University employees vote to accept proposal to resolve pension dispute

Universities UK

University employees, who are members of the trade union University and College Union (UCU), have voted to accept proposals aimed at resolving the university pensions dispute.

Just under two-thirds (64%) of members voted in favour of accepting the proposal. The decision has averted a second series of strikes that were scheduled to take place in May and June.

Strike action was called after Universities UK (UUK) proposed to remove the guaranteed defined benefit pension for members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), a move UCU estimated would cost each member £10,000 a year in retirement.

UUK has agreed not to return to the original proposed change to end a guaranteed pension and has committed to defined benefits. The organisation has also agreed to discuss a wide range of issues outlined by the UCU, including inter-generational fairness, comparisons with the Teachers’ Pension Scheme and the government’s support of the USS. The plans will be presented by UCU and UUK to the USS board and The Pensions Regulator.

A joint expert panel will also be established to re-examine the USS valuations and make recommendations.

Sally Hunt, general secretary at the UCU, said: “Members have participated in record numbers in the consultation, with a clear majority voting to accept the proposals. The union has come a very long way since January when it seemed that the employers’ proposals for defined contributions were opposed.

“Now we have agreement to move forward jointly, looking again at the USS valuation alongside a commitment from the UK employers to a guaranteed, defined benefit scheme. USS, the regulator and government now need to ensure that UCU and UUK have the space to implement the agreement effectively.

“We hope this important agreement will hearten workers across the UK fighting to defend their pension rights and was won through the amazing strike action of the UCU members.

“UCU has more work to do to ensure that the agreement delivers the security in retirement that university staff deserve.”

A spokesperson at UUK added: “The decision by UCU members to support the creation of a joint expert panel means that strike action is immediately suspended. . ​

“Reviewing the methodology and assumptions in the current valuation will build confidence, trust and increase transparency in the valuation process. It will provide an opportunity to consider the questions raised about the valuation by scheme members and employers. It is important that interested parties engage with the panel and remain open-minded about its possible findings.

“Working in partnership with UCU, we will now appoint a jointly agreed chair for the panel as soon as possible before developing its terms of reference, order of work and timescales.

“Alongside UCU, we will seek support for this process from USS and The Pensions Regulator, fully recognising their statutory responsibilities and accountabilities. Current pension benefits are guaranteed until at least 1 April 2019​, so the panel will need to conclude its work in time to put in place a sustainable way forward for USS from that date.”