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UCU responds to Universities UK's employer consultation on USS benefit changes

7 April 2021 | last updated: 12 April 2021

UCU has today accused Universities UK (UUK) of proposing unnecessary and damaging cuts to USS pensions at a time when the scheme and the universities supporting it could afford to take a more progressive approach. The union was responding to UUK's consultation of employers on their response to the contribution rates proposed by the USS Trustee for the 2020 valuation.

UCU said employers should deliver on previous promises to challenge the USS trustee's underlying assumptions, instead of attempting to slash scheme members' benefits. The union warned that its members were likely to vote for more industrial action if universities fail to make radical improvements to UUK's initial proposals. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'UUK's plans to cut the guaranteed, defined benefit element of members' pensions are almost identical to the ones which they put forward and which members rejected midway through UCU's 2018 industrial action - and they come at an even higher price in terms of employer and member contributions. Their proposals to address the high rate of staff opting out of the scheme are vague and will not be implemented in time to prevent the drastic contribution increases that are already scheduled for October 2021. 

'UUK claims that they "will continue pressing the USS trustee to reconsider its valuation assumptions", but we have yet to see concrete evidence of their commitment to doing so. If anything, they have de-escalated from their previous stance. 

'Since our last round of industrial action, UUK has spent over a year in talks and negotiations assuring UCU that they will confront USS over its unilateral, poorly evidenced approach to setting contribution rates. But the response of UUK to USS's refusal of their request for a review of the 2020 valuation has been weak, to say the least. UUK is talking about strengthening the employer covenant, but the concessions which they are asking USS to make in return for this are far too small. 

'There will be months of further negotiations and lobbying. But as it stands, employers have offered very little to dissuade members from voting for another round of industrial action. USS is a uniquely robust defined benefit pension scheme, backed by many strong employers in a financially healthy and world-renowned sector of the UK's economy. University staff deserve much better than the weak commitments and half-baked proposals which employers are putting forward.' 

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