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180223 Update for Reading UCU Members

The first block of strike action has completed; the second block starts on Monday for three days. In line with the request from John Brady, please now email him on to confirm that you have taken strike action. But remember – we are complying with his request but can still be a little disruptive!
If you have been unable to take strike action because you are off sick, or on prebooked annual leave, or are abroad, or even retired, please still email him. We would much rather that he receives an avalanche of emails, which demonstrate the level of support for the strike. Make sure you say here that you would have been on strike if it had not been for being on leave or off sick or retired etc.  If you have colleagues who are not union members, it would still be useful if they also emailed him and confirmed that they have not taken strike action. Do use the opportunity to add any further detail, such as your thoughts on how the pension changes would affect you.
If you are part time, or are on hourly paid contracts, please give him as much detail as possible: for example say that you would normally work for 3 hours on a Thursday and none on a Friday, so you took strike action on Thursday but none on Friday: and then add that you normally work eg 11 hours each week. Don’t worry if this is complex or makes your email quite long – this is relevant detail.
Let him know your name and department. His team will need to look you up to get your staff number – don’t provide that.
If you can use an email address which is not your normal work address, please also do this.
And if you would prefer to send two emails, one for each day, please do so!

Teachouts organised by UCU’s Reading branch

Please click to enlarge!

180220 Latest update for Reading UCU members

Dear all,
This one is LONG.  Sorry.  Highlighted text should steer you through if you need to skim read.  Another email will follow about a general meeting on Monday, about the documents you might need, about a buddy system, and about the picketing.
You will all have had John Brady’s email about industrial action late yesterday afternoon: some of you will have arrived in to see it.  If you remember, I’d said yesterday that “at this stage the University will resort to using language that might come over as intimidating” and this email is a lovely example.  Combined with David Bell’s open letter, this is now time for us to stand up to this bullying, and stand together, hand in hand, to make it clear to senior management that we are not taking any of this lightly.
The email John Brady sent is also at, and, indeed, if you go to will find an article which links to the open letter, to John Brady’s two messages, and to a page which holds a pdf of the advice issued to students. I note that the advice to students has now been put behind a username controlled firewall. 
John says in his email that “if you wish to maintain your pension contributions during any period of industrial action in which you are participating please confirm your agreement by e-mail to no later than 12 noon on Wednesday 21 February 2018 to ensure that your pension cover remains in place during this period. Please note that this requirement is distinct from notification of participation in strike action and action short of strike outlined below.”  I have spoken to UCU Head office and they confirm that this is a USS arrangement, not a Reading policy.  You will all see the potential trap here: if you email John Brady to say you want your pension cover to remain in place, then you are declaring in advance that you are a member of the union, and that you are planning to take strike action.  John does say that the requirement is ‘distinct from’ notification of participation in strike action, which simply means that he’s asking you to email again to confirm that you have taken strike action – but there is no guarantee here that this information will not be used by the University to mitigate the action.  To quote the immortal Monty Python here, “our chief weapon is surprise” – well, we have far more weapons than that, but we will only achieve maximum disruption if nobody knows in advance that we will not be here.  UCU Head office advise that the amount of potential loss to your final pension by not declaring in advance is “tiny”.  Our advice is not to email John Brady in advance to say that you want to maintain your pension contributions. If, however, you do email him, please use the wording “Please note in the event I take part in industrial action either in the forthcoming dispute or in the future, I wish the University to maintain my pension contributions during that period.  Please note that this not a declaration of membership of UCU or any other trade union, nor is it a declaration of an intent to take industrial action.” This wording can be used by anyone – members or non-members.
In terms of confirming your participation in strike action, our advice is to email John Brady as requested as soon as possible after each period of strike action ends, to confirm that you have taken part.  I will send out a reminder after each period of strike action has completed: please then send your email to him as soon as possible after that.
John Brady says “that on resumption of full duties the University reserves the right to require relevant colleagues to prioritise missed work over other work”.  This is an empty statement.  In some cases it will not be possible to prioritise missed work over other work; in other cases it will be too late.  And in many cases, that’s exactly what you’ll be doing anyway – our staff have integrity and professionalism and a clear sense of the priorities of their roles. Bear in mind, too, that there may be no way of monitoring this in some cases. It’s just a sentence that is being used to bully us.
His approach to the definition of action short of a strike (ASOS) has actually softened slightly as he’s accepted that it’s a case of working to contract.  This does mean working to contract – it means that you’re working the hours you should work, you’re doing the job you’re paid to do, and you’re not taking on other things.  It’s a nebulous thing, a University contract: I know, for example, that if I was asked, for example, to clean the staff loos, I would know that it’s not what I’m paid to do, but on the other hand there might be some aspects of my role which I don’t generally do on a daily or even annual basis, but which I would not be surprised to be asked to take on.
Then he waves his fist a little about ‘partial performance’ and threatens to dock salaries by 10%.  Partial performance would be extremely difficult to prove and would rely on a line manager making a statement to HR about someone not carrying out their duties.  This would probably indicate further issues between you and your line manager, and would be something that we would be getting very involved in and would be defending on your behalf. So you can ignore that paragraph. 
In terms of confirming your participation in action short of a strike (ASOS), our advice is that there is no need to confirm this to John Brady as you are simply working to contract.  You are doing what you are paid to do and just not doing all the extra stuff that you do out of the goodness of your heart.  This is not a disciplinary matter: if you are doing the job you are paid to do, then the University hasn’t a snowball’s chance of taking disciplinary action.

Then, much to our amusement, he threatens to join us 
“as a party to any claim for breach of contract brought against the University as a result of this action”.  Good luck with that!  There has never been a successful case of doing this (and it’s only been tried once, in a colliery dispute in the early 20th century).
The big question is whether the University values us.  It doesn’t seem that way when threats are issued about joining us in legal action, or when threats are issued about docking pay and reserving the right to dock even more for people who have given their time and energy, above and beyond the expectations of their role, who have worked long and hard hours, and who are being told that the University cannot afford to pay them what was promised – but can pay 46 people over £100,000, and can spend £2.5m on a botched redundancy process, £36m on PAS and £53m on Malaysia.
Sally Pellow
Reading UCU

180216 Open letter to the VC Sir David Bell

Dear Sir David,

Many thanks for making public your position over the current pensions dispute. Although this is welcome, we are very concerned over apparent grave errors and omissions in your stated position. This is based on the following considerations to which we call on you to respond.

Firstly, and most importantly, neither yourself nor UUK have explained why they endorse the extreme degree of risk aversion applied in USS’s actuarial evaluation. The supposed deficit is an artefact of this, as in fact the scheme reaps more revenue in a given year than it pays out in pensions, and also has over £60bn in reserves. In the wake of the 2007-8 financial crisis, UK institutions have generally been asked to adopt a very conservative approach to meeting their pensions liabilities, which in effect asks, “If the organisation goes bankrupt, how will it meet its obligations?” Whilst this might be an appropriate scenario for an individual private company, like Rolls Royce or British Aerospace, it is wholly inappropriate for the University system which pools risk across 68 institutions. In the unlikely event that Reading were to go bankrupt, that is, under the current arrangements the other 67 institutions underwrite its staff’s pensions. This is a key reason why independent actuarial evaluation of USS conducted by First Actuarial gave USS a clean bill of health, concluding “The current employers’ contribution rate of 18% of pensionable pay, of which 15.1% goes towards defined benefits, is prudent. The asset income which is required, in addition to contributions, to pay the benefits in full is low. Indeed, in a scenario of “best estimate” pay rises, the benefits of the USS can very nearly be paid from contributions, without reliance on the assets.”

Please could you therefore explain why UUK have not pointed this out to USS or the pensions regulator, instead of endorsing a “one size fits all” approach which is wholly inappropriate for the HE sector? We also call on you to explain to staff why very different assumptions were adopted in UUK’s commissioned evaluation of its proposed alternative, when as had been pointed out here, applying a consistent approach would more than eliminate the supposed deficit. If the same assumptions were applied to USS, the situation could be resolved simply by agreeing to use this approach. On the face of it, this inconsistency, and the inclusion of the state pension into the estimated benefits from its own scheme, amounts to transparent duplicity on the part of UUK and a crude insult to the intelligence of University staff.

You estimate that UCU’s counter proposal, which was not intended as a fixed position but to get UUK to engage in meaningful negotiation, would cost £500m per year, but neglect to mention that any increased costs would be shared across the 68 institutions, or that Reading is a relatively small University. Please could you therefore estimate a realistic figure for Reading and give full details of how you arrive at it? Staff exposed to the extravagant “Limitless” campaign may find it hard to believe that funds could not be found to secure the future of academic staff into retirement, especially when the University has recently written off over £50m for the Malaysia campus and has wasted £36m on management consultants for the chaotic and dysfunctional PAS restructuring. This would be even more affordable if the University system also stopped squandering precious resources on competitive building projects, which, like the internal advertising, amount to a colossal negative sum game for the system as a whole.

We are aware that getting defined benefit pensions obligations off University books will probably enable more money to be borrowed for such purposes, which is widely understood to be part of the motive for UUK’s uncompromising and non-negotiating stance. Regarding that stance, your letter goes to great lengths to depict UCU as intransigent, whilst anyone following the negotiations will know that UUK have consistently refused to engage with any proposal but their own. We think you owe staff an explanation, for example, of why despite repeated requests, UUK refused to specify which combination of changes they would be prepared to accept in order to preserve the guaranteed pension.

Your letter also does not address the likelihood that the UK will not be able to continue recruiting and retaining high quality academic staff with a third rate pension scheme, given the time out of pensions contributions that academics spend getting their higher degrees, conjoined with the now transparent injustice of very high levels of remuneration accruing to senior management. This comes alongside wider erosions of conditions of work and the political uncertainty surrounding Brexit. Instead of using such a crisis climate to dispense with defined pensions obligations, a responsible approach would be to temper any decline in attractiveness of UK HE by committing to maintain defined benefits pensions.

Finally, we urge you to reconsider UUK’s uncritical acceptance of the one size fits all approach to pensions fund evaluation, and also to endorse a consistent approach to evaluation, across UCU, USS and UUK proposals. If so, we believe you could make an enormous difference to the outcome of this dispute, thanks to your influential position as Vice President of UUK and contacts in Whitehall. Such influence should be used to the benefit of academic staff and students, and the UK University system as a whole, not to further an agenda of privatisation and associated offloading of responsibilities.

Yours sincerely

RUCU committee.

USS Meeting with Sally Hunt 8th February 14:00

USS Factsheet

Letter from Reading UCU to Sir David Bell 26 Jan 18

Reading UCU in the Top 10!

Loughborough VC supports UCU re USS

The Loughborough VC has written his support of retaining a USS Defined Benefits Scheme in a letter to UUK. Please click on the image to enlarge. The full PDF link is also available here:

Latest USS news – and hot off the press!

Dear all,
The USS Joint Negotiating Committee meeting is continuing today after a full day of discussions yesterday.  Please spare a moment to think of those who represent UCU and who are negotiating hard on your behalf.  News will come out as soon as there is any. AND HOT OFF THE PRESS: negotiations will continue now till 23 January – the team can claim some success!!!  This means that a decision will not be taken by UUK until after the result of the strike ballot – and it may well be our threat of sustained strike action which has made them pause for thought, so this makes it ESSENTIAL that we get as many votes as is possible on the ballot. HAVE YOU VOTED??
As we move towards the Christmas break, and desks are tidied, clutter is decluttered and there is room for sustained concentration, please make sure that you have a) received your ballot paper, b) filled it in and c) posted it.  If you have not received your ballot paper, please go to where you will need to quote your name, email address and branch, and will be able to give an address that will work for you over the University closure period. This form goes to UCU Head office who will then send a file of details to Electoral Reform Services who will send out the replacement ballot paper.  The link shows a photo of what the envelope will look like – please bear in mind that if you are asking to have the paper resent to an address outside the UK, there may be legal implications for receipt of union papers and we’d strongly advise checking the laws of the country you’ll be in.
There is plenty to read out there on the subject of the USS dispute.  Most of you will, I’m sure, have seen John Brady’s message to all staff on the university staff homepage (  UUK also issued a statement which is similar in tone.  We could happily spend time pulling John Brady’s statement apart, but Sheffield’s branch of UCU have done a far wittier takedown of the UUK statement, which can be found at Enjoy!
Other things to read: the employers have now prepared modelling of what pensions would look like following the proposed changes.  The link is here –  Page 3 is the good one, but do read through carefully.  You’ll see that in every single example, the projected annual pension income, for any group, issignificantly less than it would be on the current basis.  And remember that this is the document commissioned by UUK, in support of their argument.   Worse still for their argument, the base calculations that they’ve used are not the same ones as have been used by USS to model the pensions going forward for the benefit of the pensions regulator – they’re better figures.   In other words, UUK insisted on sticking to a valuation of the pension scheme which they’ve claimed makes it unworkable: but they have then used different figures to predict what your pension would be if they managed to force through their changes – and the final outcome is still startlingly bad….  Mike Otsuka of LSE has put up a new blog post which analyses the analysis – and his conclusion is that if the (better) figures used by Aon in the analysis above were to be applied to the overarching fund, then we would all be very happy.
The modelling that UCU had done is at–USS-no-DB-comparison-First-Actuarial-29-Nov-17/pdf/firstacturial_ussvtps_nodb_29nov17.pdf but the thrust of that was to compare USS pensions to the TPS pensions for the post-92 universities.
Sally Pellow
Reading UCU