UCU threatens further strike action over pensions

The University and College Union (UCU) has threatened further strike action if universities do not rule out benefit cuts or contribution increases for Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) members.

The union wrote to 69 institutions, warning them that if they did not confirm they would limit member contributions to 8 per cent or meet the cost of additional contributions, then it would call for strike action in September.

USS members currently pay 8.8 per cent of salary into the scheme after contribution rates were increased by 0.8 per cent in April, with further increases to 10.4 per cent in October and to 11.7 per cent in April 2020 planned, in an attempt to reduce the scheme deficit and rising benefit costs.

In the letter, UCU head of higher education, Paul Bridge, noted that the three options proposed by USS did not meet UCU’s policy position of “no detriment”, which is seeking no increases in contributions and no cuts to pension benefits.

He added: “UCU is running out of patience. It is possible to avoid a damaging dispute and strike action in the autumn of 2019, and potentially thereafter in 2020. All you need to do is commit to uphold the level of contributions no higher than 26 per cent (8 per cent for members).”

The letter also expressed frustration at Universities UK (UUK) failure to exert influence over USS and “allowing it to dismiss the Joint Expert Panel’s most important recommendations”.

The union's higher education committee will meet on 28 June to consider the response and next steps in the dispute.

Bridge concluded: “We hope universities will respond positively to our request and we can focus our efforts on addressing concerns over the governance of USS and the need to develop a valuation method that people can have confidence in.

“If universities fail to respond positively then we will have no option but to start planning for a strike ballot.”

In response, a UUK spokesperson said: “It is clear that a ‘no detriment’ solution where employers and members refuse to pay additional contributions will not be acceptable to the USS trustee or TPR.

“Any refusal to pay the contributions increases already scheduled would be unlawful, and undoubtedly would provoke a legal intervention. This is something employers are not willing to risk.

“We continue to seek a solution to the current valuation that is acceptable to TPR, the USS trustee, scheme members and employers.”

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