USS Update

Cardiff UCU Branch put forward the feeling of our meeting earlier this week at the open meeting held yesterday at Carlow Street.

This was a well-attended meeting by branches so limited time available to each branch to comment but Cardiff’s viewpoint of “revise and resubmit” was a feeling that many other branches also put forward.

So, in line with the opening of our motion …

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.

The letter from Alastair Jarvis, the chief executive of universities UK (UUK), as included in the email of yesterday from Sally Hunt, does move towards addressing some of our points.  If we as a union move forward with the proposal, both sides would be doing so consciously in the full knowledge that we must stand by the future outcomes of the expert panel.

Addressing our specific points …

  • that a pension ‘comparable with current provision’ means one that provides defined benefits that are not inferior to our existing provision;

I know that some people are saying that clarification is needed around some of the wording and that trust in UUK is simply not there but taking what is said in good faith the clarification indicates that the DC solution has been dropped and there will be a status quo with a “meaningful” scheme going forward to the next valuation.

There seems to be concerns about the 2019 date. This needs to be seen in line with the requirements, legal requirements of the Pensions Regulator (tPR) who are indicating that this as an opportunity to bring all stakeholders together and avoid recurring disagreements around the methodology and funding framework for future valuations. So, to push dates further into the future would not be helpful in discussions with them as this is a big concession whereby they will allow USS to go beyond their implementation date to achieve a solution that will “avoid recurring disagreements”.

USS have already pushed the button that triggers rule 76.4 that sets a default position to address the funding challenge which would split the increase required on a 35:65 between members and employers such that employers would pay contributions of 24.11% (up from 18%) and member contributions would to 11.29% of salaries (up from 8%). Basically the tPR is giving USS the opportunity to not have to implement this from next April allowing the status quo until then (yes, nothing would probably have happened between now and then anyway) but we want the time beyond then to be able to continue the necessary work on the valuation by the expert group. With tPR on our side we have opportunity and with a majority on the USS Board (4 UUK members and 3 USS members out of 12 board members) we can at the highest level keep control of the way USS proceeds on this.

  • 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;

Both sides are clearly indicating the need for transparency and UCU are absolutely open to their members reporting back on a regular basis so that we can keep an eye on what is happening with the valuation. This does not stop the option to go to further industrial action if we see the employers back stepping in any way, it really isn’t in their interest to do this as they now need, and concede, to rebuild trust both with staff and with students. If we can call them out publically for not following anything through then the reputation of university management will be hit, and very badly.

  • that there should be no recriminations for students or staff, including any requirement to reschedule work lost as a result of industrial action.

In addition to assurances from Cardiff University, UCU at a national level will immediately step in where any form of victimisation or recrimination were to be highlighted. This again comes back to what UUK are saying about rebuilding trust, victimisation is not the way to do that and whilst there could well be some VCs who would take a hard stance on this individual action by them will be seen as action against the sector as a whole to be stopped in its tracks.

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

Absolutely, notice is being served for action at a number of universities to start from 16th April. Industrial action will be coming in waves as with differing time tables it makes sense to call action at different times at different institutions. Cardiff University are in the first wave of action.

So, we need to await further information from UCU that has been promised for next week about the ballot proposed. This ballot does not affect the current notice of continued action but we do need to note that we will need a re-ballot soon for continued action if this were to go into next academic year. There was a general feeling from UCU that this would be the legal position that our current mandate runs until July at the latest.

The fact that the final decision has always been noted will come from members could be one of the key points that the decision has been taken to go to ballot without reassurances and clarification being written into the proposal that came from UUK. That proposal itself was picked up as part of informal discussions and as such, as many of you have noted, hasn’t been through a negotiation process. We should note that this also means that it hasn’t had the same opportunity to be discussed by universities in the sector and so it is being taken as an opportunity to be looked at in a timely manner. UUK know, and I think UCU realise, that continued industrial action is going to have a severe impact on individual universities. Several branches did mention costs that were being estimated and as such these would be equated to redundancies. Now, we shouldn’t blur different issues but as an opportunity to move forward that doesn’t take away any further opportunity for us to call our employers to account and to return to industrial action is what we have here.

It is not perfect, but it is a way of addressing the valuation process that has been at the centre of this dispute and, of course, several previous valuations.

For those who haven’t yet seen it, Jo Stevens highlighted the current USS dispute alongside the more issues of marketization of universities with specific reference to the universities in Cardiff in Parliament recently

The decision to go to ballot has caused quite a stir within the Union, given the fears of many that the membership has been ignored.  Some also feel that we could have extracted more from the employers before getting to this point. You can search Twitter for hashtags #reviseandresubmit, #wearetheunion, #rejectUUKdeal and #USSstrike for more information. There are many blog posts around the USS dispute but one of the most insightful bloggers, Michael Otsuka, highlights an important point in terms of the default position whilst the work of the expert panel continues

What is being offered though is a chance for members to have their say, not the delegates sent to a branch update having a say for you. There wasn’t a specific vote on whether this should go to ballot yesterday, we were told that our feelings would be taken on board at the HEC that followed (several members of that committee were present at our discussions).

In the end you have been given a vote and we want everyone to have their say.  Remember, current action has strengthened our solidarity and the membership of our union.  By maintaining that strength we can, together, at any point in the future ensure that our voice is again heard by taking further action.