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Autumn pension strikes more likely as universities impose higher costs

22 August 2019

The likelihood of another round of strikes has increased after universities backed measures that will increase costs for staff in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

At a meeting of the USS Joint Negotiating Committee, the universities' proposals - that will see members pay 9.6% of their salary into their USS pension, compared to 8.8% at present, with further hikes planned from 2021 - were backed by the chair Sir Andrew Cubie.

UCU tabled its own proposals to the JNC setting out why universities should meet any additional costs. The union previously wrote to universities in June and warned that if they did not agree to limit members' contributions to 8%, or meet the cost of any additional contributions, then they faced the risk of a strike action ballot.

UCU will now ballot its members at 69 institutions* for strike action. The ballot will open on Monday 9 September and close on Wednesday 30 October. The union says USS members have been frustrated by a lack of progress in the dispute that saw universities brought to standstill last year by unprecedented levels of strike action.

The strikes in early 2018 secured an independent Joint Expert Panel (JEP) to analyse the scheme and how it operated. At the heart of the current impasse is universities' refusal to rule out additional costs for scheme members, or to cover any rise in contributions.

Under the plans backed by universities, total contributions will be 30.7% and the split will be 21.1% for employers and 9.6% for employees. If a contribution rate arising from the next valuation in 2020 cannot be agreed in time then a default contribution rate of 34.7% would come into effect in October 2021 with members paying 11% and employers 23.7%.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Universities have passed up an opportunity to bring us back from the brink of another round of strikes. We are incredibly disappointed they have pushed to burden members with unnecessary and unfair extra costs. These increases have serious consequences and may force some members to leave USS, jeopardising not only individual retirement plans but the future of the scheme as a whole.

'Our ballot opens next month and unless universities are prepared to pick up the increased costs for USS members they will face another round of strikes over pensions. The last round of strikes secured the Joint Expert Panel, but universities failed to press USS to implement the JEP's recommendations in full and USS members should not have to pay for their failings.'

* University of Aberdeen
Aberystwyth University
Aston University
Bangor University
University of Bath
Queen's University of Belfast
Birkbeck, University of London
University of Birmingham
University of Bradford
University of Bristol
Brunel University, London
University of Cambridge
Cardiff University
City, University of London
Courtauld Institute of Art
Cranfield University
University of Dundee
University of Durham
University of East Anglia
University of Edinburgh
University of Essex
University of Exeter
University of Glasgow
Goldsmiths University, London
Heriot-Watt University
University of Hull
Imperial College
Institute of Development Studies
University of Keele
University of Kent
King's College London
University of Lancaster
University of Leeds
University of Leicester
Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine
University of Liverpool
London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
London School of Economics and Political Science
Loughborough University
University of Manchester
Newcastle University
University of Nottingham
Open University
University of Oxford
Queen Mary University of London
University of Reading
Royal Holloway, University of London
Royal Veterinary College
Ruskin College
School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS)
University of Salford
Scottish Association for Marine Science
University of London (Institutes and activities)
University of Sheffield
University of Southampton
University of St Andrews
St George's University of London
University of Stirling
University of Strathclyde
University of Surrey
University of Sussex
Swansea University
University of Wales Trinity St David's
University of Ulster
University of Suffolk
The School of Pharmacy and IOE, University College London
University of Wales
University of Warwick
University of York

Last updated: 23 August 2019