Latest Update 13/02/2018

The University and College Union (UCU) announced recently that strike action will take place at 61 universities, including Bath, after talks between UCU and the employers' representative Universities UK (UUK) ended without agreement.

The dispute concerns plans to end the defined benefit portion of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension, which the union argues would leave most lecturers almost £10,000 a year out of pocket than it would be currently.

The strike action planned by UCU has been described as the largest ever to affect UK campuses, and will involve 14 days of escalating strike action over four weeks starting on Thursday 22 February 2018.

Last week The SU held an indicative poll to decide what The SU stance would be on this situation. Students voted on the motion: “Should The SU support the UCU strike?” 
•             41% of students voted for the motion
•             54% of students voted against the motion
•             5% of students abstained
As a result The SU will not be supporting the UCU’s strike action.

SU President, Ben Davies, said: “We fully understand and respect UCU’s decision to strike and it is vitally important for UCU’s voice to be heard and for negotiations to resume nationally. 

“However, students have told us that they want The SU to represent their immediate interests first and foremost, which is why, due to the impact strike action of this scale could have on their education, we cannot support UCU’s strike action.

“We will continue to work with UCU and the University to make sure students’ voices are heard and that the University is communicating any actions that may impact students. We will also ensure any impacts of the strike action are being properly mitigated against. 

“We also appreciate that some of our postgraduate research students are also members of UCU and will ensure we offer them our support where we can.”
For students who wish to individually support the strike action, more information is available below.

UCU has also produced a handy tool for those students who wish to complain to the University.

What is happening?

University and College Union (UCU) are taking strike action in response to decisions to change the way their pension scheme, Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) works.

Strikes will be taking place on Thurs 22, Fri 23, Mon 26, Tuesday 27 and Wed 28 February; Mon 5, Tues 6, Wed 7, Thurs 8, Mon 12, Tues 13, Wed 14, Thurs 15 and Fri 16 March.

UCU represents 525 members of staff at the University of Bath, of that number 319 members voted on the motion to strike with 288 (91.1%) voting to support the strike. This means there could be several hundred members of staff going on strike.

 

What does this mean for you?

The likelihood is that some lectures will be cancelled and more often than not you won’t be informed they are being cancelled until you turn up to the lecture.

Any support you are hoping to get from members of staff who are members of UCU may also be limited.

UCU also voted to support action short of a strike which means:

  • working to contract;

  • not covering for absent colleagues;

  • not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action;

  • not undertaking any voluntary activities.

How have we got here?

Universities UK, who represent more than 350 higher education employers in the scheme, tabled proposals for reform of the USS at the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) involving employers (through UUK) and members (through UCU) together with an independent chair.

USS is governed by a clear set of scheme rules. Any changes to these rules need to be decided on through the JNC. The JNC brings together an equal number of representatives from Universities UK and the University and College Union. The JNC has an independent chair who oversees discussions between employer and member representatives, and can choose to cast a deciding vote if agreement between both parties cannot be reached.

Strikes at 61 universities are now happening after talks over the future of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) ended without an agreement between representatives from UCU and Universities UK (UUK).

The chair sided with the employers' representatives and their plans to transform the scheme from one with a guaranteed retirement income to a defined contribution scheme where pension income is subject to changes in the stock market and how well these ‘investments’ do.

UCU have said the new scheme would result in:

  • A reduction in retirement benefits by between 20% and 40% depending on grade and length of service. A typical lecturer stands to lose around £10,000 a year.

  • The worst pensions in the education sector, far worse than those available to both school teachers and staff in ‘new’ universities.

  • A recruitment and retention crisis as staff seek better financial security elsewhere

If you support the strike what can you do?

There are a number of things you can do to support the members of UCU in their industrial action:

  1. Tell all your lecturers you support their fight
  2. Complain to the University about the changes to pensions and how the strike has impacted you
  3. Don’t attend lectures on strike days – go and join UCU picket lines instead
  4. Postgraduates can join UCU for free as student members - www.ucu.org.uk/free
  5. Email the local UCU branch expressing your support - UCU-Sec@bath.ac.uk
  6. UCU has produced a handy tool for those students who wish to complain to the University

If you don’t support the strike what can you do?

There are also a couple of things you can do if you don’t support the strikes.

  1. Complain to the University how these strikes have impacted you

  2. Complain to UCU about how these strikes have impacted you - UCU-Sec@bath.ac.uk

  3. UCU has produced a handy tool for those students who wish to complain to the University

What can the University of Bath do?

The University have assured The SU that they will work with us to mitigate the effects this strike will have on students at the University. Once we have a better idea of what effect the strike has had, The SU and the University will be working together to make sure students’ degrees aren’t affected too much as a result of this action.

There is very limited influence the University has over the pension dispute. This is a National strike and a National issue that UCU have with UUK, USS and the Government over changes to their pensions.

FAQ's

What is USS?

Universities Superannuation Scheme is one of the largest private pension schemes in the UK and is the principal scheme for academic and comparable staff in UK universities and other higher education and research institutions with over 350 employers participating in it.

 

What is UCU?

The University and College Union (UCU) represents over 110,000 academics, lecturers, trainers, instructors, researchers, managers, administrators, computer staff, librarians and postgraduates in universities, colleges, prisons, adult education and training organisations across the UK.

 

What is UUK?

Universities UK is the representative organisation for the UK's universities. It has formed its pensions benefit proposal following consultation with employers, drawing together the views of employers responsible for 92% of USS active scheme members.M/p>

 

What have NUS said about the pensions dispute?

NUS and UCU are sister organisations committed to promoting the interests of our members and to defending education. We are proud of our work together in calling for a better deal for students and staff and in challenging the marketisation of education.

We believe that fairly rewarded staff are the cornerstone of the university experience and that the proposal by Universities UK to substantially cut the pensions of members of the USS pension scheme will be hugely damaging if implemented.

As representatives of students, NUS is worried that the imposition of these cuts in the face of sector wide opposition will lead to a demotivated and unhappy workforce and consequent recruitment and retention problems as staff vote with their feet and move elsewhere.

As representatives of staff, UCU is concerned that alongside recent cuts in the real terms value of pay and the very high rates of casualisation, these proposals are seen as yet another kick in the teeth for hard working staff.

We believe that the current policy of paying ever higher salaries for VCs and Principals while cutting pensions for those who do the work sends a hugely damaging signal to both students and staff.

In sending its full solidarity to UCU, NUS asks its members to:

  • continue to call for the university employers to recognise the seriousness of the situation and agree to meaningful negotiations either directly with the union or via ACAS;
  • write to their institution head to complain about the impact the strike will have on their learning;
  • participate in local demonstrative solidarity action during the strikes in support of UCU members.

In response, UCU agrees to:

  • work closely with NUS to explain to students why action is taking place;
  • commit to meaningful negotiations in order to settle the dispute if possible;
  • continue to support NUS in our wider struggle for a fair and just education system.

 

What have UCU said about the pensions dispute?

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'Staff will feel utterly betrayed by their leaders. We are disappointed at how talks ended today, particularly after UUK suggested [on the 22/1/18] that it wanted more talks to avoid strikes. Universities must be on notice that unless there are dramatic changes in their negotiators' position then strike action will be arriving on campus next month.

'There is much talk of a crisis of leadership in higher education at the moment, especially after the recent vice-chancellor pay and perks scandals. Now is the time for university leaders to recognise the scale of this problem, how angry their staff are and to work with us to avoid widespread disruption in universities.'

The union said it was disappointed that the talks ended with the changes being imposed on USS members. It added it was surprised that more talks had also been dismissed after UUK said it hoped to avoid industrial action through further talks with UCU.

No education professional wants to strike but we also deserve long-term security and our students deserve staff who are able to focus fully on the job. We have called for extended negotiations with the employers but, disappointingly, talks ended with the changes being imposed.

Staff feel angry and betrayed but even now we call on university leaders to work with us to find a solution and avoid widespread disruption for our students.

 

What have UUK said about the pensions dispute?

The Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) has agreed a proposal to put the USS pension scheme on a secure and sustainable footing while offering the best pensions that can be afforded by both employers and employees.

The JNC is the formal and legally established forum for deciding changes to USS, which provides pensions for academic and other university staff. Difficult economic circumstances have resulted in the scheme having an increased deficit and a significant increase in the cost of future defined pension benefits of more than a third since 2014.?

The proposal agreed today was put forward by Universities UK, on behalf of more than 350 higher education employers. It offers market leading defined contribution pension benefits on all salaries from 1 April 2019 with a commitment to consider in three years' time if defined benefits can be re-introduced should the scheme's funding conditions improve.

"The reform proposal will tackle the scheme's deficit and the significant rise in the cost of future pensions so that universities can continue to offer attractive pensions to staff, now and in the future. It will also ensure that contributions remain affordable to both staff members and employers.

"Today's decision is a necessary step to put the scheme on a sustainable footing for the long-term.   Our focus now is to work with USS and UCU to shape the details of the new benefit structure so that it offers flexibility, choice and market-leading defined contributions pensions."

 

UUK has designed a lower-cost saving option to ensure that USS remains a suitable scheme for all.  In this option, members can pay contributions of 4% rather than 8% of salary while still benefitting from the 18% employer contribution.  USS would continue to offer very valuable life assurance and substantial benefits in the event of ill-health.

Pension benefits already built up are protected by law and cannot be changed retrospectively.

Following a series of over 30 meetings to discuss USS reform with UCU a negotiated settlement could not be found. The UCU proposal which was tabled today would have increased financial contributions to unmanageable levels for employers and many employees – UCU proposed an increase of 35% in member contributions to get lower pensions benefits and increasing employers' contributions by c£500 million a year.  Employer contributions have already risen by 30% over the last decade and further increases are not affordable.

Employers will now hold a consultation with all members - expected to run for 60 days from mid-late March - on the possible impact of these changes on individuals.  Any changes would not come into force until 1 April 2019.

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