Be vigilant!   HR & Payroll errors could cost YOU money.

A number of issues are emerging that we would urge all members to be aware of:

Strike Notification

We have had reports that despite having notified the University of their intention to participate in strike action by completing an HR form, members are now being accused of failing to do so, which would be an offence under TU legislation.

The form in question was entitled “notification of participation in industrial action”, and some members reasonably assumed that in completing this form their duty to inform has been discharged.

HR however insist that this form was, despite its title, merely a means of ensuring that pension payments could be maintained by staff who wished to do so, and in doing so “protecting rights such as death in service”.

This implied loss of rights has little basis in fact. There is no obligation to do so before participation and we suspect was merely a fishing trip to draw out as many declarations of intent as possible to allow for some damage limitation.

The act does not prescribe the means of notification, and whilst the LA was content with the on-line post participation means of informing, other channels may have been employed (such as speaking to a line manager, sending a letter to HR or the Vice Chancellor) that we contend still meet the obligation.

We would urge the University to desist from accusing members of breaking the law and instead take a closer look at their own broken and ineffectual HR systems.

Pay Deduction

Members are beginning to see the effects of their participation in strike action in recently issued pay packets. Feedback from those on compressed hours’ arrangements indicates that their deductions have been in excess of the 1/365th per day of strike.

We contend that this is contrary to the Apportionment Act and the recent Supreme Court ruling on this matter. None of the current contracts make provision for a deviation from that ruling, and as a consequence we would advise that ONLY 1/365th per day of participation is legal.

Swift action by the LA has resulted in an immediate climb down and in the case of at least one member the refunding of what was a not insignificant sum.

We are also aware of at least one instance of pay deduction not quite matching the 1/365th calculation even though the member is on a standard full time contract. In simple terms the maths appears to be incorrect, and we would therefore advise all staff to do their own calculations rather than trust in the University.

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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.

Bradford’s Ballot – Don’t be Diverted

By now members will have been advised of the outcome of the national ballot and also the detail of the local outcome here at Bradford University.

At the national level it is clear that there is overwhelming support from members for action to address the shockingly draconian and damaging posturing of our employers in respect of pensions and benefits, however the local picture appears at least on the face of it to be less conclusive.

There are a couple of facts that one might like to consider:                                                   

Firstly, the membership list used in the Bradford ballot included 33 former members of staff, some of whom will have moved to other institutions, others out of the sector altogether.   Bradford LA did advise HQ before the opening of the ballot but it appears too late for the data to be fed through to the Electoral Reform Service.

If one assumes that those individuals did not receive a ballot paper (sent to Bradford in error) or were ineligible (not in HE employment), the maths indicates a participation rate of 53%, and not the 48.5% officially reported.   It is unfortunate therefore that there appears to be no mechanism to rectify this error.

Secondly, and despite the marginal shortfall in participation, the fact remains that amongst those that DID vote, support for a robust stance on this issue compares well with the rest of the sector.

Bradford UCU Local Association Committee are disappointed that the outcome of this ballot means that Bradford will be legally barred from participating in a national programme of action aimed at defending the pensions of ALL academic and related staff.   What is clear however is that the mood at Bradford closely mirrors that of the rest of the sector.

BREAKING NEWS

It is regrettable that we have to report that despite a resounding ballot outcome, our employer remains wholly and completely opposed to any compromise, instead insisting that the only solution is a defined contribution scheme and the closure of the defined benefit scheme.   Their position was confirmed at a meeting of the Joint Committee this week, where the Chair used the casting vote in support of UUK representatives.

The inevitable consequence of this outcome is that UCU will be exercising its strike mandate.

BALLOT DEADLINE 19th January 2018 – Now is the Time to Act

As the ballot deadline approaches all members may want to take a moment to consider the importance of exercising their vote.

The Trade Union Bill challenges unions to achieve a 50% turn-out in any ballot for industrial action, and moreover requires that this threshold is achieved AT EVERY WORKPLACE. This means that the failure to meet the threshold at ANY INDIVIDUAL INSTITUTION will lead to that institutions members being banned in law from striking or taking other forms of action.

Your vote is a matter for you and your conscience; it does matter however that participation levels meet the required threshold to make the vote legal and valid.

For that reason and that reason alone we should all exercise our democratic right and cast our vote. Failure to do so is more than just personal choice; it has the potential to remove that choice from union colleagues by rendering the ballot invalid.

Please cast your vote and encourage those around you to do so.

USS Pension – How Does Your VC Vote?

UUK is now consulting USS employers on a UCU proposal to retain the status quo of a Defined Benefit (DB) scheme up to £55,550, but with the accrual rate reduced from 1/75 to 1/80. (DC would remain as is, except that the unpopular voluntary 1% DC match would be eliminated.) This could be funded by a modest increase in contributions — a little more than 2% for employers and 1% for members — but only if USS reverts to the valuation they originally proposed in September. If, however, USS sticks to their revised, more pessimistic November valuation, this proposal will be unaffordable.

Even though 53% of employers accepted the level of investment risk of the September valuation, the opposition of 42% prompted USS to revise their valuation in November by speeding up the shift of the portfolio from growth assets to bonds during the next twenty years.

UCU Bradford LA Committee contacted Prof. Cantor in the week prior to the most recent University Assembly, suggesting that he might like to indicate his and the University’s position regarding USS pensions and proposed changes; regrettably the VC failed to do so and has yet to respond to our request for a statement.

One can perhaps surmise that this deafening silence speaks volumes, and that our employer Is indeed amongst the 42% who UCU urges to revise their position to make this proposal possible. Otherwise, it’s likely that the UUK proposal of 100% DC accrual going forward will be imposed on us come the 23rd January.

UCU Bradford LA Committee will be making yet another request for clarity from the VC, making it clear that an opposition stance and support for the shift to 100% DC is simply incoherent: namely that low risk is intolerable when shared by 350 institutions but high risk is fine when borne by workers individually.

Quotes of the Day

Aside

UUK – “We will not negotiate beyond 18th December”.

The Pension Regulator – “We expect adherence to the statutory deadline of 30th June 2018 but are mindful that in complex and late stage negotiations some slippage in timelines can lead to better outcomes.”

“…this self-imposed deadline of 18 December is ‘not within our remit’ but rather is a matter for the stakeholders (e.g. UUK, UCU and USS).”

Angela Rayner, the shadow Secretary of State for Education – “I am deeply concerned by the proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme”

Professor Brian Cantor – ?

Warm Front Reaches Glasgow

Members may be aware already that the VC at Warwick has “broken cover” in an
interesting blog.

We hear that this uncharacteristic warmth of support has also reached Glasgow,
where the University has expressed in clear terms its commitment to its staff and the
importance of a good pension.

Glasgow University goes even further, insisting that if the protection of a defined
benefits scheme necessitates increased contributions it is happy to do so. You can read their statement.

The VC at Glasgow is on the Board of Trustees of the USS Pension.

Whilst Warwick and Glasgow bask in the balmy glow of supportive principals,
Bradford UCU’s request for a position statement on pensions and contributions has
yet to yield a response – less warm front, more frosty silence.