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.

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The USS dispute – some facts you need before voting

Adam Ozanne is a member of the NEC, the USS Advisory Committee and UCU’s Superannuation Working Group, and joint secretary of the UCU branch at the University of Manchester where he is a Senior Lecturer in the Economics Department. Alex Gunz is Lecturer in Marketing at Alliance Manchester Business School. Here they provide some background (and foreground) facts about where we are, and how we got here, and the choices now facing all members.

THE USS DISPUTE AND UUK OFFER OF FRIDAY 23rd MARCH

 CONTENTS AND SUMMARY:

  1. THE “DEFINED BENEFIT” PENSIONS PROMISE
  2. THE ALTERNATIVE – “DEFINED CONTRIBUTION” PENSIONS
  3. HOW THE CURRENT USS “HYBRID” SCHEME WORKS
  4. THE SEPTEMBER 2017 UUK CONSULTATION CHANGED ALL OF THIS
  5. WHAT UUK PROPOSED ON JANUARY 23rd AND SUBSEQUENT STRIKES
  6. WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
  7. FRIDAY 23rd MARCH OFFER
  8. TO BALLOT OR NOT TO BALLOT, THAT WAS THE QUESTION…
  9. WHAT WE CAN PROMISE YOU

 This briefing paper has the following aims:

  • Sections 1-3 provide a primer about pension schemes and, in particular, USS.
  • Sections 4-6 provide an overview of the current dispute and how we reached the latest offer from Universities UK (UUK), the employers’ representative body.
  • Sections 7-8 summarise the key elements of the latest UUK offer and the remaining uncertainties that the UCU Higher Education Committee (HEC) considered when arriving at its decision on March 28th to put the offer to a members’ ballot.
  • Section 9 expresses the commitment of those elected to lead UCU to listen to members’ views and, regardless of the final outcome of this dispute, continue campaigning to improve pay, pensions and terms and conditions of employment for UCU members.

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Vote for a strong team of Pension negotiators

Pensions are a crucial issue for all of us, and the USS pension continues to be under attack – which is why we need competent, and combative negotiators to work on our behalf, negotiating the best improved deal from the pension authorities.

We strongly urge delegates to vote for the following candidates, who can be relied on to negotiate effectively for our interests.

We ask delegates to vote for Renee Prendergast and Amanda Williams, for the USS negotiating team.

Renee Prendergast is chair of UCU in Northern Ireland. She is a member of Queens University Branch of UCU.

Renee’s message to delegates is:

I am a Reader in Economics at Queen’s, Belfast with over twenty years’ experience as a Local Association Officer in AUT/UCU. I am an experienced negotiator on the whole range of local issues including UCU Recognition and  Procedures, Framework, Charter & Statutes and Local Regulations as well as being elected twice as a UCU National Negotiator on Pay.

The role of USS negotiator is a specialist one involving a steep learning curve over complex issues for which my professional training as an economist is helpful. Currently, I am a UCU alternate on the USS JNC and have undergone training for this role. Being a negotiator on USS at this crucial time means putting knowledge before slogans and examining detail forensically. Our priority going forward must be maximising the retention of defined benefits within USS and making it as good, if not better, than TPS.

Amanda Williams is a member of the NEC and a member of the University of East Anglia branch.

Amanda’s message to delegates is:

We need a USS negotiating team whose members complement each other.  We need shared values but distinctive skills and expertise.  My values are a commitment to:

  • the basic principles of Defined Benefit schemes to counter the ideologically based attacks they suffer, and
  • ethical investment in line with the social values of a trade union.

I am currently a member of the NEC, of SWG and on the USS Advisory Committee. I am a Chartered Accountant and Chartered Tax Adviser.  I trained in audit (including work on pension scheme audits).  Now I’m a Lecturer in Accounting.  I bring an auditor’s professional scepticism linked to commercial awareness. As a local negotiator the most public success was the university’s reversal on 100% pay docking after we obtained a mandate for local strike action.  But the most important team successes are behind the scenes, getting policies on key issues like FTCs and redundancy avoidance.