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UCU wins five year long USS pension dispute

20 October 2023

UCU's members have voted to end their dispute with university employers over the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), which is the UK's largest private pension fund.

Over 99% of the 19k UCU members who took part, voted to bring the dispute to an end after employer body UUK made an offer of full restoration. The vote brings the dispute, which has seen a total of 69 days of strike action since 2018, to a close.

Pension benefits are now set to be restored by Monday 1 April 2024. This:

  • reinstates the previous accrual rate of 1/75 
  • increases the defined benefit threshold from £40k back to where it would have been had changes not been implemented, at around £70k
  • removes the 2.5%pa cap on pension increases before and after retirement which will better protect pensions against inflation.

There will also be an additional one-off pension payment of around £900m to help make good the money members have lost since April 2022. The restoration and one-off payment mean an extra £16-£18bn will now go into pension pots.

The agreement also paves the way for new contribution rates to be introduced as soon as January. This is likely to bring employee contributions down from 9.8% to 6.1%, putting more money into UCU members pockets. The changes will see the typical USS member be around £150-£200k better off due to paying less into their pension and receiving much more throughout their retirement.

The changes reverse the 2022 cut, which slashed members' future guaranteed pensions by 35%. The restoration is the first time a UK union has achieved a reversal of a pension cut of this magnitude. USS is the biggest private pension scheme in the UK.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'This is a momentous day, not just for our members, but for workers everywhere. After taking 69 days of strike action in a five year battle to defend our pensions, we have won and within months university staff will see the UK's largest private pension scheme fully restore our pensions.

'For years, our members were told that what they were demanding on pensions was impossible. When I stood for election, I made it clear that I didn't believe this, but that we would only win by pulling together and never giving up.  Today is a historic victory for UCU members, and they should be rightly proud of what they have achieved. Over three months of picketing, countless days of action short of a strike, ballots, and campaigning have brought us here. Vice-chancellors told us to stop striking, pension 'experts' said our campaign was a lost cause, but we have proven them wrong.

'We hope this victory inspires other workers who have also seen their pension slashed. But we won't stop here - the same dedication that fuelled this pension fight is felt just as intensely when it comes to pay, workloads and job security. We will not stop until we create a higher education sector that properly values all its staff.'

Last updated: 25 October 2023