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Branch update on USS and UCU SWG statement

At the Branch meeting on 17th September our guest speaker Carlo Morelli from the UCU and University of Dundee gave an overview of the Pay and Equality ballot and also answered questions about the pension scheme (USS).

The branch executive therefore thought this was a good time to send an update on the pensions dispute. We are also planning to hold a branch meeting in October in order to consider the branch’s position on USS once further information is available.

The first report of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) was published on Sept 13th. It completely vindicated UCU’s position and the case the union made for strike action. It criticized the valuation methods, the tests used to assess risk and the botched, secretive consultation with the employers. It recommended that defined benefits can continue at the same level as they are currently, with a shared increase of 3.2% (which might mean employees paying about 1% more if the current cost-sharing model is followed). This is absolutely nothing like the swingeing cuts to benefits that were proposed before we took action. Even the options offered by UCU when trying to resolve the dispute were worse, since at the time UCU was trying to find a solution which fitted into the discredited September 2017 valuation.

It is very difficult to see how the employers can reject the findings of this independent panel, and if they accept the findings then any solution will be radically better than what was on offer previously.

This is quite simply a massive victory, which vindicates our decision to take strike action to defend the pension.
The first meeting of the UCU USS negotiators is tomorrow and a meeting of the USS Joint Negotiating Committee (UCU and employers) follows next week. Obviously we do not have an outcome yet and we must continue to support our negotiators as they try to settle this dispute.

One of the best ways that we can demonstrate our continued strength as a union is to ensure we ‘get the vote out’ for the current Pay and Equality ballot. If the turnout falls below 50% at any institution, this makes the union look weak when we most need to stay strong. Please remember to vote. Can’t find your ballot paper?  Please request a replacement ballot paper at this address: https://yoursay.ucu.org.uk/s3/Replacement-postal-ballot-HE-pay-2018.

USS Consultation - What Should I Say?
The trustees of USS decided to open a consultation about imposing changes to USS before the JEP had reported. They claimed this was necessary in the absence of a final agreement between UCU and UUK because the old valuation method showed ‘a substantial deficit’ that had to be remedied. We think the timing is extraordinary and hope that they will stop this consultation now that the JEP report has appeared. The JEP report makes it clear that any deficit is not substantial and USS remains healthy and sustainable.
Confused about what to say in the consultation? The union recommends that you should definitely send a reply. At the very least you should state how much you as a USS member value having a defined benefits scheme and want the trustees to maintain existing benefits. You might also refer to the fact that USS has consistently failed to provide full and open information to members.

Here are some notes from Sheffield UCU branch (3 September) that may give you some leads on precisely how to respond:

  1. You have lost confidence in the administration of the scheme.
  2. You do not consider the case to have been made for increased contributions, and consider it appalling judgement that the trustee has implemented them without awaiting the report of the Joint Expert Panel.
  3. You do not believe that either Universities UK or USS have been acting in the best interests of your university, and believe it is essential to re-run the consultation last year which established employer ‘views’ on the valuation.
  4. You are concerned that the trustee has selectively released actuarial information, withholding important data of interest to both employers and members and refusing direct requests for information.
  5. You believe that the poor judgement of the trustee and its executive has been a major factor in avoidable industrial action in Higher Education with direct implications for the education of students, the international reputation of UK institutions, and the livelihoods of its staff.
  6. You call on the trustee board urgently to rethink its approach to the funding of the scheme (particularly with regards to its flawed and harmful Test 1) and reconsider the required contribution rates.
  7. You would be prepared to take further industrial action in defence of your pension, and will do so if the case for any future changes is not made beyond reasonable doubt, including with much greater levels of transparency.

Further Information
The JEP report and UCU response can be found here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/9632/UCU-response-to-USS-Joint-Expert-Panel-report  
Mike Otsuka, a UCU member at LSE, has prepared an interesting comparison between USS and SAUL, which is the pension for professional staff in some University of London institutions. SAUL is one of the very few pensions that is comparable to USS because it is private but members work in the public sector. The benefits are directly comparable, but both employees and employers pay considerably less….
This article by John Kay and Mervyn King (the former governor of the Bank of England), was submitted to the JEP. It was part of the body of overwhelming evidence pushing for a more sensible approach to risk. As this explains, the attempt to prevent risk to employees has led to the closure of many defined benefits schemes (and their replacement with much worse schemes).

UCU superannuation Working Group statement

SWG endorses the report of the JEP

"The UCU superannuation working group (SWG) met on 18 September 2018 and considered the report of the JEP. After a wide ranging discussion the SWG welcomed the report as a significant and impressive piece of work. The SWG would like to express its thanks to the chair of the JEP and all members of the panel for the speed with which they undertook the task and for the report’s findings and unanimous recommendations. The SWG agreed the following position in regards to the JEP report and recommendations:

  • SWG endorses the JEP report and its recommendations as basis for negotiations
  • SWG looks forward to UUK and USS making the same commitment
  • SWG encourages UCU branches to consider the report and recommendations and to seek the views of members
  • SWG encourages branches to raise the report with their Vice Chancellor or Principal and encourage them to support the report.
  • SWG looks forward to the JEP continuing its work on phase 2 of the agreed process."

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