UCU vows to strike over USS pension deal in autumn 2019

The UCU general secretary said universities ‘passed up an opportunity to bring us back from the brink’

The Universities and College Union (UCU) has warned of autumn strikes after the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) agreed a short-term solution for the divisive pension plan.

Universities’ proposals, which include an increase in employee and employer contributions, were agreed at a meeting of the USS Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC). UCU had tabled an amendment at the JNC calling for universities to meet all of the additional costs.

Read more: Suspended USS board member questions ‘quality’ of pension scheme’s calculations

The agreement secures USS until 2021, by which time the pension provider hopes to have agreed a long-term financial plan.

Members will see their contributions rise from 8.8% to 9.6% of their salary. The UCU warned universities in June it would ballot members on strike action if universities did not agree to meet the cost of any additional contributions.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Universities have passed up an opportunity to bring us back from the brink of another round of strikes. We are incredibly disappointed they have pushed to burden members with unnecessary and unfair extra costs.

“These increases have serious consequences and may force some members to leave USS, jeopardising not only individual retirement plans but the future of the scheme as a whole.

“Our ballot opens next month and unless universities are prepared to pick up the increased costs for USS members, they will face another round of strikes over pensions. The last round of strikes secured the Joint Expert Panel (JEP), but universities failed to press USS to implement the JEP’s recommendations in full and USS members should not have to pay for their failings.”

UCU warned of pension strikes if universities did not agree to cover the cost of increased contributions Credit: Julian Stallabrass, Flickr
UCU warned of pension strikes if universities did not agree to cover the cost of increased contributions. (Credit: Julian Stallabrass, Flickr)

UCU will now ballot members at 96 institutions, including all but two Russell Group universities.

The two-year joint agreement will see total contributions to the scheme increase by 30.7%, but this figure – and the amount employees pay – could increase still further, UCU have warned. Union bosses say next year’s USS valuation could mean a default 34.7% increase in October 2021, with members contributions increasing from 9.6% to 11%.

Read more: UCU threatens to boycott Trinity College over USS withdrawal

A Universities UK spokesperson, on behalf of USS employers, said: “Today’s decision by the USS Joint Negotiating Committee ensures that members’ benefits are protected at current levels with the increase in costs shared 65% by employers, and 35% by members.

“The decision means that the planned hike in contributions for members and employers that was due to take place from October will be avoided. Instead, a more manageable level of contributions will be in place until October 2021.

“This provides a fair, short-term solution, acceptable to The Pensions Regulator and the USS Trustee, which allows time for the Joint Expert Panel to suggest options for the longer-term. We look forward to working with UCU to jointly consider options for the 2020 valuation.”

Header image credit: Magnus Hagdorn, Flickr. 

Got a news story for UB? Contact James Higgins on 0117 300 5526

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