Strike threat at Staffordshire University over TPS and subsidiary employment

The University and College Union claimed the decision would create a “two-tier” workforce among academics at Staffordshire University

The University and College Union (UCU) is balloting its members at Staffordshire University over moves to employ new academics through a subsidiary, removing their entitlement to the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS).

The union claimed the policy would create a “two-tier workforce”, forcing new lecturers to accept a “much inferior” pension scheme and less favourable working conditions “over time”. It said no other university denied academic staff access to TPS and urged the bosses to change course.

In response to UCU complaints, the university said it would conduct a 12-month evaluation of the policy in July 2022 “to understand and address any real and tangible issues, rather than non-specific and potentially unfounded concerns”.

A university spokesperson told University Business the policy was unconnected “in any way to outsourcing” and would bring with it “no differential changes to terms and conditions for those staff employed by the subsidiary other than pension provision”.

The university said the practice of employing through a subsidiary was established for new non-academic employees in 2018. Unison members at Staffordshire University went on strike for five days in 2018 over the changes, which saw the enrolment of new professional services staff on the university-run defined contribution scheme rather than the local government pension scheme. The university told University Business it had received no complaints about the change since the implementation.

“For new academic staff, just like new professional support staff, we are now employing them through a subsidiary, wholly-owned and managed by the university, with no other party,” the Staffordshire University spokesperson said. “We committed to recognising UCU and UNISON within the subsidiary, just like the university.”

Staffordshire’s plans are a blatant attack on our hard-won terms and conditions. If pushed through, they would destroy cohesion
– Anne O’Sullivan, UCU

The ballot runs from 18 February until 11 March.

UCU regional official Anne O’Sullivan said: “Staffordshire’s plans are a blatant attack on our hard-won terms and conditions. If pushed through, they would destroy cohesion. Colleagues doing exactly the same work could be on different contracts and under different management.

“Unless the university abandons plans to create a two-tier workforce, it will struggle to attract and retain staff who will look to work elsewhere. This will lead to a devastating impact on student learning, threatening the university’s future.”

The scheme comprises many post-92 universities, like Staffordshire, along with colleges and state and private schools. The cost of TPS has increased in recent years, even leading to threats of industrial action in the independent school sector. As of 23 November last year, 287 independent schools had either left the scheme or notified the Department for Education of their intention to do so.

In 2019/20, changes to pension costs meant employers faced a 43% increase in contributions to the TPS. While the Treasury has agreed to fund the cost of the uplift for schools, independent employers – such as private schools and universities – face meeting the costs alone.

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