UCU calls pension ballot

Industrial action an option in defence of final-salary deals and the traditional retirement age, union indicates. John Gill reports

May 11, 2010

Union members are being asked to vote on proposed changes to the main higher education pension scheme, with the possibility of industrial action mooted.

As Times Higher Education reported, employers want to scrap final-salary pensions for new entrants to the Universities Superannuation Scheme and raise the pension age to 68.

However, the proposals, tabled after an 18-month review, have clashed with those from members’ representatives, resulting in deadlock when the parties met this month.

The scheme has about 120,000 active members – mainly academic and academic-related staff in pre-1992 universities – and at 31 March 2010 a deficit of £3 billion.

Now the University and College Union has called a ballot of its members on the proposed changes, the results of which will be announced at its annual congress later this month.

One of the proposals put forward by the Employers Pensions Forum (EPF) is that final-salary pensions be closed to new entrants and replaced with a career-average structure.

According to the UCU’s calculations, this could result in new starters losing £1,000 over the course of their retirement compared with current members.

As THE reported on 6 May, the union wants a 1 per cent increase in employee contributions, a pension age of 65 for new entrants and future contribution-rate increases to be shared 35:65 between members and employers.

The EPF has proposed an increase in the pension age to 68 between 2024 and 2046, the end of the final-salary structure to new entrants, a 1.15 per cent increase in member contributions and future contribution-rate rises to be split 50:50.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: “Our members have long seen pensions as deferred pay and an important part of their remuneration packages…We do not accept the argument that because pension schemes have taken a bit of a battering elsewhere that we should join a race to the bottom. The union is not sticking its head in the sand and we have made affordable proposals that would protect benefits for all, but unfortunately the employers seem determined to create a two-tier system.”

She added: “We are now asking our members involved with the USS scheme for their views on the employers’ proposals.

“We cannot rule out the possibility of industrial action to protect our members’ pensions if the employers continue with their intransigent position.”

john.gill@tsleducation.com

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