About unionadmin

Blog site for the latest union news from Glasgow Caledonian University

Using the Race Equality Charter as a catalyst for change

Professor Kalwant Bhopal and co-author Clare Pitkin at the launch of the report

The 19th September saw UCU launch a major report on how to challenge and improve the HE sector’s record on race equality. Co-authored by Kalwant Bhopal and Clare Pitkin of Birmingham university it analyses the real impact that engaging with the Race Equality Charter promoted by AdvanceHE, formerly the Equality Challenge Unit, could have, if resourced adequately and handled robustly.

The report, downloadable here outlines the findings of a unique investigation into how the Race Equality Charter Mark (REC) impacts on quality policy and inclusion in Higher Education in England. Despite being restricted to England, the findings of the report can undoubtedly have wide implications for HEIs elsewhere in the UK.

Based on 45 in-depth interviews with individuals with a wide range of roles working in HEIs, some of which have achieved the charter mark and some which are only considering applying, or are in the process of doing so, the report has a number of key findings worth discussing widely. In addition to this, the interview extracts provided, give an invaluable insight into the realities of of trying to move towards achieving a charter mark for race equality.

Amongst the findings are that access to resources such as dedicated staff to work in this area, can be key in whether the process is taken seriously or even gets underway; investment from senior management is key in highlighting the importance of work in this area; a clear focus could be provided by the process if undertaken correctly; addressing the BME attainment gap and understanding the lived experiences of BME students was a key undertaking for success as was investigation of the recruitment, retention and progression of BME staff. The final two findings were the need for the charter to be linked to cultural and behavioural change and that steps needed taken to address the ‘fear of race’ as an area for discussion.

Amongst the key recommendations are that achievement of the REC should be linked to UKRI funding in the same way as applications in the biomedical area are expected to have achieved a silver Athena Swan award. Mandatory unconscious bias training for all senior staff in HEIs is recommended (but importantly – not as a ‘sop’ for the real challenging of attitudes) as is the finding that HEIs should have a member of senior staff championing Equality and Diversity whose role would be separate and different from that of Equality and Diversity officers. The role of annual reviews and monitoring also features heavily in the recommendations together with improving professional development for BME staff and the phasing-in of applications for the different levels of the charter mark.

Finally, and importantly HEIs are recommended to encourage and develop safe environments to discuss racism something which links in with the theme of addressing the fear of race, mentioned above.

A strength of the report is the wide range of interviews with individuals involved in the process of achieving the REC mark,  or who are involved in the consideration of future work towards it. Some of the extracts given below will ring true with UCU members all over the UK.

On the consideration of how collecting data, can often overshadow the chance to actually make change, one respondent reported:

[…]there are a lot of good things that have come out in the questions of monitoring, evaluating, collecting data, which we never did in the past, so that’s a big step forward. But what do we do with that data? So you monitor and evaluate, but what are the systems? Are you creating innovative new things to address those issues and that’s a big gap. You know, people are building processes [ ] but there is a vacuum on leadership, a vacuum on ideas (p26)

On the effect that redundancies and staff losses cause to the successful implementation of action in this area, another respondent outlined:

We’ve just gone through a massive cost reduction exercise where we have actually made twenty percent of our support staff redundant, and we just don’t have any flex in any of our structure, so we have absolutely nobody dedicated full-stop to equality and diversity, let alone to add on somebody who can take an active role in preparation of Athena Swan information [for example]. (p27)

The report doesn’t shirk some of the difficult realities of attitudes found in HEIs and points out that despite HEIs being proactive in positively addressing the BME attainment gap, participants highlighted the negative attitudes of staff towards BME students. This was also related to a lack of understanding of particular issues that may impact of their experiences at HEIs as well as the impact of intersecting issues (such as gender and class). P34

The report strongly argued the need to find a safe space to discuss issues of race openly: Many respondents from BME backgrounds mentioned that they felt the REC would enable individuals to discuss issues of race and racism openly. A culture which encouraged a ‘fear of race’ was paramount in HEIs and discussing race was seen as a taboo subject.

Furthermore there was an assumption from all staff that addressing issues of equality and diversity was the responsibility of BME staff rather than all staff:

I think also the thing that I find when it comes to things about race…it’s seen as an ethnic minority issue, so people who are of the majority groups who are white don’t see race as something they necessarily champion. So if you see things to do with race or that sort of thing, it’s always the ethnic minority people who are really involved in it and I don’t think it kind of reaches to the wider white population that race is also something that is their responsibility. You know race isn’t just about black people or Asian people or Chinese people, everybody is sort of racialised in one way or the other. But it’s kind of left to people of the ethnic minorities to sort of champion race issues. p39

On the day of the launch, the report was attacked in the Mail Online by a Professor from (the private) Buckingham University claiming that he was  ‘horrified at the disrespect shown by the proposals’ and that this was ‘a very concerning development and embodies extreme prejudice’

Hmm. For me this shows the report is spot on, and deserves not just wide dissemination and discussion, but also to be acted on by our members throughout the whole of the sector.

 

Professor Kalwant Bhopal is the author of White Privilege – the myth of a post-racial society. Published by Policy Press in April 2018

The JEP report and it’s implications – some first thoughts

Following the report of the Joint Expert Panel on USS on 13th September, UCUAgenda asked Douglas Chalmers, Chair of the HEC, to give some first impressions on the report.

“I welcome the publication of this report. I think two things stand out – firstly it’s a vindication of our members refusal to accept the scrapping of our Defined Benefits Scheme and the shift to DC – now off the table completely as a result of the hard fought campaigns through the 14 days of strike action. Having just returned from the TUC yesterday, where our delegation made some key contributions in debate, I was asked to pass on congratulations of more than one union for the example our members delivered to the whole movement in this campaign. Secondly I think that the fact that the report is unanimous, including the views of both the managements Actuarial firm Aon, and our own First Actuarial, vindicated the fact that there is an alternative to the bankrupt view which USS and the pensions regulator were trying to push onto us all, and which we have now roundly rejected.

Branches now need to meet and discuss and feed their point of view into the debate, which both our Superannuation Working Group and our National Disputes committee will take forward – the latter meeting for the first time on October 5th. And colleagues should not forget the Special Conference on November 1st where these issues will be further debated, together with our views on the current Pay campaign.”

Report of the Joint Expert Panel examining the 2017 Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) evaluation – September 2018. Available from here

This outlines the unanimous conclusions of the Joint Expert Panel set up by UCU and UUK, the university employers, following endorsement of this approach by 64% of the UCU members in the scheme.

Below I’ve highlighted some of the key contents of the report (the emphases in bold are my own):

Joanne Seghers, the chair suggests  in her introduction that if followed, the recommendations reduce the valuation estimates of the scheme to a point where it may be possible to reach agreement on the issues faced by the scheme:

On the basis of our analysis we have made a number of recommendations, the overall effect  of which would be to reduce the valuation estimates of the future service cost and deficit to  the point where the increase is small enough to allow the Joint Negotiating Committee  (JNC) to be able to reach an agreement so that the issues currently facing the Scheme can  be resolved, recognising that compromise may be needed on all sides. p5  

She continues: 

We recommend that the JNC and the Trustee come together to work at speed to agree a  process that will enable any changes resulting from our recommendations to be  implemented early in 2019. It will, of course, be for UCU and UUK (through the JNC and  their respective democratic structures) to determine the best way forward 

And adds:

This report is confined to the issues relating to the 2017 valuation, as defined in our Terms of Reference (ToR).  However, it is clear from our assessment of the issues that further work is required. This  should aim at delivering an approach to future valuations that is clear (and clearly  understood by stakeholders) and which can deliver both a sustainable Scheme and a shared  set of principles 

Some extracts from the report itself are below:

The remit:

This report focuses on the first phase of the Joint Expert Panel’s (JEP’s) ToR, namely to review the basis for the Scheme’s 2017 valuation, assumptions and associated tests.  This has included:   

A review of the 2017 valuation to date, including an assessment of the methodology, assumptions and process underpinning it; and exploring the scope for possible revisions to the methodology and assumptions to  allow the valuation to be completed without invoking cost sharing through rule  76.4-8 of the Scheme Rules.    

In undertaking its work, the JEP has been asked to take into account:  

the unique nature of the HE sector;
considerations of intergenerational fairness and equality;
the need to strike a fair balance between stability and risk; and  
the current legal and regulatory framework.   

The JEP has not, in this phase of its work, considered valuations beyond the 2017 
valuation. That would be the subject of a follow up report. However, we have taken the 
opportunity in this report to suggest areas for future investigation and consideration.  p6

The JEP itself has had 11 day long meetings between May – Sept, with 11 oral evidence sessions and considered 55 submissions from scheme members and participating employers.

On the considerations of the three ‘tests’ used by USS to assess the valuation, and particularly in relation to Test 1, which many have focused on as one of the key problems in the current valuation, the report says:

  • The Panel has spent a significant amount of time understanding and assessing the 
    three Tests, and Test 1 in particular. The Panel has concluded that the outputs of Test  1, while very specific and quantitative, are highly sensitive to the input assumptions,  many of which are very subjective. Consequently, we believe that Test 1 is given too  much weight in determining the valuation and its effects extend beyond its original  purpose. Rather than being used as a “stop and check” reference point, Test 1 is being  used as a constraint on benefit design and driver of investment strategy. The Panel  does not consider this helpful. It would be far better if Test 1, were its use to continue,  was used as a test that informed other aspects of the valuation and funding strategy  rather than acting as its lynchpin  (my emphasis) p8
  • On the valuation process and governance, the report states (p9):
  • One of the unique features of USS is its governance structure. Amongst other things, 
    this gives the Trustee unique powers through a unilateral right to set contributions  (subject to consultation). It is beyond the scope of this report to examine whether this  should change, but clearly the process does need to be managed more effectively in  terms of interaction with, and gaining the support and confidence of, employers and  members.  
  • With respect to assessing employer covenant, the Panel acknowledges it is not a  simple task to consult with 350 different institutions or to ascertain their risk appetite –  a consultation will inevitably generate a wide range of views and possible outcomes.  However, the framing and context of the questions asked of employers have, in our  view, produced misleading results. These results have been distilled into a single  number which feeds into Test 1, and which in turn affects contribution requirements,  future Scheme benefits, the investment strategy and the estimated deficit. These are  outcomes which, on exploration, appear to be inconsistent with many employers’  wishes.  p10 (my emphasis)

  The report goes on to say:

  • There is no formal mechanism for involving Scheme members in the valuation process or assessing their appetite for risk. This is of great relevance in the USS context given  the existence of cost sharing when additional contributions are required. It is beyond  the scope of this report to consider how member involvement could be achieved, but  this is an unresolved issue for the management of the Scheme.  

In consideration of future adjustment, the report states:

The Panel has developed five principles against which adjustments could be  considered 

  1. A re-evaluation of the employers’ willingness and ability to bear risk – this 
    would mean re-assessing the reliance on sponsor covenant.  
  2. Adopting a greater consistency of approach between the 2014 and 2017  valuations – this would mean changing the approach to deficit recovery contributions.  
  3. Achieving greater fairness and equality between generations of Scheme 
    members – this would mean smoothing future service contributions.  
  4. Ensuring the valuation uses the most recently available information – this would 
    mean using latest available data and taking account of recent investment 
    considerations and outcomes. 
  5. Taking the uniqueness of the Scheme and the HE sector more fully into 
    account.  
  • The Panel believes that making adjustments in each of these areas would have a  material impact on the scale of the 2017 deficit and resulting contribution increases.  We also believe this would create a space within which employer and members can  find common ground so that the issues around the valuation can be reconciled. It is  also our view that the adjustments proposed are consistent with the Trustee’s  fiduciary duties and the objectives of the Regulator.  (my emphasis)
  • If agreed and implemented, these changes would avoid the need for the very steep contribution increases envisaged in the Scheme Rule 76.4-8 (cost sharing) process.  This would create the space for the stakeholders, through the JNC, to consider  some of the longer term issues facing the Scheme and establish a stable platform  for a further review of the Scheme by the Panel.  (my emphasis)

Looking forward the panel suggests:

  • We have also made recommendations as to revisions to the 2017 approach that would enable the 2017 valuation to be concluded, whilst creating some space for the Trustee and JNC to consider the necessary short and longer term reforms to the  Scheme.  
  • However, it is clear that there are a number of issues that remain to be resolved. Whilst  the JEP has commented on the many elements of the valuation, we have not opined on whether there is a different way of reaching a conclusion that could provide long term  stability to the valuation process and have the support and confidence of all parties.  The Panel believes this should be a core element of the second phase of its work.   
  • The second phase of work should also include a wider review of the approach and involvement of UUK and UCU in future valuations so that a more collaborative  approach can be adopted and industrial action, such as that witnessed earlier this year,  can be avoided. This would require examining the interaction of the various bodies with  a formal role in the valuation process; considering the potential for the involvement of  Scheme members in the valuation process; and considering how more effective  engagement with employers can be achieved.   (my emphasis)
  • We have recommended that in view of the need to start to prepare for the 2020 
    valuation, work on Phase 2 should start as soon as possible. However, this work will  require a firm foundation and cannot, therefore, be concluded until the 2017 valuation  itself is concluded.

Some further extracts from the JEP’s findings during their investigation:

On Test 1:

  • Whilst a test of self sufficiency and employer reliance is a useful principle for the basis  of a valuation, Test 1’s formulation, application and implementation is very rigid with  the result that Test 1 has led to a valuation that is model driven rather than model  informed. As suggested by other commentators, alternative ways of arriving at a  valuation of technical provisions are open to USS and should be explored.  
  • Test 1 drives the investment strategy towards a low return investment strategy that  results in a higher deficit and higher contributions than would be the case if the current  investment strategy were maintained.   
  • The Panel believes that the Scheme’s advisers have put forward a clear, reasoned, well evidenced and positive analysis of the sector which provides overwhelming support for  the assessment that the covenant is strong.  
  • However, it is not clear that the employers’ appetite for risk has been assessed  appropriately, particularly in relation to the delicate balance between investment risk,  funding levels and contribution levels.   
  • USS’s approach to meeting Test 1 implies a de-risking of assets. A number of other  paths are open to USS and could be explored.    
  • The assumption of gilt yield reversion has become the focus of attention for some critics  who believe that USS’s assumptions are too optimistic. However, so long as USS holds a  diversified (i.e not ‘de-risked) portfolio, the failure of gilt yields to revert will be  accompanied by a change in the expected returns on other assets. The assumption of  reversion is by no means as critical as some observers believe.
    (Summary page 24)

Effects on contributions:

Here the panel suggests that

  • Based on the Panel’s understanding of cost sharing, the contributions without matching  could result in member contributions of 9.11% and employer contributions of 20.071%.   It will ultimately be for the JNC to determine how any new contribution rate is split between  employers and Scheme members. (P 60)

This compares to the current rate of 26% (18% of salary paid by employers 8% by employees), and the rate of 36.6% from April 2020 which is proposed by USS based on the valuation as it stands.

How will the union take this forward? 

The relevant decisions taken at Higher Education conference can be found here: MOTIONS re USS (HESC2018)

The coming weeks and months will give the members of our union the opportunity to decide the next steps in this process of guaranteeing a decent Defined Benefit Pension scheme worth the name.

Victoria Showunmi – “I’m a black female, passionate about what I do, with a proven track record”

Why you should vote Victoria Showunmi for the vacant black women’s seat on the NEC

In an interview with UCUAgenda, former NEC member Victoria Showunmi outlines why she is contesting the vacant black women’s seat on the NEC and urges members to consider voting for her.

Victoria is a long standing union member with 25 years service in UCU and previously NATFE. She’s a single mother with three girls and has no hesitation in describing herself as a feminist. Living in London although from rural Somerset originally, and working at University College London and Menouth University, her  work focuses on gender, identity and race. 

She is clear on the three main issues facing the sector – Pensions, including the situation for women, and women over a certain age, who had previously worked part time and are thus hit with inferior pension prospects; the Gender Pay Gap – including the often neglected factors hitting women of colour, who are often found towards the bottom of the pay scale; and marketisation both in HE and FE, where academics are facing increasing class sizes with less and less resources, and less time to spend with individual students.

In relation to the issues facing black workers in the sector, amongst the problems she identifies are a definite lack of progression and lack of a CPD structure that reflects what black workers need. Secondly she argues that there needs to be more recognition that issues around racism are real – something not always grasped at a local level.

Victoria argues that an intersectional approach needs to be further developed within the Union – a journey which she believes first got major support under Joanna de Groot our immediate Past President, and which is being continued now. She believes that she was instrumental in pushing for this during her time on the NEC, and hopes to continue this if successfully elected to the black women’s seat.

When she’s not campaigning, teaching or researching, she admits a fondness for the music of Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson – although her reading materials tend to be…. on academic areas. She’s currently reading around critical whiteness and would specifically recommend Unhinged – an insider’s account of the Trump White House by Omarosa Manigault Newman. 

In the odd moment she can plant herself in front of the TV, her favourite boxset would be Law and Order (Special Victims Unit).

Why vote for her? She argues she has a good track record – she’s not pretentious, she’s passionate about what she does – she feels she’s approachable about anything to do with the union and she looks forward to pushing the union further on the issues above.

We recommend – vote for a  candidate with a proven record – vote for Victoria.

The Real Democratic Deficit in UCU

Adam Ozanne

This post – from NEC member and recent Congress delegate Adam Ozanne, gives a point of view, on how in Adam’s words “UCU in three days moved from being the most successful trade union in the UK – one that other UK trade unions look upon as leading the way in fighting back against the deliberate constraints placed on them by the Tory government’s 2017 anti-Trade Union Bill – to one whose Congress degenerated into chaos after its paid regional and national officials, who are members of Unite, walked out three times and declared a trade dispute with UCU as their employer, causing Congress to be suspended twice and then brought to a premature end with only a fraction of its business completed”.

UCU Agenda would welcome comments on this – e-mail to unionadmin@ucuagenda.com

Congress should have been a positive and reinforcing event celebrating the successes of the past year, the union’s reinvigoration and renewed strength. So how was it that UCU trade unionists have found themselves in dispute with fellow trade unionists in their employ? Why did Congress 2018 degenerate into chaos? How can victory have been turned so nearly into defeat? And what role did UCULeft, a faction dominated by the Trotskyist Socialist Worker Party (SWP), and supporters of the Independent Broad Left (IBL) grouping play?

The post is set out in seven sections:

  1. The three contentious motions
  2. What happened at Congress – How Victory can be Turned into Defeat
  3. Analysis of the dispute
  4. A reminder of how the USS strikes came to an end
  5. The UCULeft faction and IBL network
  6. The real “democratic deficit” in UCU
  7. What is to be done?

Continue reading

Coventry – help them on to victory

 

Coventry UCU have been at the cutting edge of defeating the union busting tactics of local university management.

This week, saw a second, significant demonstration demanding that the Coventry University scrap their ‘sweetheart union’ imposed on the university’s subsidiary organisation ‘CU Group’ – a company wholly owned by the university, but where staff are paid less, have no proper pension scheme, and inadequate time to prepare courses – not to mention to to give pastoral support to students.

This weeks demo, featured UCU President Joanna de Groot, with Douglas Chalmers, UCU VP speaking for the second time at Coventry and also backed up this time by VP elect Nita Sanghera. An outstanding speech was once again given by branch chair Stephen Cowden, who had previously given a video interview to UCUAgenda on the fight for recognition

Speakers from Coventry TUC who have also been outstanding in their support spoke again, demanding that the Board of Governors, who were meeting that day – tell management they need to sit down and talk to the UCU, on the basis of granting the full recognition that the staff have repeated shown they have demanded.

The branch have consistently worked closely with the local community, the media, the wider labour movement and UCU regional and UK officials to build up the type of unstoppable campaign that will undoubtedly ensure victory in this campaign. They’ve also been heartened by the widespread support from UCU branches throughout the UK.

It’s a template that other branches can learn from.

The USS Joint Expert Panel and more:

Report on UCU Higher Education Committee on 27 April 2018

Adam Ozanne, an elected member of UCU’s Higher Education Committee (HEC), its Superannuation Working Group and the USS Advisory Committee, has written the following account of the discussions regarding  the setting up by UCU and UUK of a Joint Expert Panel that took place in HEC on 27 April together with some observations about UCULeft.

Paul Bridge, UCU’s Head of HE, presented a report summarising the following:

  • the result of the consultative e-ballot: 64% of pre-1992 members voted on a 64% turnout (the highest in the union’s history) to accept the UUK offer of March 23rdand set up a Joint Expert Panel (JEP) that will assess the validity of the 2017 valuation and investigate alternatives to the current DB/DC scheme;
  • subsequent discussions within UCU’s Superannuation Working Group (SWG) and with UUK; and,
  • the response of Bill Galvin, the USS CEO, to the agreement by UUK and UCU to set up the JEP.

The report noted that there was a meeting of the JNC at 3.00pm and made a number of recommendations that were accepted by HEC and can be summarised as follows:

  1. HEC approved the setting up of the JEP with three members nominated by UUK and three by UCU, as well as its Terms of Reference, operational timelines and reporting mechanisms.
  2. HEC delegated to the SWG the endorsement of an ACAS recommended Chair of JEP.
  3. HEC agreed that anyone interested in being one of UCU’s three JEP members may nominate themselves by submitting their CV and a 500 word statement, and that the SWG (minus the three USS Trustee Directors) would act as the selection and appointment panel and, in consultation with the HEC officers, take all other actions necessary to set up the JEP. SWG will seek recognised subject leaders with expertise in and knowledge of pensions, finance, the HE sector and the legal and regulatory context.
  4. HEC directed the USS negotiators, in the JNC meeting that afternoon, to vote to revoke the DC-only resolution reached at its meeting on January 23rd, and against any move by USS to trigger a consultation of USS members on Rule 76.4 before the JEP has time to complete its work on the 2017 valuation (Rule 76.4 says that if JNC does not agree reach agreement on how to deal with the results of a triennial valuation USS may seek to raise employer/member contributions on a 65:35 basis).
  5. The Chair of HEC and Head of HE will liaise with the Congress Business Committee with a view to providing time at HE Sector Conference for a report of the first meeting of the JEP and related matters.

All the above had been discussed and unanimously agreed by the Superannuation Working Group, which includes the four elected USS negotiators, the two alternate negotiators from the USS Advisory Committee (including myself) and the three UCU nominated Directors on the USS Trustee Board.

Several motions relating to the setting up of the JEP had been tabled by HEC members. One, that committed the JEP to robustly challenging the current USS valuation and methodology and HEC to pursuing changes in pensions’ regulations, was passed; and an amendment to the Head of HE’s report to include recognition of the equality and diversity implications of any changes in USS was accepted.

The proposers of the other motions were all allowed to speak to them, with no contrary speeches against,  but, after the main USS report was passed, fell either (as “consequentials”) because they were incompatible with the above recommendations or because they involved constitutional changes to UCU’s decision making processes that can only be made by Congress.

This, it has to be said, caused a good deal of acrimony with many formal challenges to the Chair by the proposers of the motions which had the unfortunate effect of reducing the time available for discussion of the main report and its recommendations – especially as the SWG members of HEC had to leave the five hour meeting after three hours to prepare for and attend the JNC meeting. With the benefit of hindsight, it might have been better if all the motions had been withdrawn and if debate had concentrated on the main report together with, perhaps, additional amendments to its recommendations being proposed and considered; however, nobody suggested this and much time was wasted in unproductive argument and formal challenges to the chair..

Nevertheless, my personal view is that, despite claims made subsequently on the Activists list by some of those who disagreed with the above recommendations, the motions had to fall once the main report was accepted. This is because – despite claims that they “complemented” the main report – they all contained elements that were incompatible with the main report and/or UCU’s established democratic decision making processes.

For example, three of the motions sought to replace the elected HEC as the relevant decision-making body of the HE part of UCU with an ad hoc national strike committee or a branch delegate meeting with voting powers. Others would have delayed the setting up of the JEP until after HESC at the end of May, which would be too late given the time pressures we are under, or only allowed UCU members to be JEP members, which would unnecessarily exclude leading experts who do not work in HE. All these points were either incompatible with the recommendations in the main report, which had already been voted upon and accepted, or would have undermined UCU’s established decision making bodies. Logically and procedurally, it was not sensible to consider them any further.

In my opinion, therefore, the outcome of Friday’s HEC and the manner in which decisions were reached were appropriate. This is not, however, what you might think from reading some of the reports on Twitter etc. which seem to suggest that those who take a different view must be acting undemocratically or, even worse, are a “powerful right wing faction” in UCU that “believes in the deficit”. (Full disclosure: I first joined the Labour Party in 1976, and have never been a member of any other political party, though I have on occasion voted Green, Communist Party (for a friend was standing in a local election) and LibDem (after the Iraq invasion)).

I am afraid it is also the case that the conduct of some in the HEC meeting – disrespecting the Chair’s efforts to limit speeches in order to allow others time, shouting or speaking unnecessarily loudly into the microphone, showing obvious irritation with having to use a microphone and calling a point of order even after it had been called to an end, made the meeting unnecessarily drawn out and acrimonious and limited the time available for proper debate.

The chair had already had to draw attention at the start of the meeting to incorrect reports of the previous HEC on the activists list, which erroneously claimed he had not allowed discussion (13 colleagues had in fact taken part in discussion), and that he had ruled motions out of order (simply did not happen).

I find all of this deeply disappointing, and will go further by stating the following. UCULeft’s claims to being for a democratic and member-led union are inconsistent with its efforts on 27 April to undermine HEC as the legitimate decision-making body in the USS dispute, its opposition at the end of March to the e-ballot of all post-1992 members on the UUK offer, not to mention its opposition to local and national e-ballots and GTVO (Get The Vote Out) were when they were first introduced.

Just as there are good, democratic reasons for rules stating quotas and minimum numbers of days for giving notice of AGM and EGMs, so there are good reasons for using modern technology to enable timely member participation in decision making and for limiting the ability of meetings to change decision making processes and structures on the hoof (as in replacing HEC with ad hocstrike committees and “branch meetings with voting rights”).

Such rules prevent small unrepresentative but well organised factions from taking control of political organisations and leading them in directions the majority of members (who may be unaware of what is happening or too busy to attend in numbers at short notice) would not agree with. Similarly, insistence on the use of microphones when speaking is not a bureaucratic obsession but an equality principle that enables the hard of hearing to participate fully while rules prohibiting angry outbursts, repeated interruptions and shouting limit intimidatory behaviour and promotes free debate. Such rules and conventions are profoundly important for the well-being of the union.

What every member of HEC, regardless of whether they are a paid up member of UCULeft or not, recognises is the huge success of the USS industrial action. From GTVO trouncing the statutory ballot 50% turnout requirement to vast numbers of new members and the mobilisation of tens of thousands on strike, on picket lines and in vibrant meetings, UCU is leading the UK trade union movement in opposing the Tory government’s anti-trade union legislation. We are showing the way in reinvigorating trade unionism in opposition to the marketisation of the public sector and the erosion of traditional values of collegiality and public service that are the bedrock of the success of UK universities.

The setting up of the JEP is the next step in the defence of decent pensions in universities – and, indeed, elsewhere, because a successful JEP could well influence what happens to other pensions schemes, so we must get it right. The plan is for it to report in two stages: first, on the 2017 valuation in the Autumn, in time to forestall the USS making changes in 2019 based upon a disputed deficit; the second on alternative risk sharing mechanisms to the current hybrid DB/DC scheme. Friday’s HEC and the JNC the same afternoon set that process in motion and I for one am more than a little content with it and relieved that arrangements for setting up the JEP can commence immediately.

After the ballot – where are we now with our USS dispute?

What a fantastic and enthusiastic campaign this has been for our union. We have shown by our sheer determination, organisation and hard work, our ability to force the employers back to the drawing board, and to withdraw their decision to scrap Defined Benefit and impose Defined Contribution on us. Where do we go to from here? Below you will find some thoughts that we hope will be helpful. 

We got to where we are by combining the enthusiasm, commitment, and creativity of thousands of activists with the hard work of UCU staff,  the policy framework established by our lead elected committees, the persistent efforts of branch committees, and the seen and unseen work of negotiators.

While there has been plenty of friction between the different players ( not surprising in a complex dispute ) it is a fact that all have contributed to getting us to a point so different from where we were when the employers looked like getting away with imposing a DC version of the USS scheme.

Students were key supporters of our struggle

It’s important to remember that the proposal which a massive majority of members have accepted was shaped by the priorities made very clear by the branch representatives who rejected an earlier set of proposals emerging from ACAS.

Rather than seeking to add to or alter those earlier proposals  they wanted to focus negotiations on the key objectives of a full review of USS procedures and the defence of a guaranteed pension. Those priorities were taken into negotiations and are embedded in the outcome.

Of course the independent review is just the start of the next stage of our struggle for a better USS.

Support was widespread and enthusiastic

In accepting it members have shown not confidence in their employers (which is not great) but in our own ability to keep up the pressure for members’ interests, including future use of the industrial strength which we (and of course the employers ) now know we have.

Full involvement in the review will need to matched by unremitting vigilance by our branches, our elected committees and our industrial negotiators.

It seems odd and unhelpful that so much of the visible debate about the proposal and the ballot focussed on who said or did what inside UCU, rather than on our dispute with our employers or the interests of members.  In any dispute the participants will have such concerns but do let’s remember that we launched this dispute for a big industrial reason –  to challenge the employers’ outrageous and damaging attack on our pensions scheme which both threatened the size and security of our pensions and also pulled the rug out from under the co-stakeholder structure of USS.

SO – members took action because their wellbeing was threatened but also because this threat was just the latest step in the employers’ wrecking of the collegial and professional respect and co-working which should shape our workplaces, and they did this in the name of managerial authoritarianism and credit ratings. Many activists have said that the attack on their pensions was the last straw on top of a burden of managerialism, disempowerment, precarious wok, and excessive hours. Now they are energised to start organising challenges to this burden in  their institutions. Real issues to take up, not internal wrangles and sectarianism.

We balloted over 53 thousand members, over 33 thousand of whom voted on the proposal The dispute and the ballot involved members: it was about members. and the outcome allows members to continue to pursue the issues which they have said mattered to them.

Together we have achieved something for ALL members in USS whether or not they agreed with every particular view, whether or not they were at rallies as well as striking. There is a crucial link between these two because activists have used  both their power and their responsibility to use their commitment time and energy on behalf of our growing wider membership.

Lots to celebrate, lots to digest, lots to get on with. . .

The USS dispute – some debate on our article

The blog and our article had several thousand hits in the 24 hours following its publication, and since it was published we have received a number of critiques. This is a pleasing sign of a vibrant and democratic union.

Alex Gunz and Adam Ozanne write:

We unfortunately do not have the time to respond to many of these, but dialogue is important so we felt it important to give at least some kind of response.

Several of the critiques have been about typos, run-on sentences, moments of non-clarity and the like. We are aware of these, and apologize for them, but this is something we put together in non-existent spare time to a tight deadline, so one will have to live with them.

Other critiques were more substantive. For the sake of response we’ve chosen the most detailed one we are aware of to engage with. Take a bow Sam Dolan of Sheffield (who has graciously agreed to let us reply back here, and who we have invited to post a response of his own in the next few days).

Most of the points below are from a twitter thread, so bear with us here:

DOLAN: Point 1. O&G say the IDC proposal “would be dead”. But AJ says only that “UUK does not intend to return to the Jan JNC proposal …”

(QUOTES text from the offer saying): “UUK does not intend to return to the January joint negotiating committee proposal to consult on moving to a DC scheme”

REPLY: Nothing in negotiations is ever certain till the ink dries, but our understanding is that DC is not currently being discussed as a live viable option. Maybe tomorrow the economy crashes, interest rates spike, the government slashes university spending, and abolishes tuition, and we are back in a DC world. Maybe if we reject the offer the UUK hawks take over, declare that we aren’t interested in negotiating and roll backwards on us (or maybe not  – anybody pretending to know exactly what would happen for sure, is appealing to facts not in evidence). But we are content that this is a reasonably accurate description of where the negotiations are at right now.

DOLAN: Point 2. O&G write “the 2017 valuation would effectively, be put on hold while an independent expert panel reviews USS’s valuation methodology and its claims that there is a deficit.” But UUK just say this:

QUOTES: “maintenance of the status quo… until at least April 2019” and “we are committed to maintaining a meaningful DB pension offer at this valuation. Longer term we would like to work jointly with UCU to consider other risk sharing alternatives”

REPLY: People seem to think nothing is allowed to happen before April 2019 but that’s not strictly true, the USS Board can make changes whenever it likes. Realistically these changes get made by the tax year for obvious reasons. Still, it was nice to have this deadline codified.

For what it’s worth, our understanding of the current deal is “No Change until April 2019 and then only change justified by a valuation methodology sanctioned by the expert panel, establishing the size of the cake, and JNC, how to divide it up.” Now it’s true that’s not written in stone, but at this point the pressures are generally more political than they are legal. If UUK suddenly announced draconian cuts in April 2019 while the independent report was still pending, they would have to know that this would spark a wave of anger, and this would lead to more strikes of the exact kind they are now making all these offers to try to defuse.

DOLAN: Point 3. O&G write “That independent panel of experts would review USS’s valuation methodology in time to conduct a new valuation before April 2019“. But there is essentially nothing about timescale in the UUK text, or in Sally Hunt’s email, AFAICS (corrections welcome).

(QUOTES pt 5 of the agreement): “the panel will make an assessment of the valuation. If in the light of that contributions or benefits need to be adjusted in either direction, both parties are committed to agree to recommend to the JNC and the trustee, measures aimed at stabilising the fund to provide a guaranteed pension broadly comparable with current arrangements.”

REPLY: Again, it will be up to UCU to make sure the panel completes it’s work by then, and if not to make sure UUK don’t try anything too silly in the interim.

It’s also worth noting that it’s not particularly clear what rule you could negotiate now to steer around this. For instance, let’s assume that the employers guaranteed not to change the pension plan until the independent committee completed its work. That would create an incentive for UCU to drag its feet and make sure the review took forever, so that we could keep the current deal alive for as long as possible. As much as we don’t trust UUK, they probably don’t trust us all that much either, and so are unlikely to agree to something which could create that dynamic.

Now maybe you could come up with something more elaborate to side step around all of these issues, but that would take time, and would probably STILL be open to future abuse by someone clever enough. So regardless of how many months of intricate negotiations you conducted now to get a perfectly clear wording, its implementation would still likely depend on the balance of power between our ability to strike, and their build-in powers as employers.

DOLAN: Point 4. O&G write that “any scheme implemented after April 2019 should be broadly comparable to the current DB scheme and to the Teachers Pension Scheme …”. But …

QUOTES: “4. UUK agree that any scheme implemented after April 2019 should be broadly comparable to the current DB sceme and to the Teachers Pension Scheme our colleagues in post-1992 universities and schools benefit from.”

DOLAN: From 1/85th to 1/57th? It is essentially impossible that the USS scheme will be “broadly comparable to” the TPS, unless there is some radical Deus Ex Machina from Government.

Here is what UUK actually say:

QUOTES: “6. … agree to continue discussion on the following areas: … role of government…”

REPLY: The TPS’s apparently fantastic accrual rate of 1/57 is not directly comparable to our rate of 1/85 because unlike the TPS, our plan grants us an additional lump sum payment when we retire that is 3 times the value of our annual pension. Calculating whether you are better with a slower accrual + a lump sum on retirement vs. a faster accrual with no lump sum is an exercise that we leave to the actuaries (though we suspect it depends heavily on interest rates and how long you live after retirement). But let us stipulate, for the moment, that overall the TPS plan is the better one. How is it a bad thing that a committee examining our pensions would use this as a comparison point? Even if it could never quite be reached, that would put upwards pressure on the value of our pensions instead of downwards pressure. This is why the union has been insisting for years that TPS should be considered as a comparison, and UUK has argued that it should not be. The concession that it should be is a good thing for us!

DOLAN: Point 5. “UUK and UCU would also agree to explore alternative ways of sharing risk.” But risk-sharing wasn’t mentioned at all in the UUK offer text? So point 5 looks like a backward step.

REPLY: When they talk about exploring other models, such as Collective DC, what they are talking about is ways of sharing risk (recall, CDC removes risk from institutions, but shares it among many members)..

DOLAN: “…In summary, this is unsatisfactory. I really don’t know what I am voting for – or against. Clarification is needed, from UCU central, from UUK, and from the USS trustees too. Key Q: What is the timescale for the JEP, and can/will it affect the valuation before Apr 2019? (End).

REPLY: Uncertainty is a feature either way. If we reject the proposal, then we hope that the employers interpret this as an invitation to make clarifications and improvements and send it back. And they might! Or the hawks among them might seize the argument that we are not able to come to agreements with them, and that if they can tough out strikes through the examination period, then our leverage drops off a cliff over the summer, as there is no use picketing empty buildings. That is possible too. We don’t pretend to be able to handicap the odds either way.

But if we accept the deal then, yes, we face uncertainty this way too. Partly that’s because this is an offer of PROCESS, not of OUTCOME. It makes no hard promises about future payments of any kind, past April 2019. Instead it focusses on addressing our core grievance that decisions were being made in an opaque way, based on opaque analyses, using opaque criteria, chosen for opaque reasons. A big part of our initial complaint that this was a process ripe for abuse, and, further, that we didn’t trust their numbers.

What this offer does is offer a process that allows sunlight and input into deciding what the rules and criteria should be, and how they are decided. And it offers that this will be done sharing our goals of a pension that is comparable to the one that we and the teachers have now.

Now, legally speaking, UUK could still turn around and welch on this deal. They could let the expert panel run, then ignore everything it says, and announce that they were putting us on the cat food retirement plan after all. But politically that would become a very difficult thing for them to do. The union membership would be incensed at this betrayal, and we would have a very sympathetic public and political system (not to mention regulator) behind us, angry that they agreed to tear up all the legal rules to allow the expert panel to run, only for its outputs to be ignored and overridden. Put yourself in the position of a 2019 VC. Is that something you would readily sign on to?

The bigger risk for us is that we agree to a clear and transparent methodology, based on fair principles, and that this process ends up showing that the pension fund doesn’t have enough money in it, and the employers come to us in a stronger position to negotiate cuts to payments to balance the books. This is a possibility that many UCU analysts do not believe will come to pass, and let us hope that they are right. But even if they are not, at least we would be negotiating from a more honest place, with more of the cards out on the table. At least that would be a negotiation in which the truth got a fair shot, instead of us being easy marks to run over on the way to strengthening their books.

Whatever happens, it will, as ever, be down to us to continue to be engaged, to continue to defend our interests, and to use the momentum that this strike has generated to build up the union to be even stronger for the next fight. Because the only real certainty is that there will eventually be a next fight.

Why I have voted YES to accept UUK’s proposal

Amanda Williams is a member of the NEC and HEC, and also a member of the UCU’s Superannuation Working Group.

 

 

 

I’ve voted yes to accepting the UUK proposal because I think that is the route that is most likely to protect our pension. That doesn’t mean that I trust UUK. It means that I believe that the valuation panel provides the best mechanism for resolving both the current dispute and avoiding future attacks on our pension. If UUK lets us down I trust my friends and colleagues in UCU to be ready to take effective industrial action in future.

The main case against voting yes to the UUK proposal seems to be a lack of trust in UUK and the lack of certainty as to what might happen if the proposal is accepted. It has been claimed that to accept the proposal would be naïve.

I am not proposing that we naïvely accept the UUK proposal, I am suggesting that we should vote yes with our eyes wide-open. That is why the notices for further strike action have been issued even while the proposal from UUK has gone out to the wider membership.

If we vote no and turn down the proposal we don’t know what will happen next. Different people, with different experience and expertise are reaching different conclusions based on their judgement. If we reject the proposal we don’t know for certain how UUK will react. We also don’t know how USS or tPR (the Pensions Regulator) will react. Those of us who think that the most likely reaction from UUK, USS and tPR will be a hardening rather than a softening of position are making a judgement.

If we accept the proposal we still don’t have absolute certainty about what will happen next. However, we do know that the expert panel will need time to convene, look at the valuation and come to conclusions. During this time, of course, industrial action would be suspended. We know that tPR has indicatedits support for a process which allows the stakeholders to come together and avoid recurring disagreements. We know that if we vote yes UUK would have committed itself to make approaches to seek support from USS and tPR for the process of finding a solution.

One of the arguments for voting no has been that the UUK proposal contained a commitment to ‘maintenance of the status quo in respect of both contributions into USS and current pension benefits, until at least April 2019’. Those advocating for a no vote say that this statement is there just to look good and therefore is evidence of duplicity. I disagree. If you believe that it adds nothing to the proposal then ignore it as a neutral statement. However, there is nothing in the rules that specifies the date at which implementation takes place. A date of April 2019 for implementation of changes was part of the USS’s project management timeline for the current valuation. Other implementations have been earlier (2011) or later (2014). So, in my view, this commitment adds a level of certainty that was previously absent.

Some of the criticism of the proposal concerns the language used within it. Words and phrases like a ‘guaranteed pension’ have caused consternation, the precise meaning of ‘comparable’ has been picked apart and the idea of considering ‘affordability challenges for all parties’ has been held up as unreasonable.

Personally, I am content to see a ‘guaranteed pension’ used as a synonym for ‘Defined Benefit pension’. That’s because a guaranteed pension is a Defined Benefit pension scheme. The definitions of DC and DB under international accounting standards (maybe not the most salient definitions but the ones I am most familiar with) are:

‘Defined contribution plans are post-employment benefit plans under which an entity pays fixed contributions into a separate entity (a fund) and will have no legal or constructive obligation to pay further contributions if the fund does not hold sufficient assets to pay all employee benefits relating to employee service in the current and prior periods.’

‘Defined benefit plans are post-employment benefit plans other than defined contribution plans.’

(IFRS Foundation, (2013), IAS 19 Employee Benefits, section 8)

If the pension is guaranteed, then by definition it is a Defined Benefit pension.

Comparability has been widely interpreted to mean something capable of being compared to something else (for example, a melted, destroyed heater could be compared to a functioning heater), thereby dismissing this commitment as worthless. That is a rather pedantic way of using a word for which the synonyms are ‘similar, close, near, approximate, akin, equivalent, corresponding, commensurate, proportional, proportionate, parallel, analogous, related’ and which can be defined as meaning ‘of equivalent quality’. The 12 March offer, although rejected by UCU, was a better comparator than the full DC offer from 23 January. Both have been rejected, but nonetheless it should be acknowledged that the shift away from full DC and a return to a hybrid structure is a significant victory. And we should remind ourselves that we will be the final arbiters of what is considered sufficiently similar, close or near to our existing pensions.

I am somewhat more sympathetic to the points being made about appearing to accept that there are potential ‘affordability challenges’. Discourse around affordability has been used to undermine the position of Defined Benefit schemes as the preferred option of employers as they were in the 1980s. Those discourses are misconceived: evidence can be found that DB schemes, especially large DB schemes, are a cost-effective way of making provision for retirement from both the employee and employer’s perspective. The valuation and the future service cost are bound up with each other, so opening the one up to scrutiny of the valuation panel provides a chance to review the other and refute any claims that future DB accruals are not affordable.

Advocates for a no vote have said that ‘we know that the pension scheme is in surplus, we know that it’s got loads of assets’ and ‘there is no risk to this pension scheme’. Well some of that is true and some is not, but none of it is a reason for voting no to accepting the proposal from UUK. It’s fairer to say that we know that the scheme is cash flow positive for the foreseeable future as long as it remains open to DB accruals (I realise that is not as effective a rallying call as ‘the pensions scheme is in surplus’), and it’s true the scheme has a very large total of assets (with a market value of about £60bn according to the March 2017 audited accounts). Still, I would take issue with the statement that there is no risk to this pension scheme — if it’s not taking risks it won’t be earning returns!

But what we need now is time for the Joint Expert Panel to pick apart the valuation, examine the strengths inherent in the scheme, such as its scale, the strength of the employers’ covenant, the robustness of a multi-employer scheme, the fact that it is asset-rich, and the healthy returns that the investments have made historically. All that information can be used to craft a new, better proposal for this valuation cycle.

As an aside, the scale of the scheme has apparently been one of the main concerns of tPR, but the recently published government white paper on pensions, ‘Protecting Defined Benefit Pension Schemes’, proposes to put in place mechanisms to consolidate smaller schemes because of the significant advantages associated with the largest schemes. USS is the largest private DB scheme in the country.

I am optimistic that the valuation panel will start a process that allows the 2017 valuation to be revisited in such a way that a satisfactory resolution can be found. But I am not naïve. We have demonstrated that we can carry out effective industrial action. The credible threat of industrial action remains as a reminder to UUK to take the commitments it has made seriously. If we judge it has reneged on its commitment ‘to maintaining a meaningful defined benefit (DB) pension offer at this valuation’ we know we can muster on the picket lines again. More importantly, UUK now knows that too.

If we are looking for absolute certainty before we accept any proposals or suspend any action I think we will be waiting for ever and never be in a position to resolve this dispute, which in my view will then peter out without having crystallised the significant gains that have been made.

I have voted yes, not because I am daunted by more strike action — I’m not. If need be I’ll be there fighting for UCU’s interests, on the picket lines, as I have been in every dispute since I joined UCU. I have voted yes because I think that the most likely route to a getting a good pension deal currently lies through accepting UUK’s proposal.

UCU Strikes: The Ballot, what it means and where we go from here.

With permission, UCU Agenda has reprinted a posting by Jeanette Findlay, and Patricia Findlay two UCU members from Glasgow and Strathclyde universities (who describe themselves as ‘non-affiliated’)  on why they are calling for a yes vote in the current ballot. They make the point that it’s a ballot on the process and not the outcome. We think it’s a fantastic contribution to the debate. The original posting can be found here

Jeanette is Senior Lecturer in Economics in the College of Social Sciences at Glasgow University and Tricia  is Professor of Work and Employment Relations at Strathclyde and Director of the Scottish Centre for Employment Research (SCER) 

“The following is our understanding, based on evidence cited in the text, and on our understanding of how negotiations work/how settlements are reached, of where we are and the nature of the decision we are being asked to take.  We are happy to debate any element of it if there are detailed rebuttals or alternative views on how things work, but we would ask for people to specify precisely how they perceive a settlement arising at any point in this dispute which does not involve a process the same or similar to the one that is on the table.  For the avoidance of doubt, we are neither part of, nor opposed in principle to, any grouping within the union”. Jeanette Findlay, Senior Lecturer in Economics, University of Glasgow. Patricia Findlay, Professor of Work and Employment Relations, University of Strathclyde

  1. We came out on strike because in January the JNC (UUK plus chair) forced through a decision, based on the November 2017 valuation, to remove all Defined Benefits – totally unacceptable.
  2. UCU position – (1) refuse to accept these changes, (2) want to open up the issue of the valuation to joint discussion and (3) protect a fair pension.
  3. We go on strike for 14 days – make no mistake, the strike and action to date has been successful
    1. Employers won’t talk …. Our action makes them talk
    2. Employers threaten ASOS deductions … our actions ensures that most don’t/won’t
    3. Employers assess that we won’t be strong enough to resist imposition of these damaging changes – but UCU grows in membership and activism
    4. Employers insist DB is unaffordable – our action forces a DB offer in March (not good enough, but still an offer the employers previously said wasn’t possible)
  4. We reject March offer and make plans for continuing action.
  5. Employers make an offer in relation to the valuation process and HEC decide to put this to a ballot of members (people have a variety of complaints about the process – whatever the rights and wrongs of that, it isn’t relevant to the substance of the decision on the ballot).
  6. What we are about to vote on is to agree a process, not to agree an outcome. Understanding this distinction is absolutely crucial. We/UCU believe that the USS valuation is wrong and have argued for 5 years for a different valuation process. Avoiding being in the same position every time the USS scheme is revalued means addressing the issue of valuation.  Some agreement over the valuation is a necessary, but not sufficient condition, of an outcome to the current dispute that is acceptable to us. We are now being offered a joint valuation process.
  7. 1st objective of UCU action has been achieved – the original (DC) offer is now off the table as implied in the UUK statement, confirmed in a direct answer to a question by Josephine Cumbo of the FT and then finally confirmed in the letter to Sally Hunt from Alastair Jarvis last Wednesday (day of Branch Reps meeting in London).
  8. So what are we being balloted about? The establishment of an independent panel to look at the valuation methodology and to have underpinning this panel a focus on DB and on ‘broadly comparable benefits’.  We are being asked to say yes or no to what we asked for ie the 2nd objective of the UCU action.
  9. We are NOT, at this point, being balloted on a set of pension arrangements – this will come later. We would not, therefore, be ‘giving up’ the current industrial action – though it is likely that we would suspend it (see point 20 below).
  10. The pensions regulator is on board and the USS board now needs to agree this.
  11. Assuming that the USS board agrees, then we have won the first round of this battle – we’ve had the unacceptable offer/s removed and have forced acceptance of the need for a joint process to address the valuation question.
  12. Yet some people are unhappy – why?
    1. Process of HEC decision – nothing to do with substance of what will be balloted on
    2. Because it came from the employers – not unusual in any negotiations process for one side to propose and the other to decide on the proposal (and remember, some members were equally unhappy about the March proposal for having come from UUK and UCU).
    3. Because they don’t trust the employer – if a lack of trust was necessary for negotiating and agreement making, few agreements would be made. We gain what we gain by strength in negotiation – and knowing when to deploy that strength.
    4. Because there are no specifics on what the final position will be – that’s because this isn’t a ballot on the substance of the pensions, but a process to generate information that will underpin future negotiations on the actual pensions outcome.
    5. Because there has been no specification of timings – lots of speculation about how this expert panel process is only for the 2020 valuation – but correspondence between Matt Waddup/UCU and UCU Glasgow makes it is clear that the joint expert panel is aimed at the current valuation – ie will be available in time to influence what happens after April 2019. It is our understanding that UCU will convey this shortly.
    6. Some are arguing for a guarantee of no detriment at this stage. But at this stage, there is no ‘detriment’ on the table. If people are arguing that employers should commit now to no detriment in future, this is unrealistic – and even if UUK made such a commitment now, they could abandon that commitment when the Expert Panel on Valuation concludes.  Whatever comes out of this valuation process becomes the next terrain on which to fight – or not.  Because either we were right and the scheme is sound and doesn’t need to change. Or we were wrong and change in benefits or costs will be proposed.  But even if we agreed increased costs were necessary, we could argue that they should be borne by the employers given they had a payment holiday some years ago – but we are not at that stage yet. In effect, some people seem to want to have the agreement completed before getting into the room with the other side! This is generally not how negotiations work.
    7. There are objections to mention of affordability and constraints of the existing regulatory regime – we can disagree in negotiations as to what is or is not affordable, but we cannot object to the concept of affordability in and of   Similarly, we may not like the regulatory regime, and we may wish to pursue separate discussions with the regulator to establish what room for manoeuvre there is, but we cannot pretend that regulation does not exist or oppose it in principle.
    8. Some objections are because the UUK proposal doesn’t address a much wider range of issues, or because there is no focus on UUK governance – on the former, there are wider issues to focus on with our new members and activists, but this dispute is about pensions, and mission creep doesn’t help us with this; on the latter (and notwithstanding that the governance of UUK is a car crash that has got us into this dispute in the first place), it is not the job of any agreement with us to review/reform UUK governance – we would be up in arms if UUK suggested an agreement over the internal governance of UCU. UUK governance is for Principals/VCs to address – and they should.
  13. We defer to no-one in our willingness to fight for what is right in the workplace. But we cannot get anyone to articulate – in conversation or on Twitter – what else precisely, at this stage of the process,  we are asking for.  The question being posed is simple at this stage – is the specified form and operation of an Expert Panel, focussed on retaining a DB scheme and broadly comparable benefits, acceptable to us at this stage in our dispute?
  14. Discussions – on Twitter and elsewhere – about problems with the vagueness of the current ‘offer’ are misplaced because we do not have a current offer – we have a proposed mechanism to underpin an offer at the next stage of negotiations.
  15. People say this should go back to the negotiators – what for? We have what we wanted at this stage – removal of the January JNC imposed changes – effectively returning us to the status quo for the time being – and (potentially) an agreed process.  In fact, UCU confirmed at the Branch Reps meeting that there will be a DB scheme for at least four years:  till April 2019 as is, and for the following three years (till next valuation) whatever DB scheme comes out of the current dispute – a scheme which we, necessarily and by definition, will have agreed to.
  16. There are lots of risks in the process and in the future. The UCU choice of experts is incredibly important, as is ongoing communication and consultation with the membership.  Being clear about what we will and won’t accept is crucial and needs to be understood by our negotiators.   But at the end of any agreed process, based on whatever valuation comes out of it, proposals will be put to the Trustees and we will be balloted on whether to accept or reject them.
  17. To reiterate – because this point appears to have been lost from the debate, certainly on Twitter – at this point, we are not agreeing to accept whatever comes out of this valuation process. We are not being asked to accept a ‘deal’ that specifies what our pensions will look like. We are being offered the process we asked for. To reject the process we asked for risks making us look ridiculous, alienating some members, and losing student and public support.  Members need to be very clear about the different stages of the process – negotiations will follow the valuation process.  The upcoming ballot is only about the valuation process. 
  18. A lack of clarity about what we are deciding in the upcoming ballot doesn’t help in informing members and makes us look divided and consequently weaker.
  19. Once the Expert Panel has concluded, we are back in negotiations about the content of any agreement. If at that stage we don’t like what we are offered, then we will take action to defend our pensions.
  20. If members vote yes in the ballot, and USS accepts it and the action is suspended, some people appear to feel that if activists ‘stand down’, they won’t stand up again. We have no reason to believe this (quite the reverse – we’re more likely to lose people if we try to keep them involved in action without clarity over why they are taking action). Not only are the employers unlikely to accept that industrial action continues throughout the valuation process (no employer would), but any strike action (or action short) would neither have a current objective (to get the employer to talk, because we’d be talking) or be timely for any ultimate objective – ie to influence an agreement, because we don’t have an offer of an agreement yet.
  21. If members vote no in the ballot, what are we saying? What comes next?  We can, of course, continue our action, but without a new valuation the November valuation will stand.  We cannot wish away external constraints in the form of the tPR timescales for the current valuation – and (whatever limited flexibility exists) these are not sensitive to our industrial action as they are not in the gift of UUK.
  22. To conclude, all disputes are resolved by a negotiated settlement. Our (UCU) position has always been that we want a joint process of valuation to underpin a negotiated settlement.  If we accept the UUK proposal, we would be agreeing to take part in the valuation process that at some point would (or wouldn’t) lead to a negotiated settlement that we’d be balloted on.  Engaging with the valuation process would be a necessary but not sufficient condition of a final agreement. We deployed industrial action to win round 1 – ie to stop the imposition of changes to DC and deliver the necessary condition (ie a fair valuation).  That valuation process would then begin.  When complete, we would negotiate on the basis of it (so long as the process had been robust), ballot on it and either accept it, or reject it – at which point industrial action would have an objective, which is to change the offer.
  23. We have a job to do while the expert panel is ongoing. We need to build our union and we need to stay united and keep the communications flowing.  We need to build capacity and capability for what might come next. We need to talk about and act in relation to all of the other problematic issues that we’ve discussed on the picket lines over the last month.
  24. We have been successful to date, but there is a long way to go. There are tactical considerations to be made about how best and when is best to deploy our collective resources. What would be an absolute travesty is for us to be disunited after this ballot on process – for us, that really would feel like snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Continue reading