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Pension changes

Last week we heard that UCU members had voted to accept the proposed reforms put to them following negotiations with UUK, who put in an improved offer after the ASOS of November 2014.

The offer is far from ideal, notably in its introduction of an element of Defined Contributions for earnings above £55,000. This shifts the risk from the employers to employees.

This brings Higher Education pensions closer towards the schemes that private companies have. But the professionals who work in universities don’t get comparable pay to those in private companies – the pension has always been cited as a benefit that compensates for this. But let’s not forget: the VC said in his first interview with the student newspaper Concrete, he is the ‘CEO’ of a multi-million business. We must therefore be aware that on the horizon in this pensions dispute is the fate of universities as in some way ‘public’ institutions, and we must be vigilant to protect their commitment to the public good in the future. USS reform, like the hike in undergraduate fees, is a glimpse of things to come.


This aside, we recognise that there were improvements made to the original proposal as a direct result of UCU’s action:

1/75 is an improved accrual rate

The cap for earnings to still receive defined benefits was raised from £40k to £55K and it has been confirmed that this will be uprated in line with inflation (CPI rather than RPI)

The employers agreed to increase their contributions to 18% and to maintain this for 5 years.


It remains disappointing that the employers were determined to introduce a defined contribution element to pensions, but it seems that the ballot of acceptance was necessary as negotiations were unlikely to achieve a reversal of this. The negotiating team stated that in their view substantial industrial action would be needed to bring about any improvements. Some within the union feel that further industrial action could have brought more concessions.

Members of staff, including representatives from the UCU committee, attended the pension event that the university organised on February 3, and put questions to Mercers, the actuaries who are acting on behalf of UUK. There was a notable lack of detail on elements such as AVCs, the costs of running a hybrid scheme, and the costs and complexity of the defined contribution pot, which was far from reassuring.


What’s next?

USS will hold a 60 day consultation, expected to take place mid-March – mid-April. This will be for all USS pension members – and is a further opportunity to ask for changes.

UCU will continue to call for the valuation methodology to be changed.

UCU will continue to call on USS trustees to explain their actions


Motion passed at UCU@UEA Emergency General Meeting 19.11.14

UCU at UEA EGM 19/11/14 Resolution


UEA UCU notes that the senior management team’s response to the assessment boycott called for 6th November and continuing has been to threaten to deduct 100% pay on grounds that it does not accept partial performance of contracts.


We note too, the letter signed by over 100 academics – both UCU members and not – condemning the university’s stance and we note the letter published in this week’s Times Higher Education in a similar vein, signed by thirty or so academics at other universities but who have contact or collaborations with colleagues at UEA.


This union believes the University’s response to be disproportionate and aggressive, and likely both to damage relationships with staff (in the long and short term) and to harm recruitment. It is a clear rejection of the collaborative “do different” ideals on which UEA was founded 50 years ago. It fails both to respect the sincerely held views of staff about the merits of the dispute and the genuine worries staff have for the long term viability of their own pensions, and to take any account of the hard work above and beyond that all colleagues provide – to students, to other staff. Last, it is incredibly poor and short sighted industrial relations practice; the fact that deducting 100% pay might be lawful – which this union does not accept – does not mean that employers should deduct the totality of wages. The Senior Management Team says that it is “with profound regret that we find ourselves in a situation where we have to take that stance” but has never explained why it has to. The vast majority of other universities are deducting a much smaller proportion.


We also note that the University has accepted uncritically the explanations, figures and projections provided by USS and the Employers’ Pension Forum when there is a good deal of counter-evidence to the contrary on both the size of the deficit and how best to tackle it from reputable economists and statisticians. There is not a “one-size” fits all approach from university employers – several pre-1992 Russell Group institutions, namely Warwick, Oxford, Cambridge have taken stances significantly at odds with taken by UEA.


This union calls for the University of East Anglia to:

  1. Pay back any pay deducted since 6th November 2014;
  2. Show a commitment to work with the union to establish a more balanced policy on deductions for industrial action short of a strike, that better takes account of not only the university’s legitimate interests, but the interests of its staff to take lawful action without punitive disproportionate threat of penalty;
  3. Show a commitment from the senior management team that they are making representations to the employers’ national negotiators that they want them to engage in a constructive dialogue in good faith with the UCU national negotiators based around all sets of figures, data and projections;
  4. Open up communications with its own staff – UCU members and non-members alike – affected by the proposed changes to understand the views and to investigate these issues further at local level.


If the senior management does not withdraw its threat to deduct 100% of pay of anyone taking part in action short of a strike in this current dispute, this union will, as a first step, call on UCU nationally to authorise the grey-listing of UEA. If the senior management carries out its threat to victimise people taking part in action short of a strike and withholds their pay indefinitely, this union will regard this as an escalation on the part of management and will respond proportionately. Our responses may include, but may not be limited to, withdrawal of any co-operation not specified in our contracts, and/or calling on UCU nationally to authorise strike action.




Pension update 16.11.14

Talks on Thursday produced a joint statement from UCU and UUK negotiators.


UCU Higher Education Committee will vote on whether to accept the statement proposals on Wednesday 19th.

If accepted, the boycott would be suspended and no pay deductions would be made for action taken.  A number of negotiating meetings both formal and informal would be held between now and January and actuaries from USS, UUK and UCU would meet to discuss the valuation criteria.


At UEA we had scheduled an extraordinary general meeting on Wednesday 19th to debate a motion considering a move to strike action as a result of UEA’s 100% pay deduction.  This meeting will still take place, and the boycott remains in place until Wednesday.



Pensions dispute update

Report on general meeting coming soon.


Discussion of the tactics of some university management teams:

It was good to see in Concrete that the Students Union is formally supporting the strike.

Letter of support for UEA staff in Thursday 13th Times Higher from former colleagues.

ASOS Diary

Amanda Williams, acting President of UEA UCU is keeping a diary while taking part in the marking boycott.


A very busy day today, one of the modules I look after teaches 500 students and has a teaching team of 7 people and I had some bits and bobs to sort out for that. I was meant to be chairing a teaching practices forum but we had a speaker in for a GM today from the UCU national negotiating team so a colleague stepped in to chair instead.

Off to meet the national speaker for the UCU GM (who had had to tangle with the London to Norwich trains which were running late/cancelled. Sometimes it’s has felt quite lonely being a branch committee out on a limb on the pointy end of a national industrial dispute and the feeling that Norwich is out on a limb was exacerbated by the trains.   The meeting was the first general meeting I have chaired and was a bit of a baptism of fire. Feelings were running understandably high. We will soon need to have some elections for the committee as we have a lot of casual vacancies at the moment (which I forgot to mention in the meeting). Hopefully the level of engagement we saw in the meeting yesterday will be reflected in getting lots of people to put themselves forward for nomination into committee and officer roles. We need to harness all that energy for the good of the members of UCU at UEA. And we need to put in all the legwork to get a EGM for next week.

After that back to normal so a couple of meetings about UCU casework, a meeting with a colleague about their teaching practice and a meeting with my head of group about one of my big modules.



So in work today, not getting paid – well probably, maybe? I don’t have any assessment activities scheduled until the end of the week. Busy day today. I took a seminar about leases and financial instruments, had a couple of hours of “office hour”. I’ve taught 700 students this semester so office hours can get quite busy. I also took a couple of lectures today and attended a university committee as the UCU representative.


The actions started officially last Thursday and all last week was quite busy behind the scenes, with a lot of letter writing and email drafting going on. I worked about 60 hours (including the weekend) and expect to get paid for just Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; since I got dropped into the post of Acting President for the local UCU branch at the start of October, 50-60 hour weeks have been pretty typical. Other people have been busy writing letters or Facebook postings. I was sent a link to a Facebook page which a UEA student had written and the support of the student body and individual students is brilliant.