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Defend your USS pension rights

This section contains important information about negotiations between UCU and the employers on the future of the USS pension scheme.


31 January 2013 - comparison of USS with Teachers Pension

The joint working group of employers and UCU have undertaken a comparison of USS CRB scheme with the proposed heads of agreement with Teachers Pensions CARE due to come in April 2015. Different career paths have been modelled to provide an insight into the differences to members:

 (.pdf) file type icon Comparison of USS and TPS CARE schemes - report, Jan 13 (.pdf) [221kb]
 (.xls) file type icon Comparison of USS and TPS CARE schemes - data summary, Jan 13 (.xls) [29kb]

21 September 2012 - action suspended after resumption of talks

UCU branches have agreed to suspend the current work-to-contract from 26 September on the basis that the employers have agreed to restart talks. Read the full story here


13 September - conference votes for talks resumption

A special conference of pre-92 branches agreed to seek a resumption of talks with the employers to resolve the USS dispute. Read more at defenduss.web.ucu.org.uk

17 July 2012 - chair casts vote with UCU

We had negotiated a 12-month extension to the right to take unreduced pension benefits if you are made redundant. In response to the resumption of our industrial action, the employers had refused to support the implementation of this agreement through the USS Joint Negotiating Committee.

Last week UCU representatives called a vote on the issue and Sir Andrew Cubie, the Chair of the JNC, voted with the UCU representatives. The extension to this previous benefit is now in place.

14 June 2012 - Congress votes to return to work-to-contract

Following a debate at Higher Education Sector Conference in which the majority of delegates felt that insufficient progress had been made in the talks, delegates voted to call on members to return to working to contract as of Monday 18 June. The employers have been formally informed of the union's position. In response to the resumption of our industrial action, they have indicated that they are not prepared to continue with further talks to consider possible changes to the scheme.

Please read the full details of what Higher Education Sector Conference are calling on members to do and more on the employers' response:  Defend USS campaign site

2 April 2012

A joint group of UCU and representatives of the pre-92 employers have met on two occasions to work through the key stages associated with the work programme submitted to our special conference of pre-92 branches on 31 January.

Two meetings in March were held with USS staff and the actuarial advisers. These meetings discussed the approach to be adapted to the comparison of the USS CARE scheme against the TPS Heads of Agreement scheme. In line with the work programme approved by our conference, the advisers have been asked to model a comparison at the level of the individual (following career paths we suggested) and also a note on the aggregate impact on USS if the provisions of the TPS CARE scheme were adopted by USS.

The advisers have agreed to provide their report in time for the next meeting of UCU and the employers on 16 April. It is hoped that the information provided will help focus further discussions and the employers' side has agreed a schedule of further meetings before the UCU HE sector conference. This is helpful, particularly as UCU negotiators have been clear that we must be in a position to circulate a report on progress prior to conference.

Although the UCU team is determined to make progress through negotiations, at this stage it is too early to judge whether there will have been sufficient progress to enable a further suspension of the action. While the need to take further action would be regrettable, we must be prepared to resume industrial action when and if necessary. Therefore, branches should continue to agree local escalation plans in case the negotiations do not deliver acceptable outcomes.

17 February 2012

Quotation : Quotation markThe HE officers (on the advice of the union's Superannuation Working Group) have now agreed that the employers should be notified that we are willing to suspend our current industrial action.

Negotiations will therefore resume shortly on the key issue of the comparability of the USS schemes with other public sector schemes, including TPS.

We now have the opportunity to talk to the employers about crucial aspects of the package imposed in October 2011, such as the: inflation cap, accrual rates, and revaluation indices, and the right to an un-reduced pension if made redundant. On this latter point, we have already won a 12-month extension to enable a joint review.

However, the HE officers have also agreed that we should not suspend the current industrial action on an open-ended basis or even to the end of the negotiating timetable. Instead, UCU will be reporting on progress to our June conference  so a decision can then be made then about our suspended action in the light of developments.

The USS negotiators have a tough task and I know you will give them every support.

Best as ever

Sally Hunt,
UCU General Secretary

18 January 2012

Sally Hunt has written to members on developments arising from the negotiations between UCU and representatives of the USS institutions and the immediate steps the employers have agreed to move on following members' action.

A conference of branches and local associations will take place on 31 January to decide whether to accept the negotiating team's recommendation that UCU suspend its current action in order to participate in the joint reviews.

Branches and local associations will be consulting members as to how they should vote on your behalf at the decision-making conference. Please participate so your voice is heard before we decide our next steps.

Read the full letter: Update on USS negotiations

10 January 2012

The 'work to rule' in pre-1992 HEIs remains in place and is causing difficulties for employers.

Members may be aware that, at the end of October, the employers' agreed to further talks on issues relating to the USS scheme but outwith the extreme constraints imposed by the formal JNC machinery.

On 16 December, UCU representatives met directly with employers' representatives. We pressed the employers on their insistence on ending the right to an unreduced pension in the event of redundancy from 2013. We envisage that 2013 could potentially be a year of particular upheaval in the sector. We also pressed the employers' representatives for a response to the changed pension landscape, in particular the recent developments in other public sector schemes. We said the employers needed to respond to the terms of the CARE schemes that even this Government was offering to others working in public services.

The employers agreed to further meetings on 5, 10 and 12 January.

At its December meeting, the Higher Education Committee agreed to call a decision-making conference of pre-92 branches to discuss recent developments in the dispute and plans to escalate industrial action. This will take place on 31 january 2012.

Members take strike action

30 November - Defend public sector pensions

Message from Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary

18 November: USS talks begin

Talks between the UCU and the employers begin today. These are the first talks since May this year and the fact that they are even taking place is a massive tribute to the work-to-contract action being taken by members in pre-92 branches. UCU has also written to USS challenging the assumptions it will be using to value the scheme. Please keep up the action. Read more here.

14 November: USS valuation briefing

UCU has publisheed a briefing note on the USS valuation:  (.pdf) file type icon USS valuation report: UCU briefing note, Nov 11 (.pdf) [35kb]

4 November: Sally Hunt writes to USS members

Quotation : Quotation markI hope you will have seen by now that the employers have, at last, responded positively to UCU's proposal for talks. You can see more about this story here.

Thank you for your help in achieving this small but welcome step. Such talks would not be taking place without your 'working to contract' campaign.

I will do all I can to make the talks a success. However, I will need your help. Please continue to observe  the 'work to contract' campaign.  Every member who supports the union's campaign strengthens our bargaining position. Further details are available here: defenduss.web.ucu.org.uk.

I have asked your local associations and branches to continue with their local preparations to escalate the action so that the union is ready should talks fail.  Unless there is a breakthrough before that time, the union will also be asking members to take one day of strike action on 30 November, alongside many other unions.

As ever, you have my assurance that I will do all I can to achieve a fair settlement.

Sally Hunt
General secretary

28 October: UCU welcomes fresh pension talks

Representatives of UCU and university employers have agreed a programme of talks to try and resolve a dispute about changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme. You can find out more about the forthcoming talks here: UCU welcomes fresh pensions talks

10 October countdown to action + http://defenduss.web.ucu.org.uk

The UCU general secretary emailed members on 29 September to alert the to the preparations now well under way for the next phase of the USS dispute. From 10 October, the union is asking every member to support action short of a strike in the form of 'working to contract'. As a UCU member, this means that from 10 October you should:

  • work no more than your contracted hours where those hours are expressly stated, and in any event not to exceed the maximum  number of hours per week stipulated in the Working Time Regulations
  • perform no additional voluntary duties, such as out of hours cover, or covering for colleagues (unless such cover is contractually required)
  • undertake no duties in breach of health and safety policies or other significant employer's policies
  • set and mark no work beyond that work which you are contractually obliged to set and/or mark
    attend no meetings where such attendance is voluntary.

You can find detailed guidance and answers to frequently asked questions about this action on our new campaign site: defenduss.web.ucu.org.uk

USS industrial action ballot: members vote for 'sustained campaign of industrial action'

UCU members have voted for a campaign of sustained industrial action in protest at the imposition of changes to their pensions. Over three-quarters (77%) of UCU members who voted, voted for the sustained campaign of industrial action. UCU is now discussing a long-term national plan of action with its branches. The action is likely to begin in mid-October and UCU warned today that it will continue until there is a breakthrough.

Actions under consideration to start the campaign include working-to-contract and working-to-rule. If the employers still refuse to negotiate then the union will consider setting exams but not marking them and, if required, escalating the action to include a full assessment boycott. UCU members also voted in favour of strike action, which the union said may be a feature of its campaign.

The turnout was higher than the previous ballot held in early 2011, despite the fact that the vote took place during the summer months, evidence of members' strong feelings. The union said the employers had waged a campaign of misinformation, including a taxpayer-subsidised advert aimed at persuading staff the scheme was in trouble based on a snapshot of its value, rather than a proper valuation.

The ballot came after members of UCU attending UCU's annual congress voted to step up the campaign of industrial action in an increasingly bitter row over the USS changes. The escalation of action could see widespread disruption to marking, the admissions process and exams.

Delegates at May's UCU Congress in Harrogate backed a motion calling for UCU members in the 'old' pre-92 universities to be balloted for 'sustained industrial action.': UCU members vote to step-up industrial action in pensions row

Ballot result

The USS ballot result has produced majorities in favour of both action short of a strike and strike action as follows:

Are you prepared to take industrial action consisting of strike action?
YES: 9,494 (58.06%)
NO: 6,857 (41.94%)

Are you prepared to take industrial action consisting of action short of a strike?
YES: 12,510 (76.69%)
NO: 3,802 (23.31%)

The turnout was 42%, which is up substantially from the last ballot, despite voting taking place over the summer. Thank you to all members for helping to deliver this substantial mandate for action.

Read the full news release

£50k 'recognition' award question

UCU question why the chief executive of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) received a 'recognition award' of £50,000 while the dispute over changes to the scheme was still ongoing: University pension chief pockets £50,000 'reward' as scheme members set to lose over £100,000

Members' briefing, June 2011

A briefing for UCU members in pre-92 universities involved in the USS dispute. The briefing aims to update you on where we are now, what we have achieved, what remains to be done, why we are still in dispute and how we might end this dispute in a way that protects UCU members:  (.pdf) file type icon Defend USS: Members' briefing, Jun 11 (.pdf) [62kb]

The decision over whether we take these steps is down to you the member. We hope this briefing helps you to make that decision.

Employers railroad proposals through

On 10 May the employers forced through their changes after once again refusing to negotiate over changes to USS or UCU's tabled counter-proposals. The union's USS negotiators have recommended a fresh ballot of USS members for a major programme of sustained disruption, which would include external examiner duties and the admissions process during 2011-12. Read more here: USS dispute - Employers railroad proposals through and here: Universities face 'sustained disruption' as bullying employers railroad pension changes through

UCU: without prejudice counter-proposals

UCU requests meaningful engagement with the employers with a view to reaching consensus on adjustments to the current proposals in order to prepare the ground for a successful outcome to the next JNC meeting.

As a basis for discussion, UCU proposes the following:

  1. Adjustment to the accrual rate for the proposed CARE scheme to 1/65th plus 3/65ths lump sum. To reflect the adjustment in accrual rate, an increase in the contribution rates (proposed by the employers - July 2010) to a harmonised 7.5% for all scheme members. We are willing to enter further discussions on the basis of actuarial advice.
  2. UCU representatives will approve the rule changes proposed by the Trustee Company to mitigate the consequences of the new tax regime.
  3. The retention of existing rights to an unreduced pension on redundancy subject to a review to be completed by 2015. The review will include consideration of the requirements of the sector and affordability.

UCU accepts the adjustment proposed by the employers to:

  • increase the period of protection for re-joiners to 30 months
  • hard-wire CPI into the rules.

UCU requests:

  • Further consideration of instituting a flat-rate inflation cap of 10%
  • Further discussion on implementation of NPA focusing particularly on institutions with lower CPAs
  • Equitable arrangements for the sharing of future costs and savings.

Key information

USS branch briefing : image of the USS branch briefingBranch briefing - the impact on YOU

In this briefing, we set out three case studies, prepared by a respected actuary, alongside some personal testimony from some of our members - a reminder, if it were necessary, of why USS is so important to our members and of why it is so important that members support the strike action in defence of our pensions:

Illustration of the loss under the proposed CARE scheme

UCU has produced a series of documents which show the loss to the members if the present proposals on CARE go ahead, in different situations:

USS - Employers flawed consultation revealed

The higher education employers 'consulted' members on their changes - and their process was deeply flawed. Members should have received a 12 page booklet and were directed to a website where they could express their views on individual aspects of the changes as part of a 'narrative', in spite of the fact that the proposals form a complete package - not a 'pick and mix' of options.

UCU suggested that members responded to every question asked in the online consultation as follows:

'This proposal is part of an overall package which is detrimental to both existing and future members of USS, and which creates a highly divisive and damaging two tier benefits system. The challenges facing USS could be dealt with without reducing benefits by adopting the UCU proposals. My clear view is that the USS Board should listen to fund members, and not implement the employers' detrimental package of proposals.'

 (.pdf) file type icon 'The need for reform' A UCU perspective (.pdf) [46kb]

USS annual report

The annual report on the state of USS and how it's fared over the last 12 months has now been circulated. Among other things the report shows that the fund account took more in contributions that it paid out, and it started the year with £21.693.4m and ended at £30,197.9m - an increase of £8.504.5m:  (.pdf) file type icon USS annual report 2009-10 (.pdf) [1.5Mb]

USS - income and expenditure 2009-10 : extract from the USS annual report 2009-10

UCU proposals

The specification of the UCU proposals for changes to USS; this is the document that the July JNC had in front of it when the two proposals were voted on:

UCU riposte to the Employers' Pension Forum briefing

Related documents
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