of Cardiff University finances in response to the Transforming Cardiff programme endorsed by University Council. The meeting comprised representatives of Council, UEB, SU, Unite, Unison and Cardiff UCU. Members of the Finance Group led a presentation and discussion.

There was consensus that compared with English Russell Group universities of comparable size, Cardiff University has been working with a gradually increasing funding disadvantage since at least 2010, resulting from differences in HEFCW funding and now also reduced student fee income (compared with England).

There were strong disagreements about the financial implications of the university’s capital investment programme on the overall financial position of Cardiff University.  It was agreed that we would follow up on this with the university’s Chief Financial Officer.

The Finance Group is continuing to work with internal and external expertise to be able to impress on Council and UEB on why a change of strategy is urgently required to ensure the long-term financial sustainability of CU. A meeting with Welsh politicians to highlight the concerns of all the unions present regarding Cardiff’s funding disadvantage, was mooted.

UCU Success in Senate Elections

Active Cardiff UCU members Laurence Totelin and Jonathan Ben-Artzi were recently successful in their election to Cardiff University’s Senate, the governing body responsible for shaping our academic strategy.

Reforming and democratizing University governance is an on-going priority of the branch, but in the meantime it’s essential that we get our members on such bodies, which have a big say over how the University is run.

Many thanks to Jonathan and Laurence for standing and taking on this responsibility, as well as to those who voted for them in this election.