The USS Pensions Dispute 2018 – a summary

Or – Why you should join UCU

At its heart, the 2018 USS pensions dispute has its origins in the general breakdown of trust between university employers and their employees.

A university is one part of society where we would hope that opposing views are debated, their merits weighed, and a consensus reached.

In January 2018 the university employers dispensed with this approach and railroaded through a set of pension reforms that were breath-taking in their ambition to dismember our pensions.

It is only through the longest sustained industrial action that UK Higher Education has ever seen that these proposals have been stopped.

The other major result of this industrial action is the realisation that university staff, when united in a common aim, do have the power to reverse what is often presented as a fait accompli.

It is our contention that we need to harness this newfound awareness in order to tackle the many other issues that are chipping away at what it is to be an academic or academic related member of staff in the present day.

Every three years USS is required to make a valuation of the fund and predict future liabilities.

This is a complicated process, which by its nature has to take into account a number of variables. For many years, UCU has sought to make this a more transparent process. Indeed, one of the major concessions made by the employers in the recent agreement is to constitute a new committee comprising nominees of UCU and UUK to arrive at a jointly agreed methodology.

Unfortunately, in the autumn of 2017 this committee did not exist. The ‘cloak and dagger’ approach taken by UUK in the current valuation round is covered in some detail here.

Suffice to say, we were left asking such basic questions as: Is there even a deficit?

In January 2018, armed with their flawed data, UUK pushed through their plan to convert our Defined Benefit (DB) pension scheme into a Defined Contribution (DC) scheme. The underlying idea of this proposal was to remove future pension liabilities from the employers’ balance sheet and place all the risk on the employees.

The result for us would have been a much less secure and poorer retirement.

We were told that this was a final decision; that there was nothing left to negotiate.

This set the scene for the strike action that has just come to an end.

It is quite clear that the employers would not have conceded anything without staff withdrawing their labour. This strike has secured a great deal, but at considerable financial cost to those who took part in the action.

We would like to think that all in the USS scheme are grateful for the sacrifices made by striking UCU members to defend their pension.

At a local level we face many challenges. Every part of the university has been, or will be, under close review.

We have lost many colleagues through voluntary, and recently, compulsory redundancy.

There has never been a more important time to have strong campus trade unions. We work closely with our sister unions Unite, Unison and the GMB, to challenge management decisions and to question the strategic direction of the institution. At an individual level, much of our time is spent supporting colleagues in work-place disputes and in providing guidance during restructures.

It is quite clear that we will have a busy case-load in the months and years ahead.

The more staff who are in the union the more we can push back against unjust management decisions both nationally and locally.

As evidenced by the employer climb down on the pensions dispute, collective action works.

As far as we are aware, this is the first time that employees have successfully faced down an employer proposal to move from a DB to a DC pension.

Together we are strong. Join the union.


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