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Action for USS

13 December 2019

UCU members have already taken serious and sustained industrial action in the face of damaging proposals from the employers which would effectively destroy the USS pension scheme. But the fight is not over!

Demand USS pensions justice!

  • The employers wanted to end guaranteed pension benefits.
  • They said your final pension should depend on how your 'investments' perform and not on your contributions.
  • We said it's wrong to risk our members' futures.
  • They now want you to pay more for your existing pension.
  • It's time, once again, to make a stand.

Key member updates

UCU has accused employer body Universities UK (UUK) of 'seriously misleading' vice-chancellors over pension cuts which UUK had claimed would amount to between 10% and 18%. A modeller by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) indicates that cuts to guaranteed, defined benefit pensions built up in the future would amount to 41% for a USS member earning around £39k, a typical lecturer salary. Overall, once the non-guaranteed, defined contribution element of the scheme is taken into account, the same member would lose 31% of their annual pension when they retire, which would worsen to 36% after 20 years in retirement: Vice chancellors misled over pension cuts by own employer body, new data shows

UCU has warned that up to 100 universities could face disruption in the new year if the dispute over changes to USS is not resolved after it was announced that members at 42 universities will be asked to back strike action in fresh ballots that open on Monday 6 December and close on Friday 14 January. The reballots come after a number of branches narrowly missed the Conservative's anti-trade union turnout threshold, in some cases by only one or two votes: it was announced today

Industrial action over the changes to USS pensions will begin on 1 December, it was announced today. Strike action will run for three days from Wednesday 1 December to Friday 3 December, and the higher education committee has decided to call action short of a strike (ASOS) from 1 December, starting with working to contract only.

In a message to members, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said 'Employers are doubling down on their completely unacceptable positions... We are at an impasse and nothing will change for the better unless UCU members put on a massive show of strength in those three days of strike action and accompanying ASOS': Industrial action starts on 1 December

UCU has written to university employer representatives outlining what university vice chancellors have to do to avoid industrial action in the next few weeks, escalating into spring and beyond: UCU writes to university bosses setting out how to avoid pre-Christmas campus strikes

Read also the latest from the general secretary on next steps.

Members have backed strike action in a ballot over cuts to pensions. Overall, 76% of UCU members who voted backed strike action. 88% voted in favour of action short of strike: UCU members back strikes over pension cuts

See the full results here

The University of Edinburgh's vice-principal has stated that the university has achieved a larger than expected surplus, 'first and foremost' because of lower than expected employer contributions to USS pensions, a development he described as 'fantastic news'. UCU general secretary Jo Grady wrote to members questioning whether a university's surplus could ever be 'fantastic news' when it comes at the cost of a decent retirement?

She also shared with members that USS has finally made it possible for active scheme members to get a full picture of what their own benefits will look like under the employers' cuts, by releasing a new modeller as part of their consultation process. Jo said it reinforces the deeply worrying picture provided by our own modeller released back in May.

After taking detailed advice from a leading pensions QC, UCU has written to the chief executive of USS, Bill Galvin setting out a range of concerns about the valuation process. UCU believes that USS may have breached its own scheme rules in a way that has materially impacted the ability of employers and members to negotiate an acceptable outcome. Read more on the legal situation from Jo Grady.

The national dispute ballots open today. Ballot papers will be sent via first class post. Please return them quickly. For more information and for resources to help get the vote out, please go to our HE disputes 2021.

On the eve of the national dispute ballots opening, UCU general secretary Jo Grady has emailed HE members: Your ballot papers arrive this week: vote YES to industrial action

Jo also spoke with student newspaper The Tab about why UCU members are taking action, asking why 'university managers, year after year, are happy to let chaos reign in the sector'.

UCU said today that Universities UK should show they are serious about reforming USS by withdrawing their cuts and agreeing to a new valuation of the scheme instead of wasting time on ridiculous PR moves: UUK must withdraw pension cuts if they want to avoid strikes, says UCU

Intense preparations for the USS pension ballot is under way. The key dates are as follows:

  • Monday 18 October: ballot packs will be dispatched by Civica Election Services to UCU HE members via 1st class post, with 1st class prepaid envelope enclosed
  • Friday 22 October-Thursday 28 October (5pm): online replacement ballot request form opens
  • Thursday 4 November (12 noon): ballot closes.

Further details on ballot timetable and activities have been sent out to all branch officers; please contact your branch and volunteer to 'get the vote out' (GTVO). We will be in touch again very soon with updates, resources, FAQs, and campaign events.

We are also planning to produce a series of videos which capture the lives of members in higher education, and how they are affected by degraded pay, casualisation, equality failings and more. Please get in touch with the UCU press team if you would like to be involved!

UCU general secretary Jo Grady has announced the timetable for action on both USS and Four Fights disputes, saying 'we have tried to negotiate and compromise with employers, but they haven't even met us half way. So, we have no option but to escalate and try to win change through collective action.'  Ballots will open on Monday 18 October. Members are urged to check their membership information and postal address is up-to-date by logging in to  My UCU.

A special higher education sector conference (HESC) held on 9 September 2021 has called for an industrial action ballot over the changes imposed to USS pensions, alongside a ballot over the employers' final 2021-22 pay offer.

To summarise, the special HESC agreed to:

  • instruct HEC to declare a dispute with UUK over USS
  • ballot all USS members for industrial action to defend a defined benefit USS scheme
  • take industrial action (including strike and action short of strike action) in the autumn term
  • initiate exploration of the feasibility of conditional benefits and conditional indexation
  • continue the Four Fights campaign (pay, workload, casualisation, equality)
  • ballot all HE members for industrial action in support of Four Fights
  • coordinate the USS and Four Fights ballots
  • take industrial action in pursuit of the Four Fights beginning in November
  • coordinate the campaign with sister unions
  • prepare a 'Get The Vote Out' operation.

There will be a special meeting of the higher education committee on Monday 20 September to discuss the outcomes of the conference and agree the next steps. Following that meeting of HEC we will communicate further with members including details on a clear timetable for the ballots and any resulting industrial action, as well as how they can get involved in the campaign.

Employers force through plans to cut university retirement benefits: UCU says industrial action in universities is now 'inevitable' after employer body Universities UK (UUK) voted to push ahead with its proposals to cut thousands of pounds from the retirement benefits of university staff. UCU general secretary Jo Grady has updated members on what happens next.

UCU responds to UUK announcement on USS support that they will agree to more support for the Universities Superannuation Scheme by saying that while this is welcome, it does nothing to address the hole in UUK's proposals which will see scheme members suffer cuts to their pension benefits. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said that UUK still needs to work with us to push USS to carry out a new moderately prudent 2021 valuation and abandon its flawed 2020 valuation 'which has consistently led to unjustified and unnecessary demands to either slash benefits, increaser contributions, or both'.

The higher education committee has called a special sector conference on 9 September 2021 to discuss the current disputes and developments in higher education, including those relating to USS. Members are asked to please keep engaged with branch meetings which will feed into the conference.

UCU has slammed Universities UK after it used the results of an employer consultation to back swingeing cuts to USS pensions which would wipe thousands off retirement funds, calling the results a 'PR exercise readying the ground for further cuts'. UUK has failed to publish full details of its proposals or individual employer responses.

UCU branches have also been asked to call emergency general meetings before 30 June after key decisions over the major issues facing the sector were taken at the recent higher education sector conference. Member participation in this process is critical in order to inform the next higher education committee meeting on 2 July, where they will decide how we proceed with our campaign over pensions.

UCU launches a pensions modeller to illustrate the benefits members will build up under UUK's proposals compared with the current arrangement. A typical member on a lecturer's salary, aged 37, will suffer a 35% loss to the guaranteed retirement benefits which they will build up over the rest of their career. You can learn more about the implications in our press release. UCU general secretary Jo Grady argues that the employers have not given staff meaningful, personalised information about the financial impact these cuts could have.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady has provided a brief update for members on the current USS situation, which includes details of a details of a new Q&A.

UUK is proposing massive cuts to USS members' retirement benefits and is consulting employers on whether to not to endorse them. UCU general secretary Jo Grady writes to members about the implications and how we can unite to stop any further cuts being imposed.

UCU accuses Universities UK (UUK) of proposing unnecessary and damaging cuts to USS pensions at a time when the scheme and the universities supporting it could afford to take a more progressive approach. This was in reaction to UUK's consultation of employers on their response to the contribution rates proposed by the USS Trustee for the 2020 valuation.

Pension advisors First Actuarial have also provided the union with new guidance on the valuation of the USS scheme covering funding and prudence and security of accrued benefits.

The higher education employers' body Universities UK (UUK) has written to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) Trustee calling for a review of the scheme valuation and has questioned the role of the Pensions Regulator (£).

UCU general secretary Jo Grady writes to members about the approach of the USS trustees announced in response to the 2020 scheme valuation. The employer representative, Universities UK, is now consulting employers on their response to the announcement, after which UCU will hold a special sector conference to discuss our next steps.

UCU said the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) has produced a report that risks endangering a healthy pension scheme. The USS's trustee update on the 2020 valuation said that for the scheme to remain sustainable the combined employer/employee contribution rate will need to rise from the current 30.7% to as much as 56% in a worst case scenario. In response, UCU general secretary Jo Grady pointed to flaws in the valuation of the scheme, which include USS having an overly pessimistic view of the higher education sector and not taking proper account of its growing asset base.

Read the full story: UCU response to USS trustee update

UCU is calling on employers in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) to join it in demanding a change of approach to the ongoing 2020 valuation of the pension scheme.

This comes after the Oxford UCU branch and the University of Oxford wrote a joint letter to USS chief executive Bill Galvin, raising concerns over the scheme's valuation, following a similar joint letter by Cambridge UCU and the University of Cambridge in December. Last month, 3,874 people also signed a letter of complaint to USS.

UCU welcomed the approach taken by both universities and said more employers should work with their local UCU branches to challenge USS's approach.

Read the full story: UCU calls for more universities to join fight for fair pensions

USS has now started to consult employers on the technical provisions for its 2020 valuation. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said 'This is a critical moment, as each employer now has a chance to give their view on USS's proposals. As things stand, those proposals would lead to massive increases in the cost of our pensions'.

UCU said it had no confidence in the 'needlessly cautious' approach taken by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) in its valuation of the pension scheme: UCU response to Universities Superannuation Scheme 2020 valuation

Read what led up to the current dispute here.



    Last updated: 29 November 2021