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UCU and UUK in talks over potential pensions agreement: temporary stalling or a long term solution?

UCU members still need to approve the settlement

agreement strikes

Earlier this evening the UCU (University and College Union) reached an agreement with UUK (Universities UK). They have agreed to a revised proposal to reform pensions which will be rolled out in a three year transitional arrangement. However, UCU members still need to approve the settlement for it to become permanent and it will be considered at a meeting next Tuesday.

They have agreed to a three year-'transitional arrangement' during which 'both employers and members will be required to pay higher contributions'. To be precise, employers will be expected to contribute 19.3% of salaries and members 8.7%. However, this higher level of contribution will only be expected during the three year long transition.

The new proposal will contain a 'meaningful level' of defined benefits, making a change from the proposal of a complete defined contributions scheme, leading to the strikes. However, they have agreed to re-open talks about alternative plans after the transitional experience expires, particularly about collective-defined contributions. Both sides have agreed to start an independent expert valuation group with an independent chair.

The UCU have also encouraged members to 'prioritise the rescheduling of teaching in order to minimise the disruption to students.'

However, not everyone is happy about the agreement casting doubt over whether it will be passed. Dr Gopal expressed her discontent on twitter wanting to 'drop the 'short term' bit […] unless you really feel like striking again in three years time'. This was in response to an email from Toope saying 'We believe the continuation of Defined Benefit is the right short term solution to the current impasse.'

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This will mean a temporary end to strikes- whether it will become permanent is yet to be seen…

Before this agreement, Cambridge Defend Education received a statement that 'a short-term solution does not sufficiently address the deficit in accountability and democracy' and 30 students occupied The Old Schools through non-violent means in protest of this.

They had three demands; for the Vice-Chancellor to 'actively lobby UUK to maintain the USS Defined Benefit Scheme in the long term, with Cambridge as a member', 'to hold an open meeting with students and staff to discuss the handling of the pension scheme', specifying 'transparency around university's investments' as a part of this and 'free access to the occupiers,l and no disciplinary consequences for staff or students'.

What this means for the strikes is still unclear. Cambridge UCU tweeted earlier this evening that they will hold an 'emergency meeting of branch members, 10am, Great St Mary's. Pickets 8:30-9:40.'

Many members have been tweeting '#NoCapitulation' to express their belief that the proposals are 'derisory', with Cambridge UCU encouraging this.

Furthermore, an open letter has been circulated across social media, and been retweeted by Cambridge Defend Education, that rejects the UCU/UUK agreement. The petition calls 'on the UCU national leadership to reconsider its position reached in ACAS negotiations with UUK'. The letter criticises the agreement pointing out that 'the employers' valuation has been demonstrated to be bogus, yet the UCU leadership is now accepting to increase our contribution while we re-evaluate. Employers' contribution however will rise by only 1.3%.'

It calls the UCU's desire to 'reschedule' and to call off 'the action before having put it to the membership' 'absolutely unacceptable.' Furthermore, the letter expresses concern that 'in three years time we [UCU members] will be demobilised and pressured to accept a worse deal.' At the time of writing over 5,000 signed the open letter.