University staff have been urged to reject an improved pension deal and resume industrial action, despite warnings that there is little chance of winning further concessions.
Any acceptance of new proposals for the Universities Superannuation Scheme would be “disastrous” for members and leave many of them unable to retire, according to a statement signed by nine members of the University and College Union’s national executive committee allied to UCU Left.
They call on members to “throw out the offer” and “build for hard-hitting industrial action”, advising “escalating national strike action and a marking boycott”.
Members at 69 pre-92 universities have until 26 January to vote on whether to accept the potential joint proposal for reform, which has been developed by employers and the UCU.
Under the new offer, the UCU’s final salary scheme would close from March 2016, with all of the USS’ 150,000 active members paying into a career average scheme.
They will receive a pension income based on one-75th of their average income, multiplied by the number of years worked – instead of the previously mooted one-80th – resulting in higher income on retirement. In addition, fewer people will be hit by a salary cap on defined benefit contributions, which was previously set at £50,000 and has now risen to £55,000. But staff will be expected to pay 8 per cent of their salary into the scheme instead of the 6.5 per cent proposed in October, with employer contributions rising from 16 per cent to 18 per cent.
The UCU Left claims that the new offer is only marginally better than the one overwhelmingly rejected by members, who held a marking boycott in November to protest against the changes. “The apparent improvements over the [Universities UK] offer are due to increased employee contributions,” it says.
However, UCU’s Independent Broad Left, whose members comprise the majority of UCU’s national executive committee and negotiating team, said that negotiators believed they had “achieved the maximum movement which was reasonably possible from USS and UUK without extremely long and intensive industrial action”.
“A series of one-day strikes and action short of a strike [a marking boycott] would be unlikely to bring success,” according to a letter signed by Jimmy Donaghey, chair of the UCU superannuation working group, and 11 higher education committee members.
On the UCU Left’s claim that the deficit – now estimated to have risen to £20 billion because of worsening market conditions – is illusory, it adds “the reality of us changing what is regarded as economic orthodoxy…is an immense task”.