USS stalemate appears to remain despite UCU citing progress

University and College Union (UCU) has claimed that progress is being made in talks with Universities UK (UUK) and the University Superannuation Scheme (USS) amid ongoing strike action.

However, a USS Employers spokesperson said that UCU's new proposal included "further conditions" that were not published, which are "wholly unacceptable" to the employers.

Although it had previously taken a ‘no detriment’ stance to negotiations, the UCU has now confirmed that their negotiators would be willing to recommend a contribution rate offer of 8.4 per cent for employees in its new offer.

Despite this, the USS Employers spokesperson said: "We do not see this proposal as a serious move from UCU to find common ground."

UCU's offer would see members pay an additional 0.4 per cent of their salary, however this is still below the 9.1 per cent offered by UUK last year, which was declined by UCU.

In a message to members, UCU secretary, Jo Grady, stated: “Employers have finally started to work with us with genuine commitment on longer-term reforms to USS and they have started to push the scheme to adopt a better approach to its valuation.

“It is, again, disappointing that it took strike action to make them do this, but I and the other negotiators agree that the action has made a real difference to the way they engage with us.

“Until now, we had maintained that employers needed to cover all of the contribution increases that have been imposed since 2017, so that members would return to paying only 8 per cent of their salary. Yesterday, our negotiators indicated that they would be willing to recommend an offer of 8.4 per cent.

“However,” she added, “employers have not yet tabled an offer to cover the unfair contribution increases that are pricing members out of the scheme."

The USS employers spokesperson commented: "It is very clear from our consultation with employers that another rise of 1.2 per cent of salaries, in addition to the increase that employers have made from 18 per cent to 21.1 per cent is not affordable for the vast majority.

"The new UCU proposal also includes further conditions, not published on their website, that are wholly unacceptable to employers. We are continuing further talks with UCU and would be willing to consult employers on a reasonable and fair proposal to resolve the dispute”

The updatesfollow a recent UUK consultation amongst employers on whether to "hold the line" on 21.1 per cent contribution for employers.

The majority (84 per cent) of employers voted not to fully cover the increases in pension contributions, with just 18 out of 111 employers wanting to offer any additional employer contributions at 0.5 per cent or higher.

Oxford Brookes vice chancellor and Employers Pension Forum for higher education member, Professor Alistair Fitt, stated at the time that negotiations had reached “stalemate”, due to the unions no detriment position.

Grady added: “We are willing to be flexible, but we have to draw a red line somewhere.

“We need employers to pay more, not just to help staff who find USS too expensive, but also because it's employers who should face the financial consequences if they fail to exert enough pressure to change USS's position.”

Meanwhile, ‘unprecedented’ strike action has been ongoing since 20 February, with 74 universities taking 14 days’ worth of strike action, and action short of a strike.

The UCU published an open letter to new Minister of State for Universities, Michelle Donelan, earlier this week, asking her to encourage universities to take action to end the wave of strikes.

This also follows a letter from Sheffield Student Union president, Jake Verity, written on behalf of 26 students’ unions and NUS UK, calling the employers to deliver an “agreeable solution”.

Talks between USS, UCU and UUK have been ongoing throughout January and February, and have focused on recommendations from the Joint Expert Panel’s second report and issues around the 2020 valuation of the scheme.

USS confirmed plans to publish a discussion paper on potential changes to its valuation methodology in February, with the paper expected imminently.

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