‘Enough is enough’ Unison urges USS members to join industrial action

Workers union Unison is urging its Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) members to join the UK-wide movement and vote for strike action to defend their pension scheme.

The USS, which has announced plans to move from a defined benefit to a defined contribution scheme, has been largely disputed by university members in recent months, receiving a 91 per cent rejection by Unison members in an internal consultation.

While members of the Universities and College Union and other unions have already embarked on a series of strikes, Unison’s higher education service group executive is now unanimously calling for its members to take strike action also.

An industrial action ballot is to be initiated in April, the union has announced.

Unison head of higher education Donna Rowe-Merriman highlighted that the pension changed would affect all in the scheme including professional support staff (administrators and librarians) as well as a number of cleaners, porters and security.

“It seems unthinkable that Universities UK is putting forward a proposal to make some of the lowest-paid take on more risk for less money in retirement,” Rowe-Merriman said.

Commenting on the current valuation system, she noted that the union believes the way in which the USS pension deficit is measured is “flawed” and that further proposals should be based on an “agreed process and a jointly respected actuarial assessment”.

Rowe-Merriman added: “The significant turnout in Unison’s consultation shows the strength of feeling. Unison members are prepared to defend the USS scheme and take strike action alongside UCU colleagues.

“Attacks on pensions for support staff go beyond the current USS dispute. The employers have offered years of below-inflation pay cuts, arguing that pensions are part of the reward package for staff. Now they are offering cuts to pay and pensions, with no fig leaf to hide behind.

“This is not the way to reward staff for their hard work, by robbing them of their hard-earned pension.”

“Universities in the UK are on a race to the bottom of pension provision for their staff. Unison members are saying enough is enough – the mood is changing. Staff are making it clear that decent pensions are worth taking action to defend.”

Earlier this week, UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt demanded that Universities UK (UUK) comes back with a “better offer” as the union threatens more strike action. This came with Universities Minister Sam Gyimah call for all sides to re-double their efforts to reach a “constructive agreement” that will protect students’ education.

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