Unions call for national ballot on USS changes

July 22, 2010

Employers and trade unions are again at odds over higher education's biggest pension scheme, this time disagreeing about a consultation with members on major changes.

The consultation, a statutory requirement scheduled to run from late September to early December, is on plans to phase out final-salary pensions and raise the pension age in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). The scheme has 130,000 active members, mostly academics and senior administrators in pre-1992 universities.

Individual universities will run the consultation under the system favoured by the Employers Pensions Forum (EPF). Only organisations with more than 50 USS members are formally required to take part.

The University and College Union argued that a national ballot of all USS members would be the fairest option. It said university-run consultations would be of variable quality.

Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary, said: "We would hope the employers share our desire to ensure that change of this magnitude is properly mandated, not simply pushed through."

Mike Robinson, national education officer for Unite, said the consultation should be undertaken centrally, possibly by the USS.

Running the exercise at individual universities would make it harder for trade unions to put their case to members, he said.

Tony Bruce, an adviser to the EPF, said: "It is expected that, because of the size and volume of this exercise, the process would be undertaken by the employers in conjunction with USS, and would include a range of communications."

Earlier this month, the employers won their battle with the UCU over reform of the scheme. Sir Andrew Cubie, the independent chairman of the USS Joint Negotiating Committee, used his casting vote to support employers' proposals after attempts to negotiate changes broke down.

The employers' proposals include career-average pensions instead of final-salary pensions for new entrants and a new normal pension age of 65 for the future service of current members, with only those aged over 55 exempt from the change.

If they get the go-ahead, the changes are set to be implemented from 1 April 2011.

The proposals were due to go before the USS trustees on 22 July.


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