Universities union bids for a ‘way out’ to avert fresh strikes

UCU has said the reasons for pension cuts have ‘evaporated’.

A University and College Union (UCU) arm band (Peter Byrne/PA)
A University and College Union (UCU) arm band (Peter Byrne/PA)

The leading university staff union has said that if its proposals on pensions are heard, this offers a “way out” of imminent strike action.

The University and College Union (UCU) has called for new pension proposals to be formally tabled and voted on.

It has called for the financial health of the pension scheme to be evaluated, as well as for employers to pay more towards the scheme from April 2023.

The UCU say cuts to pensions were agreed in March 2020 as the pandemic hit, and that justifications for the cuts have now “evaporated”.

UCU pensions dispute
The UCU has said employers have a route out of more strikes if they hear proposals on raising pension contributions.

The news comes after the UCU said earlier this month that a further 10 institutions could face walkouts in disputes over pensions, pay and conditions, after staff at 58 institutions took part in a three-day strike in December ahead of Christmas.

A fresh round of reballots means that universities including Newcastle, Swansea, Queen Mary, University of London, and Oxford Brookes could face action this term.

The UCU has claimed that cuts to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions scheme would reduce the guaranteed retirement income of a typical member by 35%, and has suggested that university staff pay has fallen by around a fifth after 12 years of pay offers below inflation.

Staff are employed on “insecure” contracts, the UCU has said.

It has called for cuts to the pensions scheme to be revoked, and that members should be offered a £2,500 pay increase, as well as action to tackle “unmanageable workloads” and “insecure contracts”.

In a letter to Judith Fish, chairwoman of the USS Joint Negotiating Committee, which decided how the USS pension scheme is managed, Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU, said that the proposals could offer a “way out” of strike action later in the year.

“Further significant industrial action is imminent, but UCU’s proposals offer a way out that can avoid disruption across UK universities, protect scheme members and allow for a negotiated settlement,” she said.

In a statement, Ms Grady said that the “serious proposals” would “see both employers and employees pay slightly more to protect retirement benefits”.

“Employers can stop this dispute at any time and have been offered a route out which protects pensions and averts widespread disruption on university campuses,” she said.

“Employers have maintained they need to make a 35% cut to the guaranteed retirement income of scheme members, but that is based on a flawed valuation conducted in March 2020 whilst markets were crashing.

“The pension scheme’s assets have since jumped by more than £25bn to over £92bn, an unprecedented level meaning employers’ justification for the cuts has now evaporated,” she said.

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