UCU members vote to accept proposals in pension dispute

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Protestors outside the university of glasgow

Credit: Glasgow Guardian / Kirsten Colligan

Jonathan Peters
News Editor

Record turnout of UCU members sees establishment of joint panel to determine USS valuation and make recommendations

UCU members have voted to accept proposals to establish a joint expert panel with UUK. This means that strike action, which was due to start again next week and continue into May and June, has been suspended. However, the union has confirmed that the mandate for strike action will remain live as a precaution until the evaluation process is complete.

Last month saw unprecedented industrial action with 14 days of closure at over 60 universities in the UK. The dispute between UCU and UUK over the USS pension scheme remains unresolved.

Commenting on today’s vote, general secretary of UCU Sally Hunt said: “Members have participated in record numbers in the consultation, with a clear majority voting to accept the proposals. The union has come a very long way since January when it seemed that the employers’ proposals for a defined contribution pension were to be imposed.”

The proposals agreed today will see the establishment of a joint panel comprising experts from both sides in the dispute. They will be tasked with re-examining the valuation of USS and will make recommendations on the future deal for beneficiaries of the scheme. The valuation of USS is a key point of contention in the dispute, with experts arguing that its integrity has been repeatedly misrepresented.

A spokesperson for UUK said: “Reviewing the methodology and assumptions in the current valuation will build confidence, trust and increase transparency in the valuation process. It will provide an opportunity to consider the questions raised about the valuation by scheme members and employers. It is important that interested parties engage with the panel and remain open-minded about its possible findings.”

The establishment of the panel is subject to agreement by the board of the USS and the Pensions Regulator, and will be presented to both stakeholders by UCU and UUK. It is expected that these proposals will be accepted.

Industrial action began after UUK announced plans to change USS, the main pension scheme for academics in the UK. The new plans would have seen typical members up to £10,000 a year worse off in retirement, according to one estimate. The 14 days of strike action saw the establishment of dozens of student-staff solidarity groups, with teach-ins, demonstrations and occupations organised throughout the UK.

Despite the unprecedented strike action and solidarity, the dispute over USS has not been resolved. The new panel is expected to produce evidence and recommendations which can provide the basis for future changes, however UCU has stressed that employers will not revert to their original plans to end guaranteed pensions and defined benefits.

According to Sally Hunt, this means the joint panel can review “the USS valuation alongside a commitment from the employers to a guaranteed, defined benefit scheme. USS, the regulator and government now need to ensure that UCU and UUK have the space to implement the agreement effectively.”

“UCU has more work to do to ensure that the agreement delivers the security in retirement that university staff deserve. On behalf of all UCU members I want to say thank you to students and other staff for their inspiring support throughout the dispute.”