Sally Hunt letter to vice-chancellors

17 January 2018

UCU's general secretary has written to vice-chancellors to ask them - again - to use their influence to change the national position taken by Universities UK (UUK) on their behalf.

Dear vice-chancellor

USS dispute 

First thank you to those of you that have taken to time to contact me and engage with UCU branches. It is much appreciated.

We are in a critically important week for our pension scheme. Unless there is an agreed way forward the sector will be back in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. 

Given the seriousness of the situation, I want to update you on UCU's position. 

Since the December JNC you have been asked for comment on UCU proposals and in particular the increase in contributions members would need to pay to protect defined benefits.

UCU has made no secret of the fact that we believe a guaranteed pension is essential to both members and the sector. The value that is placed on a defined benefit pension, given the cuts to pay should not be underestimated. 

If pay hadn't lost 15% of its value in recent years or if staff costs had not continued to fall, both of which you control, we would be more sympathetic to a view that institutions can't afford the increase. But that is not the case. 

We believe our proposals to be more than fair in these circumstances. We first proposed that employers absorb the total cost. This is still by far our favoured and we believe the fairest option.  Other proposals, which we have been willing to explore and one of which we have formally tabled, allows for a cost sharing with yourselves as is already an agreed option under current rules. We have made it clear during talks with your negotiating team we are prepared to be flexible up to and including that any increase is a temporary solution to provide the space to explore a more permanent change. 

As you know we are balloting members in 68 pre 92 institutions. The ballot closes this Friday. The Trade Union Act 2016 is designed to prevent trade unions from taking action and I do not under estimate the barrier we must over come. 

You will be aware of the wide spread campaign, as well as members anxiety and concern. 

Win or lose, branches will not simply switch off when the ballot ends and I won't direct members and branches to stand down. 

UCU members want a decent pension in retirement. Your proposals do not offer that security and dignity. 

If the JNC on 23 January results in an outcome that is not in the interest of UCU members then we will have no choice but to seek recompense from individual institutions to make good the loss in our member's pensions. To be clear, the dispute could escalate after 23 January if no agreed outcome is found. 

The UCU higher education committee meets on Monday 22 January. 

The committee will consider the ballot results and agree the next steps.

The union's higher education committee (HEC) will also receive a report from our negotiators who will meet your team informally on Thursday of this week. 

If there is no movement from the UUK side that will enable us to start to negotiate on a decent defined benefit pension scheme then I need to be clear that HEC, should the ballot allow, will have little choice in regards to industrial action. 

I realise this is grim reading but I wanted to be clear with you where matters stand. The union will explore sharing costs with yourselves IF you increase your cap from 18% and recognise the need for a defined benefit pension scheme.

I hope that we can find a space to do that in the next few days. 

Please contact me if you would like to discuss matters further.

Yours sincerely

Sally Hunt
UCU general secretary

Last updated: 23 January 2018