UCU to boycott Trinity College, Cambridge (20 June 2019)

Hands off our pensions:

UCU to boycott Trinity College (20 June 2019)

UCU has today officially censured Trinity College, Cambridge and will call on higher education (HE) staff worldwide to boycott the institution unless it reverses its decision to pull out of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). At a meeting of the college’s Fellows this morning, a motion to reconsider the decision to withdraw from USS was lost by 43 votes to 73. Trinity’s decision is based on the unlikely scenario of being left to carry the can for pensions if the entire higher education sector collapses. The union will set up a special committee to consider what action the boycott would entail and it may include asking HE staff to:

  • not attend, speak at or organise academic or other conferences at Trinity
  • not apply for jobs at Trinity
  • not give lectures at Trinity
  • not accept positions as visiting professors or researchers at Trinity
  • not write for any academic journal which is edited from Trinity
  • not take up new contracts as external examiners.

Nationally UCU is stepping up the fight to defend University Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions as the employers refuse to rule out contribution rises for members and the union is preparing for a potential industrial action ballot in September. Please watch and share this new short video about latest developments.

VCs attend meetings to set own pay 20 June 2019

81% of vice-chancellors still allowed to attend meeting that sets their pay

(18 June 2019)

Despite calls to improve transparency around senior pay at universities, four-fifths of institutions (81%) still allowed their vice-chancellor to attend meetings where their pay was set last year, and only a third (32%) provided full minutes of the meeting.

The University and College Union (UCU) sent a Freedom of Information (FoI) request to 158 universities asking if the vice-chancellor was a member of the remuneration committee or could attend its meeting. It also asked for a copy of the most recent minutes.

Twenty-one universities refused to respond to the FoI, one did not answer the question about its vice-chancellor’s attendance and one had no remuneration committee. Of the 135 universities who did respond, the vice-chancellor was allowed to attend meetings at 109 (81%) of them and was a member of the committee at nine* of them.

UCU said it was shocked the figure for the 2017/18 academic year remained so high following the scandals over senior pay and its governance. Last year the union revealed that 95% of vice-chancellor could attend the meetings in 2016/17, which prompted much criticism and promises to improve the governance of senior pay in universities.

In November, the education select committee’s report into value for money in higher education said the current system of self-regulation for senior management pay was “totally unacceptable”. It said that vice-chancellors must never sit on their remuneration committees and this should be enforced by the Office for Students.

In February UCU labelled the Office for Students a “paper tiger” for refusing to deal with the problems surrounding senior pay and perks in universities. The union said vice-chancellors must be banned from attending the meetings and places reserved for staff and students. It is also calling for full disclosure of all remuneration committee minutes.

UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: ‘It is shocking that at the height of the senior pay scandals, a vast majority of our universities thought it was fine for the vice-chancellor to still attend the meeting where their pay was set.

‘The recent pay and perks scandals at our universities have been incredibly damaging, yet these figures suggest that the higher education sector still refuses to act. If the OfS won’t deal with the issue then the government needs to enforce stronger governance at the top tables of our universities.

‘As a minimum, vice-chancellors need to be removed from remuneration committees and staff and student places guaranteed. There must also be full disclosure of the committee’s minutes and the justification behind senior pay and perks.’

* The nine institutions where the vice-chancellor or principal was a member of the remuneration committee in 2017/18:

Coventry University

Cranfield University

Heythrop College

Liverpool Hope University

Rose Bruford College

Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts

University of Aberdeen

University of Chichester

University of Portsmouth


Table 1: VC allowed to attend remuneration committee 2017/2018  
  VC allowed to attend remuneration committee?  
Yes 109  
No 26  
No response 21  
Did not answer question 1  
No committee 1  

109 universities said the vice-chancellor could attend. Nine said the vice-chancellor was also a member of the committee


Table 2: Remuneration committee minutes 2017/2018  
  Sent remuneration committee minutes? Redacted? Y/N
Yes 84 34
No 52 50
No response 21  
No committee 1



See also article in The Times


Quarter of prison staff have been recent victim of physical violence

17 June 2019

Over a quarter (26%) of staff working in prisons have been the victim of physical violence within the last year, according to new figures from a coalition of nine trade unions and professional organisations.

The survey, published by the Joint Unions in Prisons Alliance (JUPA)*, found that one in seven (14%) of staff who were a victim of recent physical violence said they have been assaulted more than ten times in the past year.

Of those who reported a physical assault to their employer, 57% were dissatisfied with the action taken. In a further 20% of cases, respondents said no action was taken at all. Almost two-thirds (63%) of survey respondents reported feeling unsafe at work in the last twelve months.

The survey also looks at the effect of exposure to psychoactive substances – including spice – on staff. Over half of staff (53%) said they had been exposed, and over a third (39%) reported becoming ill as a result. Symptoms included light-headedness, dizziness, confusion and tiredness (97%), nausea and vomiting (49.4%), increased heart rate and blood pressure (34.5%) and anxiety and paranoia (28%).

UCU acting general secretary, Paul Cottrell, said: ‘Prison educators play a vital role in rehabilitating offenders and should not have to run the gauntlet of violence and drug exposure when they go to work. This survey shows that not only is violence against staff in prisons shockingly frequent, they are also routinely subjected to the harmful effects of psychoactive substances.

‘It is appalling that two-thirds of staff in prisons report feeling unsafe in their workplace, and that so many say their concerns aren’t being dealt with properly. We urgently need much tougher action from the government and prison employers to improve the safety and working conditions of staff in our prisons.’

JUPA is calling for urgent action from the Government, Prison Service and other employers in the sector to ensure:

  • Tougher responses to violent incidents, including use of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (offences) Act 2018
  • Better health and safety reporting, including a single reporting system
  • Action to prevent exposure to psychoactive substances
  •  Joint work between employers and unions to examine the causes and effects of violence against staff
  • More prison officers and other personnel to ensure safe and effective staffing levels

* The Joint Unions in Prisons Alliance brings together the following nine trade unions and professional organisations representing staff employed by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, private prison providers, and staff working for contractors providing education services, cleaning, maintenance, healthcare. They are the POA – The Professional Trades Union for Prison, Correctional and Secure Psychiatric Workers; The BMA – the trade union and professional body for doctors and medical students in the UK; GMB Union; Napo – the trade union and professional association that represents probation staff; The Public and Commercial Services Union; Royal College of Nursing; University and College Union; UNISON; and Unite.

Autumn Strike Warning for Universities in USS pensions dispute

7 June 2019

Universities risk prompting a wave of industrial action across UK campuses later this year if they do not rule out benefit cuts or contribution increases for members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

UCU has written to 69 institutions* warning that if they fail to confirm by Wednesday 19 June that they will limit members’ contributions to 8%, or meet the cost of any additional contributions, then the union will prepare for an industrial action ballot in September.

Under current rules USS members pay 8.8% of their salary to the scheme. Members’ contributions went up in April by 0.8% from 8% following the imposition of a cost-sharing rule by USS. Under that rule, members’ contributions are due to rise to 10.4% in October and 11.7% in April 2020.

The union says USS members have been frustrated by a lack of progress in the dispute that saw universities brought to standstill last year by unprecedented levels of strikes. The letter accuses universities of failing to exert their influence over USS and allowing it to ignore the key findings of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) that was set up to review the scheme.

If implemented in full, the JEP report would have resulted in combined contributions of no higher than 26% – 8% for members. However, USS has now presented three options all of which all fail the union’s “no detriment” policy of no increases in contributions and no cuts to benefits.

The union’s higher education committee will meet on Friday 28 June to consider the response and next steps in the dispute.

UCU head of higher education Paul Bridge said: ‘USS members are running out of patience and want universities to start acting in their interests. Delegates at our recent conference passed a series of motions that clearly articulated their frustrations and set out plans for a September strike ballot if universities refuse to rule out benefit cuts or contribution increases.

‘We hope universities will respond positively to our request and we can focus our efforts on addressing concerns over the governance of USS and the need to develop a valuation method that people can have confidence in. If universities fail to respond positively then we will have no option but to start planning for a strike ballot.’


* The letter has gone to institutions who are members of the USS scheme where the union is recognised:


You will be aware that early last year UCU members took part in 14 days of industrial action, which resulted in UUK withdrawing proposals to change USS from a hybrid defined benefit pension scheme into a defined contribution pension scheme.

UCU members later voted to suspend the action and set up the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) in response to an offer from UUK.


The JEP reported in September 2018 and made a number of recommendations for the conclusion of the 2017 valuation. If implemented, these recommendations would also replace the Rule 76 contribution increases relating to the 2017 valuation which were triggered by USS while the JEP was still producing its report. The Rule 76 increases are being implemented in three instalments, from April 2019 until April 2020, when combined contributions would rise to 35.6%. The Rule 76 changes are based on the retention of the current levels of pension benefits, minus the 1% match, which has already been removed.

Both UCU and UUK welcomed the JEP report as the basis for negotiations. Initially, if applied to the 2017 valuation, the JEP’s proposals would have entailed a combined contribution level of 29.2% with no changes to pension benefits. However subsequent modelling by USS, based on changed market circumstances, showed that implementing the JEP in full would actually result in combined contributions no higher than 26%, or 8% for members.

However USS has not accepted some of the key recommendations in the JEP report. Instead, it has proposed replacing the 2017 Rule 76 increases with a new 2018 valuation that still involves contribution rates far above 26%.

USS’s insistence on higher contributions is partly based on external pressure from The Pensions Regulator (TPR). TPR has expressed views on the levels of risk and the strength of the employers’ covenant, and USS has accepted these views rather than seeking to challenge them. This is despite the fact that both UCU’s and UUK’s professional actuarial advisers consider a valuation based on the JEP to be compliant with regulations, and despite the fact that the JEP has heavily criticised TPR’s role in the valuation process. However, USS has not worked to put the case for the JEP to TPR.

Instead, after months of drawn-out negotiations and unexplained delays, USS has given employers three options for finalising the 2018 valuation. The three options do not involve changes to pension benefits. However, all involve higher rates than would be the case if USS adopted the JEP’s recommendations.

The three options are now subject to a further UUK consultation and I consider each in turn:

Option 1: contributions of 33.7% (23% for employers and 10.7% for employees), to apply from April 2020;

Option 2:contributions of 29.7% – but with a mechanism for contingent contributions of three 2% increases (an additional 6%), split 65:35 between employers and members, to be added to starting contributions of 20.4% and 9.3% respectively; and

Option 3:contributions of 30.7%(21.1% for employers and 9.6% for employees) to apply from October 2019, with another valuation in 2020. Should no agreement on the contribution rate from the 2020 valuation be implemented before October 2021, the contribution rate would rise to 34.7% in October 2021.

UCU has a clear policy position of ‘No Detriment’ established by the union’s conferences. This policy means no increases in contributions and no cuts to pension benefits. Unlike a 2018 valuation informed by the JEP’s recommendations, all three of USS’s proposed options fail the test of ‘No Detriment’.

Members waited for the JEP report to be issued and implemented, while USS went ahead and scheduled massive contribution increases based on its controversial 2017 valuation. The JEP report called that valuation’s integrity into question.

Other developments have made USS’s position even more questionable. These include Sam Marsh and First Actuarial’ s demonstrations that USS has not properly justified its ‘de-risking’ strategy; USS’s misrepresentation of the Regulator’s methods for evaluating risk; and the extraordinary recent accusation by statistician and USS Trustee board member, Professor Jane Hutton, that she has been denied access to important information and that the deficit may have been ‘substantially over-estimated’.

Members have trusted employers to work to replace the 2017 increases with a fair outcome, but it has become clear that they will not do so. Employers have a lot of influence over the valuation process, but they have allowed USS to dismiss the JEP’s most important recommendations, they have not pressed USS to engage properly with the Regulator, and, when other developments have called USS’s position into question, they have taken USS’s side.

UCU is running out of patience. At the UCU HE Sector Conference on 26 May 2019, delegates voted overwhelmingly to commence a dispute with USS employers and to move to a statutory ballot for industrial action in September.

I am now writing to seek your confirmation on behalf of your institution that you will not impose any benefit cuts and/or contribution increases, including contingent contributions and default contribution rates for future valuations, on members from October 2019 onwards. This includes any and all increases over the rate of 26% (8% for members) which was established prior to the 2017 valuation. You must instruct your representatives on the Employers’ Pension Forum (EPF) and the UUK nominees on the JNC not to introduce, comply with, or vote for any proposals that would involve such cuts and/or increases for members; and, failing that, you must cover any scheduled increases in full until USS’s governance and valuation methods and assumptions have been overhauled.

If I do not have your affirmative response by 19 June 2019, UCU will consider a trade dispute to exist between your institution and your employees/our members regarding this matter.

It is possible to avoid a damaging dispute and strike action in the autumn of 2019, and potentially thereafter in 2020. All you need to do is commit to uphold the level of contributions no higher than 26% (8% for members). You also agree to instruct your representatives on the Employers’ Pension Forum (EPF) and the UUK nominees on the JNC not to introduce, comply with, or vote for any proposals that would involve such cuts and/or increases for members; and, failing that, you must cover any increases in full that are needed to maintain current benefits until USS’s governance and valuation methods and assumptions have been overhauled.

I look forward to hearing from you no later than 19 June 2019 with your affirmative response as set out above.

Yours sincerely

Paul Bridge

Head of higher education

University and College Union