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USS pension justice - we earned it

Leaks show USS members need to act now

10 October 2019

After worrying leaks circulating this week from last month's HE employers' annual conference, my message to our USS members could not be clearer: act now and vote yes.

You and other UCU members in your institution are currently being balloted for industrial action on USS. As you know, the law requires us to ballot members by post only. It also requires us to reach a 50% threshold for turnout before we can take action.

Last year our employers made drastic proposals to end our guaranteed pension benefits. They told us there was nothing we could do about it, but industrial action was tremendously effective in forcing them to withdraw those proposals. However, if your branch does not reach that 50% turnout threshold this time nobody in your branch will be able to act and we will risk losing the momentum we have generated in this dispute.

If you have not received or have lost your ballot papers, please make sure that your membership information is up-to-date using My UCU, and request your replacement ballot paper here.

We need a long-term resolution

This week, shadow education secretary Angela Rayner highlighted the risk that this month's contribution increases will prevent staff from joining or staying in USS. UCU welcomed her call for further negotiations and reminded employers that any resolution will have to be a long-term one. We do not want to keep going on strike over USS. Whatever deal we agree, it needs to be sustainable.

Why we need a mandate for strike action now

This month we are facing contribution increases - to 9.6% for members - that will be difficult for many members to pay. USS's own surveys indicate that thousands of members could leave the scheme. This will make it harder to secure the benefits of members who remain.

On top of that our contributions are scheduled to get even higher - as high as 11% - from October 2021. Meanwhile, the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) will issue its second report later this year; but preparations for the 2020 USS valuation have already begun.

Equally worryingly, we learnt this week that USS is considering imposing new measures, including bringing forward the 2020 valuation, or revising the 2018 valuation. This could result in higher contributions as early as the next nine months and leave even less time for the JEP's conclusions to be implemented. 

It could not be clearer: we need to act now.

Can my employer afford the higher contribution increases we are asking for?

If the recommendations of the JEP's first report were applied to the 2018 valuation, the rate would be 26% or lower, and everybody would be paying less.

If employers put more pressure on USS we would be facing a more affordable outcome. In the past, employers' responses to USS consultations have led USS to make significant changes to its valuation. But in the last year employers have let USS get away with rejecting the JEP's most important proposals.

We are not asking employers to cover our contribution increases because we want them to pay more. We are asking because it is the only option we have left to focus their minds on confronting USS and following through on the findings of the JEP.

My employer says they've done all they can to influence USS. Why are we in dispute with them?

Just like a union, employers are effective when they work together rather than acting alone. Your employer may claim that they have tried harder than others to influence USS. But we have not yet seen individual employers coming together to build a substantial majority in favour of holding USS to account and enforcing the JEP's findings. Nothing will change until they start to do this.

Give your negotiators leverage: vote today

If you vote for industrial action you will show employers how serious we are about solving the problems with USS now. The bigger our mandate, the more likely that employers will make an offer which we can accept without needing to go on strike. Vote today and bring them back to the table.

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Last updated: 6 May 2022