Employers refute latest union pension claims

The union claims rocketing asset values offsets the need for pension reforms – but employers have challenged what these improvements signify

Universities UK (UUK) has criticised claims made by the University and College Union (UCU) that “a drastic improvement” in the finances of a major sector pension scheme negates the need for benefit cuts.

The union’s general secretary repeated her assertion that the reforms to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) “are unjust, unnecessary and premised on a deeply flawed valuation”, claiming that latest figures from the pension scheme trustee prove her striking members “vindicated”.

USS made clear this week at the Joint Negotiating Committee that without the latest reforms we would not have seen such an improvement in the funding position
– Universities UK

UCU members at 68 universities have taken five-day strike action since 21 March, in part over plans to reform USS and reduce benefits to rein in what employers considered unsustainable costs.

Today, that strike action concludes, with staff at 16 universities expected at picket lines over the USS dispute. Today also marks the day the employer-backed USS reforms, voted through on a razor-thin margin at a governing board in February, come into force.

UCU claimed that employers should revoke the plans after figures emerged from the USS trustee that reported its assets grew to £88 billion. Failure to repeal would lead to further strikes, the union’s general secretary, Jo Grady, warned. Already, the union is re-balloting all USS university members, hoping to prolong legal strike action terms for a further six months into the 2022/23 academic year.

Employers, represented by UUK, pushed back on these fresh claims.

Said a UUK spokesperson: “USS made clear this week at the Joint Negotiating Committee that without the latest reforms we would not have seen such an improvement in the funding position, which remains very volatile month-to-month. The USS Trustee has also indicated that the required rate for previous benefits would likely be in excess of 40% of salary – even with the same level of covenant support employers have pledged under the package of reforms.

“Should the conditions seen in the last month prevail at the next valuation, it may be possible to reduce contributions or increase benefits or some combination of both. We remain open-minded about the optimal timing for the next valuation and look forward to seeing the more in-depth analysis of the position at the end of March 2022, which should be ready in May.”

Read more: Most university staff considering quitting in next five years – UCU

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