Pension tensions (2 of 3)

April 7, 2011

The refusal of the employers to negotiate on changes to the USS and a national jobs agreement indicates a "no-compromise" position. They clearly want to take advantage of the government's privatisation agenda to roll back any gains made by lecturers in the past.

The fight over the USS is a fight to defend our deferred salaries. We contracted for final-salary schemes and thus for pensions that would reflect the responsibilities we would shoulder as our careers progressed. We contracted for a scheme with benefits indexed to cost-of-living rises, not to the consumer prices index. The UCU estimates that the proposed changes would cost existing scheme members £130,000 over their retirements; for new entrants, the figure is £370,000.

These are the contractual arrangements that members of the UCU are defending and that the employers are trying to tear up. After the USS, the Teachers' Pension Scheme will be next in line.

The employers' refusal to negotiate on jobs indicates a wish to preserve their freedom to cut courses and sack staff as dictated by a higher education market. The profession cannot allow this to happen.

These refusals signal a dystopian vision for higher education, one shared by the government and, apparently, most university administrations. We need renewed industrial action in the summer term - commencing with a strike across both pre- and post-92 institutions in defence of pensions and jobs. We then need a sequence of rolling strike and non-strike action in defence of the USS, then the jobs agreement, and then the TPS in concert with the other teaching unions.

These disputes are not going away. If the employers do not negotiate this year, they will face escalating action from September.

Tom Hickey (University of Brighton)

Karen Evans (University of Liverpool)

Jim Wolfreys (King’s College London)

Liz Lawrence (Sheffield Hallam University)

Gavin Reid (University of Leeds)

Malcolm Povey (University of Leeds)

Maeve Landman (University of the West of England)

Mark Campbell (London Metropolitan University)

Jane Hardy (University of Hertfordshire)

Christine Vié (Manchester Metropolitan University)

(members of the UCU HE Committee, each writing in a personal capacity)

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