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USS pension justice - we demand it

Important update on USS negotiations

3 September 2021

An important development occurred this week in negotiations with employers over USS pensions. Despite intensive efforts by UCU's negotiators to find an alternative solution, employers forced their plans for severe cuts to your retirement benefits through the USS Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC).

The scale of these cuts is illustrated by the modelling tool which UCU released in May and which tens of thousands of UCU members have already used. 

Employers pushed ahead with their proposals in the face of a far superior set of UCU proposals that had been developed by your elected negotiators.

Employers' excuse for dismissing UCU's proposals was that they could not commit to providing the 'covenant support' necessary to underwrite them - essentially, restrictions on how institutions borrow money, along with a commitment to remain in the scheme for at least 20 years. This is despite the fact that employers were perfectly willing to provide exactly the same level of support for their own plans to cut members' pensions to the bone. 

Employers forced their decision through today's meeting, despite calls from UCU to delay the process by one month, to allow time for employers to be consulted on providing equal covenant support for UCU's proposals. 

You can find read more about what happened in our press release

What happens next? 

Now that employers have forced their own proposals through the JNC, members are increasingly likely to need to vote for, and take, industrial action to achieve an acceptable outcome. 

At this stage, the only realistic way to avoid industrial action in the coming months would be for employers to hold a rapid consultation on covenant support and the UCU proposals, with a view to potentially revoking the decision which they just forced through.

To make that happen will require every UCU member and branch to put maximum pressure on employers as soon as possible. 

Remind yourself about the scale of the threat to your retirement benefits using our modeller and complete the accompanying survey to give us your views - including telling us that you are willing to take action to protect your pension.

We can make employers reconsider their approach, as we have done in the past - but we have to present them with a massive backlash against what they have just done and a serious threat of more industrial action.

UCU's proposals 

Under UCU's proposals: 

  • Employers would pay 24.9% (3.8% more than they do currently). 
  • USS members would pay 8.1% (1.5% less than they do currently). 
  • Members who spend less than two years (but over three months) in USS would be entitled to the same benefits as everyone else. 
  • Benefits would receive the same protection against inflation as they do currently. 

At the same time as members' contributions are reduced, there would also be a reduction in benefits - but a significantly smaller one than employers were proposing. 

These proposals would put money in every member's pocket and protect current benefits as far as possible. They are intended to offer a short term resolution to the current, 2020 valuation of USS, until USS can conduct a new valuation that takes account of the scheme's recovery from the pandemic and the financial strength of employers.

There is no comparison between the two sets of proposals - UCU's proposals would represent a far superior deal for members. Nor is there any question about affordability. USS's professional advisers have already determined that employers can afford the 24.9% rate which UCU has asked them to pay. 

A new deal for low paid and precariously employed staff 

UCU also proposed an arrangement that would allow the tens of thousands of USS-eligible university staff who are priced out of membership to join the scheme at a lower, more affordable rate. Members would be able to choose a 0% or 4% member contribution rate (in return for a proportionate reduction in benefits) while continuing to receive the full 24.9% from their employer. This would represent a major breakthrough in the struggle to provide secure pensions to as many staff as possible. 

Next steps 

Now is the time to remember everything that is at stake. USS is the largest defined benefit pension scheme in the UK outside the public sector and it has only remained that way thanks to UCU's campaigning and industrial action over the years. UCU members at our June sector conference supported the principle of making the scheme more affordable for lower paid staff, and voted to defend benefits through industrial action if necessary. 

For a fuller update on negotiations, plans for potential industrial action and what happens next, please attend our live online event from 1pm-2pm this Friday 3 September. Click here to register for this event.

With best wishes

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary 

Last updated: 6 May 2022