The University and College Union (UCU) warned universities could face industrial action if they support proposals of a Universities UK consultation that would see “unnecessary and damaging cuts to Universities Superannuation Scheme pensions”.
The union represents more than 130,000 academics and is a member of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) joint negotiating committee (JNC), designed to resolve employee-employer pension-related disputes.
It said the UUK proposals published today were “almost identical” to ones presented to lecturers and “which members rejected midway through UCU’s 2018 industrial action”. The union warned that its university members were likely to vote for more industrial action if employers did not make “radical improvements” to the proposition.
UUK hopes its plan for a lower-cost short-term payment option will stem the flow of university employees – especially young, early-career staff – from opting out of the increasingly expensive scheme. UCU described the plan as “vague”.
[Universities ] have offered very little to dissuade members from voting for another round of industrial action
– Dr Jo Grady, UCU
UUK accepts that “the scheme’s status quo cannot be maintained”, but seeks to reduce costs for employers and employees and preserve “some element” of the scheme’s defined benefits. The union rejected this approach and said employers should “challenge the USS Trustee’s underlying assumptions, instead of attempting to slash scheme members’ benefits”.
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “Since our last round of industrial action, UUK has spent over a year in talks and negotiations assuring UCU that they will confront USS over its unilateral, poorly-evidenced approach to setting contribution rates.
“But the response of UUK to USS’s refusal of their request for a review of the 2020 valuation has been weak, to say the least. UUK is talking about strengthening the employer covenant, but the concessions which they are asking USS to make in return for this are far too small.”
Dr Grady said USS employers were “financially healthy” and the scheme “uniquely robust”.
“UUK claims that they ‘will continue pressing the USS Trustee to reconsider its valuation assumptions’, but we have yet to see concrete evidence of their commitment to doing so. If anything, they have de-escalated from their previous stance,” Dr Grady continued.
A spokesperson for Universities UK, on behalf of USS employers, said: “It is easy to simply oppose change but reform is necessary to tackle the scheme’s funding gap and ensure that USS pensions are affordable for members and employers. We would welcome and be keen to examine alternative proposals from UCU.”
Read more: UUK moves to break pensions impasse