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University staff overwhelmingly reject proposed pension scheme changes

14 December 2010 | last updated: 11 December 2015

Staff at UK universities have overwhelmingly rejected proposed changes from their employers to their pension schemes. In a ballot of over 31,000 people conducted by UCU, 96% said they did not support the employers' proposals to change the USS scheme.

The controversial changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme are opposed by the union who has called for a ballot of all USS members. USS, however, refused a ballot and hired a pension communication firm to conduct a consultation. Press reports suggest that less than 5% of active USS members have responded to the consultation, compared with over one in five (21.6%) who voted in UCU's online poll.
 
In recent weeks both Oxford and Cambridge universities have rejected the USS consultation and ordered USS members at those institutions to be sent both the USS proposed changes and those put forward by UCU. USS members' responses to the two sets of proposals will form part of any consultation feedback to USS.
 
Commenting on today's ballot result, UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Despite all the obstacles the employers put in our way, we have managed to conduct a poll of USS members on the future of their pension scheme. The results are pretty straightforward – there were over 31,000 votes and USS members have overwhelmingly rejected the employers' proposals. We hope the formal consultation has a similar turnout but somehow doubt it given members' complaints about the inadequacy of it.

'Despite spending money on pension communicators, the employers' consultation exercise has been a disaster. Oxford and Cambridge questioned a consultation where only one side of the argument was presented and ordered UCU's proposals to be circulated to staff. If USS wants the future of the scheme, and any changes to have any legitimacy, it needs to conduct a ballot of all USS members on its proposed changes and the ones put forward by the union.'
 
The union has always recognised some changes are needed in order to ensure the stability of the pension fund and to protect members' benefits. Working from the evidence available of what the scheme needed, UCU proposed an increase in members' contributions, along with an increased retirement age for new entrants and a cost-sharing mechanism should future increases be required.
 
The employers rejected the union's proposals and said they want to introduce a career average earnings scheme to replace the current final salary scheme. UCU says that move would see a typical new starter lecturer lose over £100,000 from their pension compared to the existing benefit package.
 
The ballot result in full:
Do you agree to the employers' proposals to change the USS scheme?
No 30,318 (96.3%)
Yes 1,162 (3.7%)

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