Unite members back second strike over University of Dundee pension concerns

Over eight in 10 (83 per cent) Unite Union members at the Univeristy of Dundee have backed plans for a second continuous strike from 25 August, amid continued concerns over proposed changes to the University of Dundee Superannuation Scheme (UODSS).

The union confirmed that it achieved a turnout of 66 per cent for the ballot, which centred around the university’s plans to close the defined benefit (DB) pension scheme to grades 1-6 from 1 January 2023, and replace it with a defined contribution (DC) pension scheme.

In particular, the union raised concerns that the changes could see the lowest paid workers lose up to 50 per cent of their pension, potentially “plunging them into pension poverty”.

Indeed, according to the union, the proposals would see some workers in the proposed scheme pensions drop from £20,100 to £14,400 per annum, a “massive drop” of around £5,700.

Although the university previously withdrew the proposals and returned to talks with the union following 11 days of strike action on October 2021, the union argued that it has since seen “insufficient movement” by the university.

The university previously confirmed that it had considered a range of alternative options, including a hybrid arrangement, although it found that these "did not meet the objectives of all parties in terms of the level of benefit provision, the levels of cost certainty in the future, and offering members sufficient flexibility in their retirement saving".

However, the university has since revised the proposals following member feedback during the consultation, with new plans to include a new benefit to provide a death in service benefit to all staff, whether they are in a pension scheme or not.

Commenting on the ballot results, Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “Unite members have already rejected the DC proposals and have been left with no choice but to now reject the DB proposals as these will still leave hundreds of workers at the university worse off in retirement.

“Despite months of feet-dragging by the University we are no further forward. Our members have Unite’s full support in the defence of their pensions and strike action is now firmly back on the cards”

Unite regional officer, Susan Robertson, added: “The university’s proposals would mean Unite members work longer, pay in more and receive less in retirement which is totally unacceptable.

"These are the lowest paid workers at the university and deserve to be treated fairly. The university’s own draft Equality Impact Assessment shows that women workers and young workers will be disproportionally affected yet they are hell-bent on proceeding.”

The union has also urged University Court to reject the university’s updated proposals at its meeting on the 25 August, and “get back to serious and meaningful negotiations” to end the dispute.

Commenting in response to the concerns, a spokesperson for the university said: “The university initially proposed changes to the UODSS last year. Since that time we have engaged in extensive consultation with staff and the campus unions and have continued to modify the proposals.

“We have recently completed analysis of the formal consultation exercise which closed on 24 June, the results of which will inform the final proposal.

“An updated proposal is currently being developed and will be considered by the University Court in August.

“The proposed changes, in our view, offer a range of benefits to members of the pension scheme.

“The introduction of a DC scheme will make pension provision more affordable for greater numbers of staff, especially the lower paid staff who find the existing DB scheme too expensive to join. The DC scheme has variable rates of contribution so staff members can choose the rate of contribution they feel they can afford.

“Those in the DB scheme will have increased choice and flexibility as they can, if they wish, choose to come out of the DB scheme and join the DC scheme.

“The university's original position was to close the DB scheme and move all staff into a DC scheme. After listening to staff and the campus unions, we revised the proposals and are now planning to keep the DB scheme open for existing members.

“Further benefits included among the proposed changes include a new benefit which the university is introducing to provide a death in service benefit to all staff, whether they are in a pension scheme or not.

“It is our sincere hope that we will ultimately have more staff who are able to join a pension scheme, thus helping address the issue of pension poverty, particularly for some lower paid staff.

“Throughout this process it has been our goal to provide a scheme that provides good benefits for members and is sustainable and affordable for everyone.”

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