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USS dispute: employers have responded to UCU's proposals

19 February 2022

As you will remember from my recent emails, the employer representative Universities UK (UUK) has consulted USS employers this week, including your employer, on whether to accept UCU's proposals for resolving the dispute. That consultation closed yesterday (Friday 18 February). We are still awaiting a full breakdown of the results but I can tell you now about the headline outcomes which UUK have reported to us.

Under UCU's proposals, employers could have increased their USS contributions by no more than 3.8 percentage points to protect current benefits for as long as possible until a new valuation could be conducted.

Instead, UUK have now informed us that the majority of employers still want to impose cuts that mean the guaranteed benefits you build up from April will be around a third less. For most members that will add up to thousands of pounds lost for each year you receive your pension.

Minor modification to employer proposals

Employers have apparently agreed only one small change to their proposals, worth an extra 0.3 percentage points in terms of contributions. You will recall their proposal that inflation-linked annual increases to pensions should be capped at a maximum of 2.5%, even if CPI inflation is above 2.5%. Employers now intend to defer the application of that cap until 2025. Your elected negotiators agree that this is nowhere near good enough to resolve the dispute.

Strike action going ahead on Monday and Tuesday

I know you will be extremely disappointed and angry to learn that employers have effectively reaffirmed their position. From university to university, VCs, senior managers and governing bodies have been presented with a reasonable, practical compromise by UCU and chosen to reject it.

Your employer will claim that these cuts are difficult but necessary, that they cannot be delayed or avoided, but that is completely false at a time when there are more students in higher education than ever and this part of the sector's finances are especially strong. They are insulting your intelligence and hoping you will blame anyone other than them for this reckless and inhumane attack on your ability to have a decent retirement.

Crucial negotiations on Tuesday

On Tuesday there is a crucial meeting of the USS joint negotiating committee (JNC). There is still time for employers or for UUK to show leadership and change their position before then. I and your elected negotiators will be using every mechanism at our disposal to try to make that happen and get the best possible outcome. The JNC's independent chair can also play her part by refusing to exercise her casting vote in favour of employers' proposals.

Any employer can act now by picking up the phone and telling UUK they need to change course. Every member has a role now in helping to force a U-turn, by making sure that the remaining two days of action are big enough to make employers and their negotiators think twice. You should also continue to email your VCs to make your voices heard, and encourage your students to do the same.

Your elected representatives on the higher education committee (HEC) meet next Friday, 25 February to consider our longer term plans for this dispute - including the possibility of reballots and a summer marking boycott, and ways to ensure that any cuts that do take place are reversed as soon as possible through a new valuation. But for the time being, I know everyone's focus will be on making sure Monday and Tuesday's action is bigger than ever and that negotiations are resolved in our favour as much as possible.

You will be joined on Monday and Tuesday by 24 more branches and thousands more UCU members taking action in the Four Fights dispute over pay, workload, casualisation and equality. Both disputes are very much still live and the action scheduled for Four Fights will continue into Monday 28 February - Wednesday 2 March, culminating in a massive day of joint action with the NUS and students from all over the UK.

Finally, if your branch is not taking strike action, don't forget to donate what you can to UCU's fighting fund to support members who are taking action.


Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

Last updated: 7 October 2022