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July, 2019:

Industrial action ballots on USS and pay

Following UCU’s declaration last month of a trade dispute over USS at 69 universities, the union’s Higher Education Committee (HEC) on Friday set out a timetable for two ballots calling for industrial action in the autumn – one over USS in pre-1992 universities and another over pay across the whole HE sector.

The ballots will be disaggregated (i.e. institutions will be polled separately) and run alongside each other from 9th September to 30th October. For the UCU announcement see: https://ucu.org.uk/article/10187/Universities-on-strike-warning-as-UCU-announces-pay-and-pension-ballots?list=1676

Many of you will have noticed that USS has been much in the news in past weeks and in particular that a parliamentary select committee is investigating the governance of the scheme in the light of recent whistle-blower revelations. UCU also recently addressed letters to university employers updating them on the motions passed at Congress relating to pension contribution increases and requesting that employers cover the total cost of any additional contributions called for by USS Board.

In light of these ongoing developments, we think it important to send around some links and information for those looking to stay up-to-date on the dispute and hear from the parties involved.

On the parliamentary inquiry, please see here: https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/news-parliament-2017/the-pensions-regulator-17-19/

The President of the Sheffield branch of UCU and national USS negotiator Sam Marsh has composed a recent overview briefing with up-to-date information on the dispute here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTeSm0s4Yms&feature=youtu.be

Professor Jane Hutton, one of the three USS trustee directors nominated by UCU, appeared on the BBC 4 Today programme outlining her concerns about governance failings at USS. A recording is available here:

https://ucu.org.uk/article/10180/Professor-Hutton-speaks-to-Radio-4-on-USS-failings

Finally, you can access our own university’s response on 19th June to UCU’s trade dispute letter here:

https://www.staffnet.manchester.ac.uk/news/display/?id=22151.

In the latter response, the University of Manchester indicates a preference for USS’s Option 3 for finalising the 2018 valuation. If accepted by employers and the Pensions Regulator, this would see members’ pension contributions increase from 8.8% to 9.6% in October and employers’ contributions go up from 19.5% to 21.1%, with no change in benefits; this arrangement would hold for for two years and the next valuation would be brought forward to 2020, by which time the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) will have submitted its second report on USS governance and the schemes’ valuation methodology.

This is not in line with the UCU’s ‘No Detriment’ policy and, more importantly, does not implement the full slate of recommendations from the first, September 2018, report of the JEP, which was set up by UCU and UUK in exchange for ending the industrial dispute last year. Importantly, the letter indicates that the University rejects UCU’s demand that employers absorb all the cost of any extra contributions, rather than passing them on to members. As UCU’s incoming General Secretary, Jo Grady, indicated in an email message to members on June 24th: “Instead of holding USS to account, employers are willing to make us pay more and more for the same pension.”