UCU rejected lower pension contributions over strike moratorium

Union brands inclusion of two-year bar on walkouts in compromise offer ‘ludicrous’

August 23, 2019
Say no

UK union representatives rejected an employers’ proposal to limit increases in staff pension contributions in return for a two-year moratorium on strike ballots, it has emerged.

At a meeting of the Universities Superannuation Scheme’s joint negotiating committee on 22 August, plans to increase members’ contributions to 9.6 per cent of their salary were backed by representatives of Universities UK and the independent chair, Sir Andrew Cubie. They currently stand at 8.8 per cent.

The proposal, which will increase employers’ contributions from 19.5 per cent to 21.1 per cent, was pushed through after representatives of the University and College Union stood by their position of “no detriment”. This requires employers to cover the increased costs of funding existing benefits, and to return them to the April 2019 level of 8 per cent.

After the meeting, UCU said that it would go ahead with a ballot of members at 69 institutions for strike action. Union members walked out for 14 days over the dispute last year.

It has now emerged that UUK representatives on the committee offered a further increase in employer contributions of 0.5 per cent for the next two years, in return for a two-year moratorium on strike ballots over pensions.

This would have limited employee contributions to 9.1 per cent – the level proposed by a joint expert panel set up by UCU and UUK after last year’s strike.

A UUK spokesman said that it “appears that UCU’s ‘no detriment’ position means no compromise”.

“By rejecting the alternative offer proposed by employers, UCU have passed up an opportunity to conclude the valuation with a lower member contribution rate, in line with what the joint expert panel proposed, and 1.3 per cent lower than the rate that otherwise would have applied under the 2017 valuation backstop.”

A UCU spokesman said that the employers’ offer was rejected “because it had ludicrous conditions attached about when and how we could conduct strike ballots”.

“It was strike action that saved the USS pension and the employers must surely have known that we would never accept a two-year ban on ballots, particularly as it would have stopped us taking action over the next USS valuation, as well as the current one,” the spokesman said. “It is really disappointing that employers are attempting to present that offer as a credible basis for negotiation.

“Members are furious at the delays over the dispute getting sorted and will not accept universities trying to curb their ability to defend their pensions. If the employers would like to table a sensible proposal that does not have preconditions attached then we would respond appropriately.”

Under the proposals backed by the JNC, the short-term increase in contributions has been limited in return for conducting the next fund valuation a year earlier than planned, in 2020-21. If a deal could not be struck at that point, the combined contribution rate would increase to 34.7 per cent in October 2021.

chris.havergal@timeshighereducation.com

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