UCU calls on members to prepare for industrial action

University and College Union (UCU) has called on its members to prepare for more industrial action in response to Universities UK (UUK) consulting with employers about altering the defined benefit (DB) element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

The union said the changes being consulted on were very similar to measures proposed by employers and then rejected by USS scheme members during 2018 industrial action.

Specifically, the changes include the decreasing of the DB salary cap, capping indexation at 2.5 per cent a year, and reducing the rate members' pensions accrue.

In order to demonstrate how the proposed changes might affect scheme members, UCU explained that it will launch a modelling tool in the coming weeks which will show USS savers how their benefits will be affected by the changes.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, wrote: “We need to prepare ourselves mentally for another round of industrial action. The whole union will campaign hard in the coming weeks to stop the UUK proposals, but as you have done in the past, you need to be ready to vote for and take industrial action if employers end up trying to impose these cuts on us.

“We are the only union in the UK to have defended a DBpension after employers have threatened to close or severely downgrade it. It is thanks to our action in 2018 and 2019/20 that we are still in a position to keep a guaranteed pension at an affordable contribution rate. UCU members are uniquely well equipped to carry on and win this struggle.”

She called on employers to show more commitment to supporting USS and improve the way in which the scheme is regulated and governed, adding that UCU would be willing to back alternative scheme designs if members found them acceptable.

Grady continued: “Several employers have already told their branches that they will make commitments along these lines when they respond to the UUK consultation. This shows how strong and well organised we have become as a union. Employers know that UCU members are serious about defending themselves through industrial action if necessary, and that is why some employers are making these concessions.

“If enough UCU branches can force their employers to respond constructively and positively to the UUK consultation, we can beat these cuts before they have a chance to get off the ground.”

A spokesperson for UUK, representing USS employers, said: “No change isn’t an option – contributions will rise exponentially unless there is scheme reform. The UUK alternative proposal does not involve higher contribution levels and would lead to far more moderate benefit change than the three options set out by the USS Trustee.

"In the current employer consultation, UUK is proposing even more valuable employer covenant support measures than currently exist. These commitments – if agreed by employers – would be substantial and go beyond the level of support USS has asked for in its scenarios.

"Employers would be very willing to consider alternative, feasible and affordable proposals from the UCU on tackling the scheme’s financial challenges and views on how the benefits package can be best designed to suit the needs of all eligible employees.”

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