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March 29th, 2018:

USS Dispute Update 29th March

As you will have seen from Sally Hunt’s email, the Higher Education Committee have decided to consult with members about the latest proposal regarding the USS dispute.  Her email also contains some background material and further information.  Here I will update on our local survey and discussions, and the meeting of branch delegates I attended in London yesterday.

As we all know from student feedback, the comments from a survey are often as useful as the tick boxes.  In the case of our survey on the proposals there was overlap between the points and questions raised by members, whichever box they ticked (ballot now, don’t ballot at this point or don’t know).  A very similar range of points were also raised by the branch delegates so I’ll go through the points raised, some information from the delegate meeting and some of my own views.

An important point raised in our survey and by delegates is about what happens if the USS board and/or the regulator acts in a way which means it is not possible to proceed with the proposal.  As Sally noted in her email, the regulator has made it clear he sees this as an opportunity to bring all sides together.  She also revealed that the regulator indicated to USS that USS has sufficient contingencies in place.  Finally, UCU and UUK have seven members of the USS trustees between them.  However, we do have to prepare for any eventuality, which is why UCU is going ahead with notifying employers about future strike action.  In our case, this begins with a week of strikes starting 16 April, and further days in May/June aimed at the peak exam-marking time.  We have to be prepared to take action if necessary.

There were many comments (from the survey and other delegates) along the lines “No-one trusts UUK”.  I think we’re right to be cautious, and it doesn’t help when UUK seems to lurch from one position to another.  The best we can do is prevail on the more “friendly” VCs (unfortunately I’m not convinced this includes our own) to keep pressing UUK to act reasonably, and, for example, to make sensible choices of their representatives on the expert panel, if we accept this proposal.

Many concerns were raised about ambiguous wording of aspects of the proposal.  Some of these have been clarified by subsequent statements, but clearly if these are not interpreted in the way we expect them to be we may need to take action in the future – but I think the employers now realise we can and will.  A point raised by the survey was clarification about how we are going to select our members of the expert panel (and this was a point I focussed on at the delegate meeting).  This is a very important point, since it is the members of the panel that will be interpreting the sometimes ambiguous wording.  It is essential therefore, that the members of the panel have the necessary combination of academic and financial expertise, but also share our understanding of what, for example, is meant by terms such as “broadly comparable” (and what isn’t).

There were questions about what happens after April 2019.  There will be a DB scheme running for the next three year cycle (2019-2022), the terms of which will be “broadly comparable” with the current scheme.

Thus there were a significant number of respondents and delegates who wanted more detail, clarification or assurances about elements of the proposal.  A significant minority of respondents to our survey, a significant number of people at the local discussion on Tuesday, and some branches reporting back yesterday, wanted more substantial revision of the wording of the proposal document.

Within our survey, the comments from those who wished us to ballot now (in addition to questions of clarification mentioned already) included that it was important that the membership now had a say on the proposals and a fear we would lose support (from members and others, such as students) if we did not ballot now.

Overall results from our survey that I reported to the delegate meeting (based on the numbers available then): were 638 completed surveys, 57% ballot now, 31% do not ballot at this point and 12% don’t know.

Sally has indicated we will be given supporting information alongside the proposals.  I encourage us all to take a well-earned break over the Easter weekend, and then to carefully consider the information once it comes out next week.

Finally, on a completely different matter, some of you will know that we had support from UNITE members at Fujitsu during our strikes.  They have an ongoing dispute, see  HERE for details and would welcome people joining their protests during their strike days next week (Tuesday to Friday, 7 to 10am).

Yours in solidarity

Gregory Lane-Serff

President, UMUCU