Talks between Universities UK and the University and College Union aimed at ending UK higher education’s pensions strike were due to resume, after the first day of negotiations broke up without agreement.
Discussions at the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service opened on 5 March as strike action over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme – which the union says will leave scheme members £10,000 worse off annually in retirement – entered its third week, now affecting 65 campuses.
The meeting included discussion of alternative proposals put forward by UCU, under which employer and employee contributions would increase in order to preserve the element of the USS pensions which guarantees members a certain level of income in retirement.
No agreement on the future of the scheme or the continuing industrial action was reached, and at the end of talks UCU said that UUK had said that it would be unable to meet again until the afternoon of 7 March.
Later, UUK said that it was “willing to meet with UCU at any time or place” and, on Twitter, confirmed that talks would resume on 6 March.
Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, said that “without agreement strike action continues”.
“We came to Acas prepared to resolve this dispute,” she said. “We know that students and staff want this sorted.”
A UUK spokesman described the talks as “constructive” but expressed concern about the cost of the UCU counterproposal, which would see employers’ contributions increase by 2.7 per cent, while USS members would pay 1.4 per cent more.
“It is clear to us that the proposal put forward by UCU last week hasn't been properly costed with USS,” the spokesman said. “Rather than a 4.1 per cent increase in contributions, it would need an additional circa 8 per cent of salaries, which is unaffordable. If forced into this level of increases most institutions would have to make redundancies and there would be a detrimental impact on teaching and research.”
UUK says that changes to pensions are needed to close a deficit in the scheme which USS estimates as standing at more than £6 billion. Its proposal would close the “defined benefit” element of the USS, but the organisation has said that it is prepared to consider alternative solutions if they prove to be sustainable.
The UUK spokesman added: “Employers are committed to exploring affordable and viable options to resolve this dispute. UCU should call off the strikes to focus all their efforts on joining us for meaningful discussions over the future of USS.”
A four-day walkout continues until 8 March, ahead of a five-day strike next week.
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