UUK launches fresh consultation on USS dispute

Universities UK (UUK) has launched a fresh consultation amongst employers on whether they should cover increases to Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension contributions.

The consultation follows University and College Union's (UCU) confirmation for further strike action, and "action short of a strike" earlier this month.

A spokesperson for UUK said: “With a number of USS employers now facing probable strike action, we have written to the 340 employers we represent asking whether UUK should continue to hold the line on 21.1 per cent contribution for employers or make a new offer to UCU.

"If there is employer support for a new offer, acceptance of any offer by UCU would require the immediate suspension of strike action at all institutions in relation to the USS dispute.”

Responding to the consultation, UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said: “The threat of action has already led to the possibility of progress in our USS dispute.

“The ball is in the employers' court; they are being given an opportunity to resolve the USS dispute now, before any more action has to happen”.

However, in a statement published today Grady stated: "It is incredibly frustrating that UCU members are being forced to walk out again to secure fair pay, conditions and pensions. This unprecedented level of action shows just how angry staff are at their universities' refusal to negotiate properly with us.

"If universities want to avoid further disruption then they need to get their representatives back to the negotiating table with serious options to resolve these disputes."

A spokesperson for UUK added: "By law, pension costs had to rise to maintain current benefits. Employers have agreed to cover 65 per cent of these increased costs...together committing £250m more a year. Members have been asked to make a fair contribution too.

"Last August, we proposed lowering member payments by 0.5 per cent of salary, to a contribution rate of 9.1 per cent, which was rejected by UCU’s higher education committee.”

UCU confirmed plans for strike action at 74 universities for 14 days earlier this month, with the first day of action scheduled for this week (20 February).

Tripartite talks between USS, UCU and Universities UK (UUK) have been ongoing since January, with recommendations from the Joint Expert Panel’s second report and issues around the 2020 valuation of the scheme both discussed.

Whilst UCU held strike action for eight days last year, this was only at 60 universities and impacted around one million students, with the latest action expected to affect a further 200,000 students.

Commenting on the increased scale of action, Grady added: "We know from experience that large-scale industrial action is the only thing that causes significant change in our sector. If the action is successful we could see immense short-term and long-term benefits for everyone who works in higher education.

“Don't forget that there is only one party to blame when staff are forced to go on strike like this: the employers.

“Employers have already faced one wave of action but they still have not offered us any financial concessions whatsoever - not a penny. All they have offered is verbal commitments to work together on the issues we are in dispute over.

“Better offers are likely to come if we apply more pressure," she emphasised.

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