Declining satisfaction with USS (July 25 2019)

Declining satisfaction levels with pension scheme at heart of university strikes

25 July 2019

Member satisfaction with the USS pension scheme has plummeted, according to the scheme’s annual report.

The report from the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) says that less than a third (31%) of members reported a positive relationship, compared to 38% in 2017/18 and 53% in 2016/17. USS dropped its target of members reporting a positive relationship with the scheme from 70% last year to 50% this year, but was still some way short of achieving its goal.

Unlike previous years, this year’s report does not include figures on member satisfaction. Last year less than half (48%) of members said they were satisfied with the scheme, a considerable drop from around two-thirds (66%) in 2016/17.

Members reporting a positive relationship with the scheme:

2016/17 53%
2017/18 38%
2018/19 31%

Members satisfied with the scheme:

2016/17 66%
2017/18 48%
2018/19 Not included in the report

In the report, USS says the fall in positive relationships is down to “the impact of the scheme valuation and views of our handling of that process”. In his forward, chief executive Bill Galvin admits that: “It is clear that some members feel that we have not handled or communicated the complex issues we are grappling with as well as we might.”

The report also shows that the number of staff being paid over £100,000 is now 131 (up from 128 the previous year). The highest earner at the scheme took home between £1.75M and £1.8M last year, which is a considerable increase on the best paid staff member from the previous year who earned between £1.1M and £1.15M.

UCU general secretary-elect Jo Grady said: ‘It has been clear for some time that USS has lost members’ trust and that it has taken the annual report to alert those leading the scheme to this fact suggests they are worryingly out of touch.

‘Considering the complaints around governance this year, we are extremely concerned that USS appears to be cherry-picking what statistics to include in the report. Why are the member satisfaction figures missing?

‘We want employers to use their considerable influence to hold USS’s managers to account. We are heading towards another round of industrial action, because universities are refusing to cover the cost of the extra contributions which USS has demanded. Instead of holding USS to account, employers are willing to make scheme members pay more for the same pension.’

Universities face more industrial action in the new academic year as UCU members of USS are being balloted for strike action. UCU says its members will not accept reduced benefits or increased pension costs. The union says that if universities will not work with the union to defend members’ pensions, then they must agree to pick up the tab for any extra costs.

That ballot, and one in all universities on pay, equality, job security and workloads, opens on 9 September and closes on 31 October.

30 Minute Solidarity Climate Stoppage

Support UCU’s TUC motion for a 30-minute solidarity climate stoppage

Millions of school students across the globe have struck for climate justice. Their action has forced governments across the world and the UK parliament to declare a climate emergency. We need to keep up this pressure. If this is not achieved then the earth’s climate will have passed a dangerous tipping point with temperatures rising up to 4 degrees by the end of the century – in the lifetime of young people alive today.

Climate is a trade union issue. Trade unionists must play a central role in shaping the way society’s economic and social organisation meets the needs of future generations and the planet.

Greta Thurnberg’s call for a climate strike and for adults, workers and trade unionists to join the global school students’ strike on 20 September 2019 is one that trade unionists from all unions must take seriously. The UK School Climate Network has supported this call and asks trade unionists to support. The strike will initiate a week of climate action.

In line with motions passed at UCU Congress, the union is submitting the motion below to the forthcoming TUC Congress which takes place from 8 to 11 September in Brighton.

We are calling on all the TUC affiliate unions, student unions throughout our colleges and universities and politicians and community groups, to support the call for a 30-minute workday stoppage in solidarity with the global school student strike on 20 September.

Declare your support here >

Unions set out plans for just transition to greener economy

8 July 2019

UCU has welcomed plans from the TUC to ensure that working people and education are at the heart of a transition towards a low-carbon greener economy.

The TUC has called for a cross-party commission, which includes unions, consumers and business, to plan a clear and funded path to a low-carbon economy. The TUC also said that proper funding of the adult education sector was essential if the demand for new skills as a result of the move towards a greener economy was to be met.

UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: ‘A properly funded education system is vital if we are to deliver focused and appropriate skills training as part of the move towards a greener economy. We share the TUC’s vision and wholeheartedly back plans to put workers at the heart of just transition planning.’

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: ‘Trade unions are committed to addressing the climate emergency. A greener economy can be a fairer economy too, with new work and better jobs right across Britain. It’s vital to avoid the mistakes of the 1980s, when industrial change devastated communities because workers had no say. This time we need a plan that everyone can get behind, with workers’ voices at the heart of it.’

Universities on Strike Warning as UCU announces pay and pension ballots

28 June 2019

Universities will be hit with industrial action later this year if they do not make a decent pay offer to staff and secure pensions for members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS)

Earlier this month the union wrote to 69 institutions warning that if they failed to defend USS pensions then the union would prepare for an industrial action ballot in September. The union’s higher education committee (HEC) has now set out a timetable for that ballot and also for a pay ballot to run at the same time.

The ballots will run from Monday 9 September to Wednesday 30 October and the union’s HEC will meet to consider the results on Friday 1 November. The ballots will be disaggregated so each institution will be polled separately. Last year, university campuses were brought to a standstill by unprecedented levels of strike action.

The union said universities had done nothing to address the declining value of its members’ pay, which has fallen in real-terms by 21% in the last decade. UCU members in around 140 universities will be balloted over pay. Those institutions include the 69 where members will also being balloted USS pensions.

The USS pension scheme has been hit by a series of high-profile scandals in recent weeks after a trustee spoke out saying her efforts to establish the level of the scheme’s deficit had been obstructed. That claim is now being looked at by the Pensions Regulator. Instead of dealing with the claims, USS has launched a probe into the whistleblower.

The universities’ representatives, Universities UK (UUK), has said it is confident that the USS trustee board is “conducting business in line with its fiduciary responsibilities” and that expressing no confidence in the USS board or executive “would be an irresponsible move”.

Despite the inaction from both USS and UUK, the chair of the work and pensions select committee Frank Field has written to the chief executive of the Pensions Regulator asking a series of questions about the whistleblower’s complaint.

UCU head of higher education Paul Bridge said: ‘Pay has been held down for too long and USS members are running out of patience. Every day seems to bring some new damning revelation about USS. Their response has been wholly inadequate, as has that of Universities UK. If universities are not prepared to work with us on pay and pensions, then they will face serious disruption later this year.’