LUCU News: February 2022
In this newsletter, we report on: USS and Four Fights disputes, Industrial Action, and Health and Safety: Covid.
USS Dispute: Background
Our earlier communications have set out the background to the dispute. In the first of our video explainers, pensions rep Matthew Inglis explained that the cause of the dispute is the extreme level of pessimism in USS’s March 2020 valuation. Since that video was made, USS’s assets have continued to grow. As of December 2021, the scheme’s assets were worth £92.2bn, a figure that the ‘prudent’ assumptions of the 2020 valuation said would not be reached until 2133. In response to these absurdly pessimistic assumptions, UCU called for a new moderately prudent evidence-based valuation. Instead of joining with UCU to insist upon a sensible valuation, the employers’ group UUK prioritised avoiding any financial consequences for themselves by proposing severe cuts of up to 35% to your pension.
Hopefully, you will have logged into the official USS modeller to see how you will be affected by UUK’s proposals. If you haven’t been able to, the graph below provides a guide for different combinations of salary and year of birth. Note that the assumptions that underpin the USS modeller were agreed with UUK and are not disputed. Our employers accept these figures. But despite this, the post-truth comms team at UUK continues to falsely assert that for “the vast majority” of USS members the cut will be between 10% and 18%. Those of us who used the USS modeller know that this is simply untrue.
At our General Meeting on 12th January, members expressed strong support for UCU issuing counterproposals designed to avoid industrial action. This was fed back to national UCU by branch officers, and a national Branch Delegates Meeting was held to discuss the form of these counterproposals. A version of the proposals that attracted strong local support were issued by UCU on 26th January. This solution would involve retaining existing benefits for at least a year, at the cost of contribution rises for members and employers. Critically, the cost to employers would still be within the overall cost envelope of the pension contributions forecast for the 2021/22 and 2022/23 financial years.
The UCU proposal is consistent with the views of USS members as expressed in the recently completed consultation. The responses from the consultation show that most respondents are in favour of maintaining current benefits, even if this means paying slightly more until a new valuation could be completed.
Nevertheless, UUK’s response to UCU’s attempt to resolve the dispute was to issue a statement saying that “The union’s proposal does not appear to be a serious attempt to reach agreement as it doesn’t reflect the views employers have expressed in consultations”. Apparently, UUK is willing to reach an agreement, but only if that agreement reflects their views!
Notably, UUK’s statement was issued without consultation with employers. Following productive discussions with the branch throughout January, the University has replied to UUK as follows:
Loughborough University welcomes the proposal tabled by UCU as an indication of potential first steps towards resolving the current dispute. We have supported in previous consultations a move to conditional indexation, a moderately prudent valuation at the earliest opportunity, and governance changes to USS. These are issues that will need to be resolved in the next period, and we are supportive of UUK and UCU working together to this end.
We strongly welcome UCU’s acceptance that benefit changes are likely to be necessary and see this as a significant change in their position (UCU’s letter says they will accept the ‘[securing of] current benefits or, if not possible, the best achievable as a result of the … valuation’).
We have stated in previous consultations that we believe the current valuation was excessively prudent. It will be crucial to agree in negotiations what constitutes ‘moderate’ prudence. A suggestion would be to return towards the level of risk deemed acceptable in the 2017 valuation.
The ‘back-stop’ position proposed in point 3 commits employers to higher contribution rates whilst employee contributions remain unchanged. Even noting potential changes to benefits, this is not a realistic proposal and would call on UUK to negotiate with UCU to seek equal treatment to employer and employee contributions in this clause and bring total contributions as close as possible to current levels.
We support a pausing of industrial action whilst meaningful dialogue at national level takes place over the coming weeks on the issues above, noting the very tight timeframes involved.
We welcome this recognition from the University that UCU’s proposals were made in good faith as part of a genuine attempt to solve the dispute. Although we disagree with parts of the University’s approach, it is clear that if UUK adopted it then there would be a strong chance of a negotiated solution prior to industrial action. It is now crucial that the Vice Chancellor insists that his representatives do a better job of representing him than they have to date.
You will have received information from Jo Grady, UCU’s General Secretary, announcing that we will be taking industrial action from 14th February if the dispute is not resolved. Before that date USS Joint Negotiating Committee meetings are scheduled to take place on 1st and 11th February, so there is plenty of time for a negotiated solution to emerge. However, if UUK remains intransigent, UCU will consider the implementation of an assessment and marking boycott to follow strike action.
UUK’s cuts are due to be formally confirmed at a meeting on 22nd February, so it is vital that the industrial action – if it is needed – is solid. We must demonstrate that we are not willing to accept such dramatic and unjustified cuts to our pensions, and that we will not tolerate our employers telling us that they want an agreement, but only if that agreement matches their views.
Picket volunteers – as previously please get in touch with branch secretary Marc Gibson – who is again co-ordinating this activity: M.A.Gibson@lboro.ac.uk.
The Four Fights component of Industrial Action begins to run alongside the USS element as of Monday and Tuesday 21st and 22nd February.
Industrial action: Organising to Win
We are very pleased to acknowledge a generous donation to the UCU strike funds from our campus colleagues in Unite the Union – a very big thank you!!
The latest testing data shows that the University undertook 7,154 LFTs (figure includes staff and students), with 107 positive Covid cases diagnosed.
Whilst it is acknowledged that trends in infection rates and more serious complications look positive overall, LUCU remains acutely aware of how quickly the outlook might change. In this regard, LUCU commends the comparatively cautious approach taken by LU in its decision to retain its strategy of regular testing for staff and students on campuses, and for its continued support for hybrid working where practicable. LUCU will continue to closely co-operate with Unite and Unison in working with LU management to ensure that members are enabled to work in as safe a way as possible.