‘We need to prepare to escalate action’: UniversitiesUK rejects UCU proposals
‘These disputes are far from over’
It has recently been announced that UniveristiesUK has rejected the UCU compromise proposals and have approved “devastating pension cuts”.
Many University and Colleges Union members at universities across the UK, including Lancaster, have been striking against the UUK ideals throughout February, with strikes scheduled to continue into early March.
However, despite this decision, the UCU has told university employers “to expect more industrial action” as the dispute is “far from over”.
UCU tweeted: “Yesterday, UniversitiesUK rejected our compromise proposals & forced through brutal pension cuts. Vice-chancellors are stealing from your retirement & we now need to prepare to escalate action.”
A post released on the UCU website announces that the coming industrial action will include “a marking and assessment boycott” as staff pay is estimated to have “fallen by 25.5 per cent after a series of below-inflation pay offers since 2009″.
“In the meeting of the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), where staff and employer representatives negotiate USS pensions, employers formally voted in favour of their package of cuts.”
The UCU compromise proposals aimed for “a small, time-limited increase in contributions for both members and employers in order to protect benefits whilst a new evidence-based valuation of the scheme was completed, allowing for a long-term negotiated settlement to be reached.”
But the pension cuts will result in a typical lecturer losing “at least 35 per cent from their guaranteed retirement income, which for some will rise as high as 41 per cent. Staff will see their retirement benefits cut across the board. Protection against inflation will be capped at 2.5 per cent from 2025, meaning that pensions will be eroded even further as inflation continues to rise.”
Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, said: “University vice-chancellors have today chosen to steal tens of thousands from the retirement income of staff. This is a deplorable attack that our members won’t take lying down. If these so-called leaders of higher education thought this was the end of this dispute, they have another thing coming.”
She added: “UCU tried repeatedly to reach a compromise in negotiations”, but “even the most modest increases in contributions” were “refused”. She believes that the cuts are not “just an attack on our members’ retirement but also on higher education more widely”, as staff know they “deserve better” and the cuts are likely to lead many to “leave the sector”, as well as stating “those considering academia as a career will think again.”
In a press release, a spokesperson for UniversitiesUK said: “Employers would rather the scheme was in a financial position where benefit reform was not necessary. However, without these reforms costs would have risen to unaffordable levels for employers, while the increased costs for members would have seen more people leave the scheme and miss out on a valuable employer contribution towards their retirement.
“Today’s decision brings a considerable period of uncertainty to an end and gives stakeholders an opportunity to break the cycle of disagreement and dispute ahead of the next valuation. Our focus can now return to working collaboratively on alternative scheme designs, a review of the scheme’s governance, and developing lower-cost options and flexibility to give members more choice in their retirement saving.
“Too many members of staff are currently choosing not to participate in USS because the contribution rate is too high, or the scheme benefits are not considered suitable. With these reforms enacted, we have a chance to identify improvements and restore all members’ confidence in their pension arrangements at an affordable price.”
Lancaster UCU President and university Senior Teaching Fellow, Sunil Banga, tweeted, “Angry. Disgusted. Aggrieved. If you are feeling the same as me tonight, remember, ‘It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog’ – Mark Twain. Let the fightback begin.”
Lancaster University lecturer and Lancaster UCU member Jan McArthur took to Twitter to say, “UCU colleagues – it is hard not to feel despair. But this news was intended to break us. Instead, let’s stand stronger together than ever. They cannot beat us if we stay strong in solidarity. But it still hurts…”
The Lancaster University UCU tweeted, “These disputes are far from over! Let’s continue and escalate our conversations and collaboration with students and trade unions. Let’s figure out what’s next.”
Their blog post on what is to follow explains, “The Higher Education Committee (HEC) meets on the 25th of February to decide on the next industrial action in both disputes.”, and “several UCU branches have been threatened with pay deductions for ASOS”.
According to the official UCU website, ASOS (Action Short of Strike) entails university staff “working to contract”, “not covering for absent colleagues”, “not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action”, “not undertaking any voluntary activities” and includes “a marking and assessment boycott”.
The Lancaster UCU blog also announced that a “UK-wide strike meeting”, titled “THE FIGHT IS ON: STRATEGIES TO WIN”, took place on Monday the 21st of February, which was aimed at being a “space to discuss the best way for the union to respond to these threats.”
A spokesperson for Lancaster University said: “The USS Joint Negotiating Committee ( equal membership of UUK and UCU with an independent chair) yesterday approved a package of USS reforms. It approved changes that mean employer and member contributions will be 9.8% of salary for members and 21.6% of salary for employers from 1 April 2022 – with guaranteed defined benefits remaining at the heart of the scheme. This represents an increase of 0.5% of salary in employer contributions, and 0.2% of salary in members’ contributions from the 2018 valuation.
“Lancaster University would rather the scheme was in a financial position where benefit reform was not necessary. However, without these reforms costs would have risen to unaffordable levels for employers, while the increased costs for members would have seen more people leave the scheme and miss out on a valuable employer contribution towards their retirement.”