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November 30th, 2017:

Past strike pay deductions, USS and Pensions Action Group

Yesterday’s OGM was well attended, with over 10% of members attending. We covered two main points:

Past strike pay deductions: UUK (Universities UK) advised all universities, a few years ago, that those who declare strike action should have pay deducted at the rate of 1/260th of annual salary. At the time, Paul Hatcher discussed this with John Brady and emphasised that this was incorrect, but we weren’t able to pursue this further owing to cost. However, a test case elsewhere, involving teachers, has worked its way through to the Supreme Court which has confirmed that pay should be deducted at 1/365th of salary (, if you want to see the judgement, and for a concise summary). UCU Head Office has written to all Vice Chancellors to ask that the incorrectly deducted pay be refunded to those who had been penalised in this way. John Brady met again with Paul and proposed that in return for agreeing that deductions would be at 1/365th from now on, we would waive any such claim for the past. This proposal was put to the members at the OGM yesterday and was defeated. Our counter proposal, to pursue the repayments due, was overwhelmingly passed. UCU centrally are spearheading the action on this and are likely to start off with a couple of test cases at a couple of universities, which in turn will force the more recalcitrant universities into responding, so we don’t expect anything will happen quickly for anyone here (sorry, no extra Christmas bonus… but next year…) If you think you were affected by this, please let us know as we will start to build a list of those who have missed out.

Local rules: Following the AGM in the summer, UCU rejected the local rules which had been proposed at the time: the key issue was the extent to which the local rules can be permitted to override national rules. Clarification was sought, and revised local rules were proposed, as circulated to members on 21 November. A motion was raised to accept the revised local rules and the motion was passed. These will now be posted to our website.

USS: The bulk of the meeting, not surprisingly, was devoted to USS. Paul summarised what had happened to date: USS had been through a valuation which indicated that the employers would need to add further investments to the fund. This was based on a valuation which UCU consider to be unduly pessimistic: but UUK sided with the valuation. To clarify: if you think of USS as a current account and a savings account, the current account receives the payments in each month, and pays out to pension holders. There is more money coming in than there is going out. In addition, on the savings account side, there are investments to the tune of £60 BILLION. However, pensions regulators are pessimistic beings, and at the end of October, the Pensions Regulator (fuelled by government policy) said, gloomily, that there still wasn’t enough money in USS to meet all commitments present and future IF ALL the universities were to go bust. We can’t help feeling that if all the universities go bust at once then we may have bigger problems to worry about… However, UUK seized on this pessimistic approach and have taken the opportunity to propose closure of the current scheme, which is a defined benefit (DB) scheme, and to switch to a defined contributions (DC) scheme. (See for a simple explanation of the variations). It is generally accepted that a DC scheme is not as good a pension as a DB scheme.

However, this is not the only bit of bad news. UUK have also stated that they would pay 12% of salaries into the proposed DC scheme. They currently pay 18% of your salary into the DB scheme. So they are – putting it simply – giving us all a pay cut. They will still pay the remaining 6% into a closed scheme for dealing with incapacity and death in service payments, but this would no longer be part of YOUR pension, but simply going to a general pot. So, at the moment, 18% of your salary is deferred for your retirement – and this will drop to 12%. For those nearing retirement, this will make less of an impact than for those starting their careers – who are often on poor salaries, temporary or fixed term or variable hours contracts.

It will surprise few people to hear that these proposals, as far as we can establish, have not been costed by UUK.

UCU is refusing to start negotiations on this. In negotiations, you have to start with a negotiating position which means you’re open to part of the argument. We do not accept this suggestion of closure of USS and a move to a defined contributions scheme. This leaves us only the option of strike action, with the aim of disrupting the universities – denying them our service. Ballot papers are on their way – look for them, and please vote.

Information that is of interest – the Vice Chancellor of Warwick came out against these proposals ( and so did the VC of Glasgow ( .

Pensions Action Group.
We are now launching a Get the Vote Out (GTVO) campaign and are creating a Pensions Action Group (PAG) to help with this. CAN YOU HELP? We need to make sure that EVERY member has received their ballot paper, and that they have voted (regardless of what that vote might be, we need people to vote!). Please let me or Colette know if you are able to help – we are trying to find someone in every building, who can put up posters; and someone in every working team who can pass the word and encourage people to vote.
The first PAG meeting will be on Monday 4 December from 1.00 till 2.00 in Chancellor G04.

Even if you aren’t able to help with the Pensions Action group, please take ten minutes to tell non-members in USS about what is going on, and to explain the threat to their pensions. Feel free to pass on this email or others. Encourage people to join us. It’s worth mentioning that USS is only applied to Grade 6 and above, in tandem with UCU’s membership base for collective bargaining – but those who are Grade 5 and below are still welcome to join if wished, and would be eligible for individual support.

Sally Pellow, Branch Secretary