Further pension strikes likely as universities back contribution rise

University and College Union (UCU) has warned that the likelihood of autumn strike action has increased after universities backed proposals to increase Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) member contributions.

At a meeting of the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), proposals to increase member contributions from 8.8 per cent to 9.6 per cent were backed by the chair, Sir Andrew Cubie.

The JNC also agreed to plans of further increases from 2021 if a contribution rate was not agreed upon in time for the next scheme valuation in 2020.

In June 2019, UCU wrote to universities warning that if they did not agree to limit contributions to 8 per cent or meet any additional contributions costs, then they faced the risk of an industrial action ballot.

UCU has said that it will now ballot its members, which will open on 9 September and close on 30 October.

UCU and its members had previously taken strike action for 14 days in February and March 2018 after initial talks fell through in January of the same year.

Under the plans backed by universities, total contributions would be 30.7 per cent and the split would be 21.1 per cent for employers and 9.6 per cent for employees.

If a contribution rate cannot be agreed at the 2020 valuation, then a default contribution rate of 34.7 per cent would come into effect in October 2021, with members paying 11 per cent and employers 23.7 per cent.

Commenting on the JNC agreement, a Universities UK (UUK) spokesperson, on behalf of USS employers, said: “Today’s decision by the USS JNC ensures that members’ benefits are protected at current levels with the increase in costs shared 65 per cent by employers, and 35 per cent by members.

“The decision means that the planned hike in contributions for members and employers that was due to take place from October will be avoided. Instead, a more manageable level of contributions will be in place until October 2021.”

However, UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said that UCU was “incredibly disappointed” that universities had “passed up on an opportunity to bring us back from the brink of another round of strikes”.

She continued: “These increases have serious consequences and may force some members to leave USS, jeopardising not only individual retirement plans but the future of the scheme as a whole.

'Our ballot opens next month and unless universities are prepared to pick up the increased costs for USS members, they will face another round of strikes over pensions.”

A UUK spokesperson concluded: “This provides a fair, short-term solution, acceptable to The Pensions Regulator and the USS trustee, which allows time for the Joint Expert Panel to suggest options for the longer-term.

“We look forward to working with UCU to jointly consider options for the 2020 valuation.”

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