UCU accused of betrayal over university pensions

Ten branches demand sector conference as union fails to escalate industrial action in response to pay docking threats in marking boycott

November 20, 2014

Union leaders face a fresh revolt from members as they bid to negotiate a settlement to the dispute over pre-92 university pensions.

A letter signed by 90 academics, published in this week’s Times Higher Education, warns that the University and College Union is poised to “betray” members by accepting an end to their final salary pension scheme, and by stepping back from escalating industrial action in response to employers’ threats to dock the pay of lecturers taking part in an assessment boycott.

At least 10 union branches were believed to have passed motions calling for a special higher education conference to be convened to debate the way forward.

The UCU’s higher education committee was due to meet on 19 November to decide whether to suspend the industrial action, following the agreement of a schedule of meetings with representatives of Universities UK. This came after the union submitted counterproposals that accepted the potential end of the final salary element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme.

But the backlash from members has raised the spectre of more division within the membership, such as that which was seen during pay negotiations earlier this year.

The letter to THE, which counts a number of UCU higher education committee and national executive members among its signatories, agrees that a sector conference should be called.

It warns that a shift to a career revalued benefits (CRB) scheme would penalise women “by institutionalising past discrimination” and argues that any failure to respond to pay docking threats would be contrary to a policy of escalating action agreed at the last UCU annual congress.

“Agreeing to a career revalued benefits pension scheme, coupled with the abandonment of one of our key industrial weapons, would amount to a betrayal by our negotiators of union members,” the letter says.

Meanwhile, a statement from the UCU Left group, signed by 12 members of the higher education committee, warns that a suspension of industrial action now would hand the initiative to employers.

Sean Wallis, president of the UCU branch at University College London and one of the signatories to the UCU Left statement, said that there had to be “something concrete on the table” – not just a series of meetings – before de-escalation could be considered.

“You don’t halt a dispute because someone comes along and says ‘peace in our time’,” said Mr Wallis.

Suspension of the assessment boycott until the next Joint Negotiating Committee meeting on 15 January was proposed on condition that employers agree not to dock the pay of staff, and that lecturers pledge to catch up on marking.

A series of meetings would aim to “close the differences between the stakeholders’ negotiating positions, with a view to reaching agreement”, according to a statement issued by the UCU and UUK on 14 November.

A union spokeswoman said that the counterproposals had been agreed by the higher education committee and were in line with principles adopted by a conference of branch delegates. Requests for strikes from branches facing 100 per cent pay deduction have been approved, she said.

“UCU is committed to ensuring that USS continues to provide excellent, sustainable pension benefits for all,” the spokeswoman said. “It will be for the democratically elected HEC to make the decision on whether to suspend action in response to recent developments.”


Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

Please Login or Register to read this article.

Register to continue

Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Reader's comments (1)

There is lots of devil in the detail in the plan, and I really hope UCU attends to the following: 1) What is the specific response to the famous letter to the THE from senior mathematicians and statisticians challenging the basis of the valuation, and whether indeed there is a deficit. 2) What are the plans for people like me in their mid-50s who are too young to retire early at the closure of the final salary scheme, but too old to put in a lot of earning years to build up alternative pension savings. 3) What compensation will there be for people who were mis-sold USS. These include people who transferred in from schemes that maintain final salary (eg Teachers Pension Scheme); and those who bought AVCs on the basis of a false prospectus, and/or who have been paying AVCs on the basis of a prospectus which the USS must have known for some time it had no intention of honoring. UCU haven't done badly so far, but they really need firm resolve and a command of the detail here. Would they be prepared to crowdsource technical feedback on proposals from suitably qualified UCU/USS members ?