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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

RUCU survey of ‘casual’ and ‘atypical’ contracts at the University of Reading (UoR)

The Reading UCU Committee is launching a survey to collect information on pay and conditions of work of colleagues on ‘casual’ and ‘atypical’ contracts across the University.

‘Fractional’, ‘term time only’, ‘sessional’, ‘hourly-paid’, ‘zero-hours’ … are all terms which are increasingly becoming part of the academic employment scene and it should be clear by now that insecure and atypical contracts are disadvantageous not only for those who hold them, but undermine the security of all academic posts.

Reading UCU is committed to improving the pay and conditions of work of staff on such contracts and to restricting the use of sessional employment to a minimum. The survey will help us to gather evidence on the local situation. This will strengthen our negotiating position with the University.

Please get in touch if you would like more information! Please contact the RUCU administrator:

ps UCU is committed to support education workers at the start of their careers, from 1 October 2017 enrolled postgraduate students contracted to teach can receive free membership

Happy 70th Birthday RUCU!

Our Branch Secretary cutting the cake!


The Future of HE: round-table event, 2nd November


Thank you to all the staff and students who attended our roundtable event last Thursday. This event was organised to celebrate 70 years  that a union branch has been recognised at University of Reading.

In attendance at the debate were University & College Union (UCU) General Secretary Sally Hunt, Matt Rodda Reading East MP, the Reading UCU Branch President Paul Hatcher and the University of Reading Student Union President Tristan Spencer. Our UCU Regional Official, Moray McAulay, chaired the meeting.

Paul Hatcher argued that while the Reading branch of UCU is mature enough to engage positively with the University over areas of common concern, it is strong and well organised enough to give the University clear feedback when it believes it has got things wrong.

Sally Hunt spoke about the problems the sector and individuals face as a result of the vote to leave the EU including the impact on researchers working on cross-border collaborations, EU colleagues worried about their future or attacks on academic freedom by politicians and some sections of the media.

Speaking at the event, Sally Hunt said:

Now is a crucial moment for higher education. The general election showed that there is an appetite for policies that do not saddle students with a lifetime of debt. We aim to be at the forefront of the debate about how we deliver the properly funded universities of the future.”

She added:

Brexit poses many challenges for all of us working in higher education. I am looking forward to seeing how we rise to those challenges and ensure our Universities remain the world-leading institutions we are so proud of.”

Paul Hatcher commented:

Brexit has a huge impact on EU nationals which are a key part of this University. It threatens research collaboration and it threatens the freedom of research. Today’s mood seems to be going against the post-war advances that knowledge and education are good things.”

 Reading University Student Union Present Tristan Spencer said:

87% of our students voted in the EU referendum. Of that 87%, 85% voted to remain. Sadly, the student perspective on Brexit at the moment is quite bleak.”

During the debate, Matt said:

Reading is a fantastic University town and a leading research university, with a wide range of world class research, in areas such as agriculture, biological sciences, environmental, food and soil sciences amongst others. On the thorny issue of tuition fees, I am very pleased that Labour has addressed this in our Manifesto this year, and I think that this is a huge and very significant issue for young people across this country”

Programme of RUCU Events – NRW w/c 6th Nov

The RUCU Committee has arranged the following events for National Recruitment Week (w/c 6th Nov). Please do come along to events that will be helpful to you and take the opportunity to meet members of the committee. Please also forward on details of these events to colleagues who will find the meetings useful.

Tuesday 7th November, 13:00 – 14:00. Miller G05.  ‘De-mystifying USS: your pension’. Reading UCU welcomes you to an open meeting for all staff members. This meeting is aimed for any staff member who may find the technical jargon surrounding pensions confusing and we will also tackle recent developments within USS. Please join us to find out more, this session will be presented by our national UCU Pensions Officer. All staff warmly welcome.

Tuesday 7th November, 14:00 – 15:00. Miller G05. USS Drop Ins. UCU Members are encouraged to book a 10 minute slot with our national UCU Pensions Officer for individual guidance.

Tuesday 7TH November, 13:30-14:30. Outside Miller G05. Information Stall. Find out what UCU can do for you!

Thursday 9th November, 13:00 – 14:00. Outside Carrington building (or in HUMSS if raining). Information Stall. Find out what UCU can do for you!


The USS Valuation – Carry on with the Status Quo, or Remove Almost All Risk for the Employers and Make Pensions a Worse Deal for Members?

In July 2017 the press was full of the news that in March 2017 the defined benefit section of USS (the retirement income builder) had a deficit of £17.5 billion. This number was computed according to the rules for company accounts, and is not used by either the regulators or USS.

USS is now consulting employers on the assumptions to be used to value the scheme (its technical provisions). The resulting valuation is reported to the Pensions Regulator, and is also used by USS. In its annual accounts published in July 2017 USS reported an initial estimate of a deficit of £12.6 billion, but this has been revised down to an estimated deficit of £5.1 billion using the prudent valuation assumptions currently favoured by USS. Instead of using the pessimistic forecasts of USS, a different approach, which is supported by the UCU actuaries, is to value the scheme on the basis of ‘best estimates’ of future outcomes. If best estimates are used USS currently has a surplus of £8 billion.

In planning for the future, USS has put forward a self-imposed requirement which they call ‘Test 1’. This is a radical change to the policy pursued by USS since its formation over forty years ago. It involves making USS self-sufficient under almost all circumstances, which requires moving a substantial proportion of the assets from equities to bonds, thereby lowering the expected return on the scheme’s investments. To prevent these lower returns leading to a large deficit, either the total contribution rate must increase from 26% to 32% or 33%; or the same level of contributions to the defined benefit section must accrue lower benefits.

The options offered by USS to the employers in the consultation document all assume this shift of assets from equities to fixed income to de-risk the investments in compliance with Test 1. The three broad options offered are:-
1          Drop the employers’ 1% match for additional member contributions to the defined benefit section, and increase employer contributions from 18% to 22%, and member contributions from 8% to 10%.
2          The employers pledge additional security to USS, such as a charge on university assets.
3          Reduce the benefits accrued in future in the defined benefit section of USS.

USS is being very risk averse by adopting Test 1 and aiming to make the scheme self-sufficient with almost no chance it will ever have to call on the employers (and members) to make additional contributions.

We must wait to see what comes from of the USS consultation with the employers. Will they seek to radically change USS in order to make it self-sufficient under almost all circumstances and inevitably make members worse off, or will they accept the status quo and leave contribution rates and benefits unchanged, as recommended by the UCU actuaries?

The University of Southampton have publicly announced that they support the closure of the defined benefit section, with all future benefits accrued in the defined contribution section (the investment builder). This would place all the risk on the members, with the employers bearing zero risk. It will also very probably lead to substantially lower pensions for the same level of contributions, and make USS markedly inferior to the Teachers Pension Scheme which applies to the post-1992 universities. Other ideas being considered by the employers include lowering the salary cap from £55,500 to £20,000, and reducing the lump sum payment on retirement (currently three times the annual pension).


The Future of Higher Education

UCU Course: What is an investigation and how to write an effective grievance

Dear members,

Reading UCU is hosting a one day Regional course on 9th October 2017. This day course is entitled ‘What is an investigation and how to write an effective grievance’ .

Date: 9th October 2017
Time: 09:30 – 17:00
Location: London Road

This course is ideal for members who are caseworkers or involved in advising members.

BOOKING – If you are interested in this course please email our Regional Administrator, Pat Brooks, at Bookings will be on a first come, first served basis and there are approximately 20 places per session. Please advise Pat if you have any dietary needs or any other special requirements when you apply.

Thank you!

Thank you!


Excerpts from a message from Sally Hunt, President of the University and College Union:

The future of our profession

During the (recent, Presidential) election, I lost count of the senior staff who approached me to express concern about the fate of the next generation. Locked into exploitative employment with little or no job security, the current model used in …… HE has high expectations of young staff but gives little back to them. They need UCU most, yet their membership density remains low.

With your help, we want to do something about this. Let’s work together and build a trade union culture in low security areas – a culture where the union stands up for staff rights, bargains for better pay and conditions, and helps young staff to get the best out of their careers.

Pushing for better conditions from the bottom benefits both established members and the profession as a whole. We all know that this exploitative employment model is creeping upwards.

Effective from 1 October 2017, if you are a PhD student teaching in HE, ….., UCU will make your union membership free.We think this covers around 70,000 (mostly younger) staff – the majority of whom are struggling at the start of their academic careers.

It is a big offer and valid for four years (or until a more secure job is achieved). We need to remove every possible barrier in the way of young staff joining our union in the hope that positive, valuable, UCU experience will spark a lifetime habit.”

Joining only takes a few minutes:

Details on UCU CPD can be found here:

Sally Pellow, Branch Secretary, Speech to Congress 2017

We’ve had a rough couple of years at Reading. Our senior management wanted to make us ‘Effective and Efficient’.  To achieve this, they brought in PricewaterhouseCoopers, PwC, as external consultants. PwC in turn sent in quantities of shiny suits who appeared in droves on campus, calling three hour meetings with teams at short notice, and examining our processes, without explaining why. Staff were puzzled, defensive, irritated and stressed. Basic concepts – ‘what is a student’ – had to be explained over and over again. The PwC people had no previous experience of working with the HE sector.

The net result was that, as shown in the accounts, the University spent AT LEAST £36 million pounds, with most of that being pocketed by PwC. Public funds going to the private sector. The changes then introduced led to the voluntary redundancy of 200 admin staff, and at least a further 100 staff (these are rounded figures) leaving without a payoff, in many cases because they had reached the end of fixed term contracts. We calculated that on VR alone this equated to the loss of 2000 years of experience. The Branch was able to reduce the number of statutory redundancies to 3, though senior management then claimed this was a sign of caring leadership on their part.

The changes were that administration was centralised, pulling all admin staff out of departments and schools and putting them in support centres where roles were standardised across schools and staff could be interchangeable. With so many job losses, lots of these jobs were filled by temps from agencies. We were left with very few – if any – admin staff who had worked through the academic cycle. Building managers were dispensed with. Finance teams were all downgraded – and at the same time, management and control of budgets was moved from central Finance to schools. This led to problems.  Simple ordering processes which used to take two days from request to delivery now take six weeks. With no building managers, an undetected power failure in one Life Science building resulted in damage to research costing at least half a million pounds. Technicians were lost: but PwC explained that the glassware used in labs could be sent to central catering for washing up. No risk of cross-contamination there. Some of the extremely stupid decisions have now been reversed but the expertise is lost.

The warning signs, in retrospect, were clear. The University derecognised Unite and Unison a few years ago, leaving the vast majority of admin staff unrepresented by a trade union in collective negotiation. Lots of jobs were altered on fixed term contracts – all ending on the same day. As the plans became clearer, a well-honed explanation to staff emerged to hide the impact of the changes coming through. We set up and supported all-staff protests in solidarity with our unrepresented colleagues, and ran a very high profile vote of no confidence in our VC.

We know PwC are trotting round other Universities, showing slides of their work at Reading. We disagree with a lot of what we believe they are saying about the level of success. We need as a Union, to know where they are and who they are targeting next. We want to hear of what else they are getting wrong. We want to know if other staff are being demotivated, stressed, angered. We want to hear if other public funding is being paid to private sector consultants. And we feel this needs to be addressed at higher levels, at the National Audit Office.