This post follows on from the email we received from UCU HQ yesterday, and seeks to explain that as part of a plain language summary of where we are.
As we approach the end of an incredible year for the union, it is time to reflect on what we have achieved and how we take this strength forwards into a new year. 2018 saw us come together for the unprecedented “Great USS Strike” 14 day action to defend our pension scheme, through which we highlighted significant issues with the assumptions at work in the way USS has been valued and how our employers were responding to this. Our incredible, solid strike action won us a number of things, including the creation of the Joint Expert Panel which was convened to examine what is really going on with our pension scheme, and to interrogate whether the changes proposed by Universities UK (UUK) were justified. This, and associated negotiations and meetings, has been a complex process with multiple players.
The Joint Expert Panel came up with some recommendations that indicated we needn’t pay too much more for our pensions, and can keep the same pension structure we had, instead of the changes that we rejected and took strike action against. In other words, our action was vindicated (and really ought not to have been necessary, had the relevant parties listened to us, quite some time ago when we sounded the alarm about how USS was being valued and assessed).
Before that JEP report came out, a USS mechanism had to be triggered that means we will see our contributions increased slightly in April 2019. UCU and UUK (on behalf of the employers) have yet to agree a way forward that would rule out any of the further increases required by that mechanism.
We, UCU, say that there should be ‘no detriment’ to members – the same pension at the same contribution levels. The JEP report was adopted by UCU to support negotiations to achieve this. UUK has asked its member institutions, and they broadly agree with UCU, that the JEP recommendations should be followed.
USS has begun a new valuation for 2018, in addition to completing the 2017 valuation that led to the dispute. It will report later on that new valuation. A new report from the JEP is expected in 2018, looking at matters of governance of the USS.
If USS trustees are reluctant to implement the JEP recommendations, UCU will work with employers to persuade the USS to adopt those recommendations.
USS is currently talking to UUK about ‘contingency payments’, which is to say additional payments employers might need to make in extreme circumstances. Both UCU and UUK have asked for flexibility on this matter, to avoid further impact on contributions.
We believe USS’s position is indefensible, not least because the JEP found that these increases are unnecessary.UCU will continue to negotiate to defend the current pension position. When a position is established, it will come back to members for agreement/rejection.
At last week’s USS meeting with employers and the Joint Negotiating Committee, it was revealed that the JEP proposals, if adopted, would entail a ‘no detriment’ position, as they lead to a surplus instead of a deficit at the ‘year 20’ point which is tested.
The UCU National Dispute Committee, formed at Congress 2018 to examine and provide a steer to the USS dispute, has met several times. You can read more about its work and the minutes of its meetings [here], and at their meeting on 17 December, the NDC agreed [this motion] represents its current position.
What about the Pension Regulator?
The Pension Regulator (tPR) has not always bee the most helpful to our cause, and has come in for some criticism from the JEP, and in the report prepared for UCU by First Actuarial. There have been delays in commentary, and unhelpfully framed and misinformed interventions such as its recent letter to USS. The breadth and depth of this criticism levelled at the PR is cause for concern and it would be for the best if USS is willing to hear these criticisms and to join UCU and UUK in its adoption of those as expressed by the JEP in its report.
What of USS?
In a recent exchange over universities ‘deficit recovery payments’ , Bill Galvin of USS – who came in for criticism in the JEP report, has in effect been rebuked by UUK who have reminded him that their consensus on lowering these payments (in accord with JEP recommendations) is appropriate and properly supported. Given that recent calculations indicate a year 20 surplus, and no longer a deficit, on JEP recommendations, Galvin’s intransigence might be read as seeking to defend a position that has been demonstrated as unnecessary. There is a petition calling for Bill Galvin to resign [here].
Under Galvin, USS have tended to repeat overstated concerns about risk in the USS scheme, which we have shown to have been exacerbated by USS’s very methods. Since at least 2014, Leeds UCU has been arguing that USS’s very own methods of unnecessary “de-risking” cause and elevate risks to our pensions. We also hope to see a more reflective, open approach to listening to these concerns about the Pensions Regulator when USS it opens its next consultation on the new, 2018 valuation. If USS do not act in the interests of USS members, our employers need to join UCU in speaking out about the mismanagement of USS.
So, we continue to defend our pensions. However we now do so from a much stronger position that many in senior management positions in universities across the UK initially told us was untenable. We have withstood attempts to undermine and discredit us, and we have met it with detailed, critical, sound analysis, backed by a willingness to take industrial action if this was ignored. We must be ready to do so again, though given the adoption of the JEP report by both UCU and UUK, we hope that another strike over pensions will be unnecessary.