New USS pension reform plans to be put to union vote

University staff will not resume a marking boycott this week after employers put forward amended plans to reform the sector’s biggest pension scheme

January 15, 2015

Staff at pre-1992 universities were due to restart the industrial action on 16 January over proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme, after it was halted on 20 November to allow for further negotiations.

But the boycott, which saw some staff threatened with losing 100 per cent of their pay for refusing to grade exam papers, will not go ahead after the University and College Union and Universities UK agreed a joint proposal to reform the USS.

The UCU has previously warned that the proposed changes, which are designed to address an estimated deficit of nearly £13 billion, could see pensions cut by up to a third.

UCU members have been now invited to vote on whether to accept the new proposals, with its ballot closing on 26 January.

The email and postal vote will be run by the Electoral Reform Society on behalf of the UCU ahead of a meeting with employers on 29 January on whether to approve the plan.

Under the plans published on 15 January, pension payments towards a final salary pension would cease in March 2016.

Benefits accumulated under the scheme up to this point would be protected, but will relate to an employee’s salary in March 2016 (uprated annually by inflation) rather than their final salary on retirement.

As in the outline proposals published in October, all active members of the USS – about 150,000 in total – will start to pay into a scheme where benefits are calculated on the basic of career average earnings, otherwise known as Career Revalued Benefits (CRB).

In the new scheme, defined benefits will be based on an accrual rate of one-75th of pensionable salary, rather than the previously mooted rate of one-80th, which is the current accrual rate. This will result in a higher annual pension for members compared with the previous proposed reforms.

Employee contributions will also rise to 8 per cent of salary, up from the 6.5 per cent outlined in the October plans.

Employer contributions will rise from 16 per cent to 18 per cent of salary until at least 2020 – a period in which two valuations of the USS will take place.

In addition, members will be able to earn CRB benefits on the first £55,000 of their salary, compared with the £50,000 proposed in October. Beyond £55,000, employers will pay 12 per cent of salary into a defined contribution scheme and staff can top it up by paying in an extra 1 per cent that would be matched by employers.

“Given that it is unavoidable that a recovery plan has to be submitted to the Pensions Regulator that would address the substantial scheme deficit over a reasonable period, the potential joint proposal for reform offers an attractive, affordable and sustainable pension scheme, for both current and future members,” a Universities UK spokesman said.

UUK said it would soon launch an online modelling device to allow staff to calculate the likely change to their pension from the proposed changes.

The decision to ballot members follows a meeting of UCU’s Higher Education Committee on 14 January, which approved plans to put the proposed deal to union members.

Some 69 universities took part in the marking boycott, which ran for two weeks in November. It was suspended after universities that had deducted pay agreed to reimburse staff if they agreed to catch up on the backlog of exam scripts in a reasonable amount of time.

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