Our Pensions Rep, Matthew Inglis, has produced another excellent short video to update you on the USS dispute explaining the UUK proposal and comparing it to the current scheme. Click here to watch now.
You can still see Matthews previous video that explains the cause of the pension dispute and demonstrates how the 2020 evaluation is flawed, here.
Please share the videos to help publicise this issue.
If you have colleagues who are not yet members of UCU it’s not too late for them to join and have a voice in the dispute. Please direct anyone interested in joining to https://www.ucu.org.uk/join
In this newsletter, we report on USS, Covid-19 H&S, Anti-Casualisation, and Dynamic Working.
Our Pensions Rep Matthew Inglis has produced an excellent short video that explains the cause of the pension dispute and demonstrates how the 2020 evaluation is flawed. We encourage all members to watch this: you can find it here. Please share the video to help publicise this issue.
We would like to remind members of the EGM on the USS Pension Dispute on October 8, 2021 – 1:00 – 1:50 on Teams. You can join the meeting via link that has been emailed to all members. If you are unable to attend and wish to ask a question about the dispute, please contact UCU@lboro.ac.uk.
Following our last Covid update, some members raised concerns with the branch about the University no longer requiring the use of face masks; academic colleagues were especially concerned about higher risks posed by teaching in spaces where students were not wearing masks. At the Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee meeting on 15 Sept., LUCU raised the issue with management, and they agreed to take a more robust approach toward encouraging the use of face masks on campus. We appreciate the constructive response to the concerns we raised. In addition, so that colleagues can feel more secure about asking students to wear face masks, the University has provided a slide that can be inserted into lecture materials or used on LEARN to request that students wear face masks in teaching sessions (unless exempt). You can download the slide here.
Ventilation levels have been checked in all areas that have mechanical ventilation and the details of the ventilation rates should be included in the risk assessments which are available for staff to read if they wish (please speak to your School Safety Officer is you are unsure where to find them). CO2 monitors are being used in several locations where there are concerns about ventilation levels (especially those with poor or no mechanical ventilation).
Testing and Covid Cases
All students moving into on-campus accommodation have been required to take a lateral flow test before being permitted to collect their keys. Up to mid-afternoon on 29 September 2021, there had only been four positive results, and, given that approximately 2,000 tests per day are being carried out this is a good sign. Students will continue to be required to undertake at least one lateral flow test per week; external funding for the current testing programme is in place to the end of October, but almost certainly will be extended to the end of the first term at least. Staff are asked to take a lateral flow test at least once a week when they are coming onto campus.
Returning to Campus
With term having started, many staff have been asked to return, at least part time, to working on campus. This may be for a number of different reasons, but unless there is a specific health and safety risk which has not been addressed, in general our contracts oblige us to comply with these requests. LUCU’s position is that the University should follow Indie-Sage advice, which would see those staff who can work from home continue to do so, and those activities (e.g. area and school meetings) that can be done virtually continue to take place on Teams. We will continue to make this case to management. If you have specific concerns (e.g. too many people in an office or teaching space, having to use public transport at peak times to travel to campus, etc.) then please discuss these with your line manager in the first instance. Don’t hesitate to contact the union if you do not feel your concerns are being adequately addressed.
In discussions with management, LUCU has been broadly supportive of the initiative to introduce dynamic working. We welcome the greater flexibility this mode of working offers – especially for colleagues in professional services – and its potential to benefit those who have caring responsibilities or a disability. The opportunity for staff to work ‘dynamically’ is at the discretion of line managers, and LUCU is keen to ensure that the policy is applied fairly across job families, schools, and units across campus. If you experience any problems in relation to Dynamic Working, please contact your area Rep or the committee at UCU@lboro.ac.uk so that we can bring them to the attention of HR. If your request to work ‘dynamically’ is refused and you feel that you have been treated unfairly, you may also contact our Casework Coordinator Andrew Dix for individual support: A.Dix@lboro.ac.uk
The Casualisation Task and Finish Group, established following industrial action in 2018/19, has concluded its first phase. This has resulted in a Charter of Principles that the University has committed to in respect of casual employment, which is to be reviewed annually by management and campus unions. While we do not think this will eradicate the problems that casualisation causes, we hope that it will:
1) Improve pay and conditions for hourly paid workers in the immediate term;
2) Enable staff on open-ended contracts to make the case for more secure forms of employment when new staff are required;
3) Provide a platform for further organisation and negotiation.
The Charter of Principles can be read in full here. We’ll soon be publishing guidance for casual workers who feel these principles are not being honoured, and for staff on open-ended contracts who wish to support casualised colleagues. UCU has also recently produced some excellent materials for casual and open-ended staff: you can find them here. In the meantime, if you have any concerns, queries or suggestions, please contact David Bell on email@example.com. If you are concerned that your employment at Loughborough is not in keeping with the spirit of the principles, please copy in your Department Rep, if possible (see here for a list of Reps).
University staff will have received the recent communication from Chris Linton concerning proposed changes to the USS pension scheme. As Chris explains, the proposed changes have come about because USS continues to adopt excessively prudent assumptions when valuing the scheme. In particular, USS’s assumptions about asset growth are absurdly pessimistic. In the period since the valuation date (March 2020), the scheme’s assets have grown by £19.7bn. In contrast, the assumptions in the valuation suggest that this level of growth would not have been achieved until 2110. After just one year the scheme is a full 90 years ahead of schedule!
Unfortunately, our employers have decided to push the cost of this flawed valuation onto staff. While it is true that employers have agreed to increase the level of so-called covenant support, the cost of this is at best highly speculative, that is, of the form “borrowing might cost the University a bit more in a few years”. In contrast, we are being asked to accept cuts of between 20% and 35% of our pension now. You can find out exactly how much you are being asked to sacrifice by using the USS modeller: http://ucu.org.uk/ussmodeller
We would like to address one specific section of Chris’s email in some detail. He writes that UCU developed some alternative proposals, but that these were not “formally submitted to the [Joint Negotiating Committee] for determination”. Precise, and in our view eccentric, meanings for the words “formally” and “determination” are required for this sentence to be true.
In collaboration with branch pension officers, including Loughborough’s, UCU developed a set of proposals (which can be seen in this news article). These involved sharing the costs of the flawed valuation between employers and employees. The idea was that members might be willing to accept a short-term price to avoid industrial action, so that UCU could join forces with UUK and push USS into governance reform that would permit a sensible valuation to be conducted in 2022. UCU’s proposals were submitted to the Joint Negotiating Committee (as item 3.2 in the papers for the meeting of 13th August). Unfortunately, UUK decided that they were not able to consult with employers about the proposals during August, apparently because too many people were on holiday. As a result, UUK decided that they could not provide covenant support to any proposals that were not their own. Because no occupational pension scheme can operate if employers refuse to support it, this meant that UCU’s proposals could not be put to the vote in the JNC meeting on 31st August. In short, UUK vetoed them. Notwithstanding this, Loughborough UCU has asked Loughborough University to review the UCU proposals directly. We are pleased that the University has agreed to look at them in detail, to understand them and to comment on them.
There is still time to resolve this dispute without industrial action. UUK could choose to withdraw their proposals and engage in good-faith discussions with UCU about solutions to both the short-term and long-term issues that USS’s behaviour has raised.
Unfortunately, this looks unlikely. As a result, last week UCU’s Special Higher Education Sector Conference agreed to launch an industrial action ballot.
We have called a meeting of all members to discuss the USS situation on 8th October at 1pm, and further details will be circulated in due course.
As we start a new academic year, LUCU is responding to the ongoing difficulties associated with the Covid pandemic and new threats to our pensions following UUK’s latest actions.
Representatives from LUCU continue to meet with the other campus unions and representatives from HR and University Health and Safety on a weekly basis. Plans remain fluid as we continue to monitor case rates locally, nationally, and internationally, though a general plan for the beginning of the semester has been put together.
For large lectures, teaching will initially be blended, with half of a class attending in person and half attending via MS Teams, with the halves switching on a weekly basis. This policy will be reviewed on a two-weekly basis. Seminars are expected to be 100% in-person using rooms that have a normal (i.e. pre-Covid) capacity of approximately twice that of the class size. In some instances, this may not be possible to accommodate, and in those cases the seminar will either take place completely online, or in a room of as great a capacity as possible which also has additional ventilation. Social distancing will remain at 2m for staff/student interactions, but it will almost certainly be completely relaxed for students themselves (except in labs which will remain at 1m+ because it has received positive feedback).
The University is strongly encouraging students to test before they travel. However, all students staying in on-campus accommodation will be required to have a Lateral Flow Test upon arrival. Anyone with a positive result will be denied access to their accommodation and asked to return home; it is accepted that this will not be possible in all cases so alternative plans are being drawn up to house students in this situation. It is the intention that a similar test-to-access scheme will be in place for students who are resident in the town centre and third-party halls of residence, but these plans are not fully formed yet. Our on-campus test facilities are currently guaranteed to be in place until the end of September, and the University is pushing DfE and PHE to extend this to at least the end of October.
The University is conducting wastewater monitoring in all but two halls of residence on campus (the two which aren’t subject to testing are because of issues about the locations of sampling points). This has already detected a positive case where an individual was self-isolating due to a positive result, so it demonstrates that even with small case numbers it can prove useful. A vaccination hub will be created on campus that will operate for five days from late September into early October to encourage and help students to get vaccinated. International students will also be able to get vaccinated on campus.
Staff and students will be expected to wear face coverings when moving around indoor spaces. Students won’t be expected to wear face coverings when sitting in lectures or study spaces. The University position is that face coverings are not needed where there is social distancing of 2m between staff and students as well as additional ventilation. Notwithstanding, staff should still feel empowered to politely request the use of face coverings (unless someone is exempt), but you should be aware that individuals have the right to refuse the request. LUCU and the other campus trade unions have argued that management should robustly enforce the use of face coverings on campus indoors, as they have the right to do.
Office spaces will remain at reduced occupancy levels, although where there is a need for increased staffing local mitigations (such as carefully placed perspex screens) will be used where appropriate and subject to suitable risk assessments and monitoring. The University is also increasing the use of CO2 monitors to check ventilation levels in areas of concern.
If you have any concerns about the safety of your workplace relevant to Covid (or any other H&S issue), please contact your UCU Rep, or committee at UCU@lboro.ac.uk.
USS Pensions – Update
You will have received an important email from Jo Grady, UCU’s General Secretary, with the subject line ‘Important Update on Today’s USS Negotiations.’
Unfortunately, UUK has pushed through their proposal to significantly cut our benefits, even though they consider the 2020 valuation unjustified: they propose to reduce the salary cap for defined benefits from £60,000 to £40,000 per annum, cap indexation at 2.5 per cent per annum, and reduce the accrual rate from 1/75th of salary to 1/85th of salary.
At the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), UCU put forward a compromise position, which would have involved sharing the cost of the unreasonable USS valuation between employers and employees. Unfortunately, UUK effectively blocked this proposal from being considered by refusing to provide any ‘covenant support’ (the commitment that employers make to pension schemes) if the UCU proposals were implemented. The net result is that UUK want employees to bear the full cost of USS’s flawed valuation.
On September 3, UCU held a members’ briefing that addressed USS, as well as Covid and the Four Fights campaign. If you like more detail about pensions negotiations and how UCU proposes to respond to the JNC decision, you can watch the recording here: UCU higher education briefing, 03 September 2021 – YouTube
How much will this cost you?
You can see how much pension you will lose if the UUK proposals come into force by using the First Actuarial modeller at: http://ucu.org.uk/ussmodeller.
Please Check Your Details
Assuming the JNC’s recommendation is approved by the USS trustees, a 60-day consultation will follow with scheme members. This means that industrial action will likely be needed if UUK are to revisit their position. Because the law requires that industrial action ballots are conducted by post, it is extremely important that UCU has an up-to-date postal address for you thatyou check regularly (i.e. if you are mostly working from home at the moment, it would be better to receive your ballot paper at home).
Recently, Cambridge UCU and Oxford UCU branches published a joint statement with their universities calling for reform of the USS scheme. The proposed new design would involve conditional indexation – a form of member risk-and-reward-sharing. This would not solve the problem of the 2020 valuation, but it could offer a long-term solution to funding USS that would ensure members receive a good pension. LUCU and Lboro management share the belief that conditional indexation is a viable option for pension scheme redesign, and we will be joining several other institutions in issuing a joint statement to this effect. Although the USS pension dispute cannot be resolved at a local level, LUCU committee will work with Lboro management to protect pension benefits wherever possible.
Joint Union Activity
Over the past year LUCU has worked closely with the other campus trade unions to increase our leverage in negotiations, and we will continue to collaborate with Unite and UNISON where this enables us to best serve members’ interests. Currently, we are working together on issues of pay, restructures, the reform of grievance procedures and disciplinary procedures, as well as workplace health and safety.
A combined trades union meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, September 14, 2021, from 1:00 – 2:00 pm on Teams. You can join the meeting via this link: Click here to join the meeting
The purpose of this EGM is two-fold:
1) to canvass members’ opinions on the health and safety measures that the University has planned for the start of term in October;
2) to update members on decisions reached at the UCU Special HE Sector Conference (September 9th) where USS will be a key agenda item.
LUCU Health and Safety officers continue to meet weekly with management to inform and monitor how the University is responding to the pandemic. We are pleased that the University is planning to retain the use of masks, social distancing, and increased ventilation, as well as the testing, track and trace regime.
While returning to work on campus is currently permitted, it is not mandatory at present: decisions about returning to campus working are devolved to individual schools and services to manage on a justifiable as-required basis. If you have a significant concern about being required to come back to campus that you feel is not being handled appropriately by your line management, contact your LUCU area Rep or committee at UCU@lboro.ac.uk.
The fall-out from the flawed March 2020 valuation of the USS pension scheme continues. Following a consultation with employers, including Loughborough, we now know that Universities UK (UUK) intends to propose ~25% cuts to the value of your pension. LUCU strongly encourages you to use the UCU modeller to calculate how much annual income in retirement you personally stand to lose if UUK is able to force through these cuts. The modeller has been produced by First Actuarial (a professional firm of actuaries), is easy to use, and is available here: https://www.ucu.org.uk/ussmodeller.
The next important stage in the process is the August meeting of the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), when it is expected that UUK plans to formally propose these cuts to your pension. The JNC is made up of equal numbers of representatives from UUK and UCU, plus an independent chair. If the independent chair decides to vote with the UUK representatives then, unfortunately, it is likely that industrial action will be required to protect our pensions.
For background on the dispute, and details of why UUK’s proposed cuts are unjustified, two helpful
We have reported before in the newsletter on the personal casework undertaken by members of the Branch. At this point in the academic cycle, with the year heading to a close, it might be helpful to provide an update on our recent casework activity. Since October 2020, we have supported 24 members who approached us seeking advice and representation. These cases have ranged from grievances to disciplinary hearings, and from workload issues to restructures and redundancies. The number also includes several colleagues whom we have assisted in securing exemption from in-person teaching at the height of the pandemic.
Many of these cases are complex, involving caseworkers in significant preparation and multiple meetings. Some of them are ongoing and not to be resolved until the next academic year (by which time other members seeking our support will doubtless have come forward). In each instance, however, we hope that we have been able to offer colleagues facing difficult circumstances both practical guidance and emotional support.
We should say a word about the place of casework in the Branch’s activity at large. Although each case is inevitably individual in its focus, supporting a particular colleague, it is far from true that casework is cut off from our broader campaigning. Regular meetings of the casework team identify patterns and tendencies – how the University is managing restructures, for example – and this then informs our negotiations with the institution. What seems to be a narrowly personal activity is thus always collective in its implications.
As members know, our caseworkers are all volunteers, taking on this task in addition to their day jobs in the institution. Currently we have an excellent team of dedicated people – but more caseworkers are always very welcome. A short training session, delivered either on campus or online by the Union’s regional office, will be arranged for the early autumn – so, if you think you might be interested in becoming a caseworker, do look out for details in due course. In the meantime, if anyone would like to talk about what the role entails, or would like casework support, please contact our Personal Casework Co-ordinator Andrew Dix (A.Dix@lboro.ac.uk).
UCU National Campaign: Building Power in the Workplace
Committee has been discussing how best to use the newsletter to communicate with members. We are moving away from lengthy newsletters issued every two months in favour of a shorter newsletter that we will send out during the first week of each month. We will continue to send email briefings about urgent matters as they occur.
Matters of interest going forward that were reported on/discussed are as follows: ongoing negotiations with management have resulted in a formal review of the PDR process, promotions process, and Grievance process being initiated this year – these reviews will conclude at different points through 2021-22. A Charter to improve and protect the working terms and conditions of Casual Staff is in the final stages of negotiation following the work of the Anti-Casualisation Task and Finish Group, and we will report back when this has been adopted.
Three motions were debated: 1) Rule Change Motion (Annual General Meeting) – passed; 2) Rule Change Motion (Rules for Local Motions) – withdrawn; 3) Local Subs Motion 2021 – passed.
Local Subs Motion 2021
The majority of our local branch income pays for our excellent administrative support, without which the branch would not be able to achieve all it does. Branch officers would spend much more time doing administrative tasks and would have far less time to spend negotiating with the University and supporting members through casework. UCU staff are members of the USS pension scheme alongside us.
This motion had two aims:
We needed to stem a current deficit in the branch finances and allow for expected staffing cost increases, especially due to USS;
We hoped to move from a regressive flat-fee structure to a progressive tiered structure.
As a result of this motion passing, local subscription rates will move from a flat fee paid by all members (whose earnings vary enormously) to a tiered structure based on the pay bands used for your national UCU subscriptions. This does mean a small increase for our highest earners but allows for a decrease for those earning less. Our very lowest earners (under £5,000 per year), typically employed part time and often on precarious contracts, will no longer pay local subscriptions. Previously they paid over three times more for their local subscription than their national subscription.
The changes are as follows:
£60,000 & above (F0)
£40,000 – £59,999 (F1)
£30,000 – £39,999 (F2)
£22,000 – £29,999 (F3)
£15,000 – £21,999 (F4)
£5,000 – £14,999 (F5)
Below £5,000 (F6)
Changes to contributions rates
77 of our lowest paid, often most precariously employed, members have their subscriptions reduced 84 pay roughly the same 319 pay just over £1 more 66 highest paid members pay £3.37 more – to use a now somewhat hackneyed phrase, “the price of a coffee”.
I’m grateful to all of the members who voted in favour of the progressive option which makes our subscription model much fairer.
David Wilson, Branch Treasurer
The composition of the LUCU Committee for 2021-22 was announced:
Chair – Mary Brewer
Negotiating Secretary – Marc Gibson
Casework Coordinator – Andrew Dix
Health and Safety Officer – Alec Edworthy
Equalities Officer – Sue Hignett
Pensions Rep – Matthew Inglis
Treasurer – David Wilson
Membership Secretary – Marie Hanlon
Ordinary member – Joanna Boehnert
EGM on Workload – Report
Our most recent EGM addressed how workload for next year is being managed across departments/schools.
There was some good news from members in SDCA, where SMT is taking a more progressive approach to workload, which involves open discussions at school meetings where staff (and our LUCU Reps) can raise the question of tariffs, un-costed work, EDI, and other issues of concern. This effort at genuine consultation, transparency, and inclusion is welcome! We are also pleased to report that the Dean of Loughborough London responded immediately and positively to working with us on workload and EDI related issues as part of the planning for next year’s workload.
While these are hopeful developments, members in other schools reported limited or no consultation on workload, tariff reductions to make staff appear to be working within the 1598 agreed workload, tariffs that bear scant relation to the time needed for tasks, stress from overwork, a lack of transparency/fairness relevant to workload, and uncertainty regarding the appropriate consideration of EDI and workload. LUCU will be running a workload campaign in 2021-22, with the aim addressing the problems with workload that have been highlighted by members.
In response to issues raised by the Workload Task and Finish group (which is ongoing), the Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor is preparing a paper on the new workload model that will be presented at the next ARSNC, and we will report back to members about this in due course.
If you would like a copy of the minutes from the AGM and/or EGM, please write to UCU@lboro.ac.uk.
LUCU continue to work closely alongside the other campus unions, HR, and Health and Safety to monitor the situation surrounding Covid-19.
Loughborough still has the highest student testing compliance rates in HE, and it is because of this that cases remain very low. We have seen a slight increase in cases recently, reflecting the national situation, but with the prompt action from Connect and Protect the numbers are being kept low and full contact tracing is taking place (no links between the cases have been identified suggesting that they are community acquired rather than University related). With the likelihood of further relaxation of the restrictions, we’re anticipating campus getting busier and more people returning to the office. As and when this happens, we will work to ensure that our members’ working environments are managed safely and appropriately.
LUCU would like to remind our members that we must not get complacent – social distancing, face coverings (except where exempt), regular hand washing and plenty of ventilation are still essential. If you feel comfortable, please do politely challenge others where you see these rules not being observed, or, if you prefer, please alert the relevant Health and Safety contact in your area so that they may ensure compliance with Covid safety rules. And please continue to let us know of any concerns you may have about health and safety in your area of work.
Alec Edworthy, Branch Health and Safety Officer
We would like to remind members to use the UCU modeller that has been developed, which will show how your pension will be affected if the changes to USS advocated by UUK become a reality: UCU – UUK pension proposal modeller.
The modeller may be used by non-members as well, so please share widely with colleagues.
You may have already received this information from your UCU department rep, due to its importance we are sending again to all members. Please share this email with any non-members that also may not have received the message through department reps.
Proposed Changes to Your USS Pension
As you know, Universities UK (UUK) – the body which speaks on behalf of universities such as Loughborough – is currently consulting universities about changes to the USS pension scheme. Because these proposed changes are complex, it is not straightforward to understand from the headline proposals how they will affect you.
To help, UCU’s actuarial advisors, First Actuarial, have produced an online modeller which allows you to calculate how UUK’s proposals would affect your income in retirement. For example, the modeller reveals that I personally would have a £5068/year reduction to my income in retirement under these proposals.
If you have a USS pension you are welcome to use this tool, regardless of whether you are a member of UCU:
(Note: the modeller appears to work best when using Google Chrome.)
Loughborough UCU strongly encourages you to take this opportunity to understand the implications of the current proposals for you personally.
UUK’s proposals are a result of USS’s 2020 valuation, which was published in March this year. Both UUK and UCU agree that this valuation is flawed. For example, UUK has described USS’s approach as “unreasonable”, “unrealistic”, “incredibly conservative” and “unjustifiable”. Unfortunately, UUK has not persuaded USS to change their valuation method, and instead is proposing to pass the cost onto scheme members in the form of reduced benefits. UCU believes that this is approach is not reasonable.
As you will have seen from the Vice Chancellor’s message on Wednesday, the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) has issued a new valuation.
The goal of the valuation is to assess the scheme’s assets and liabilities as of 31st March 2020. As the Vice Chancellor pointed out, pension funds are legally required to conduct valuations every three years. USS last undertook a valuation two years ago. Consequently, this valuation, the date of which coincided with perhaps the most uncertain point of the pandemic, is not required to take place for another year.
USS has used a valuation method very similar to that proposed in September 2020. In its response to these proposals, Universities UK (UUK), the group which speaks on behalf of universities like Loughborough, described the valuation method as “extremely unhelpful”, “unreasonable”, “unrealistic”, “incredibly conservative” and “unjustifiable”. UUK concluded that USS was making “extreme and unwarranted” proposals. Remarkably, the proposals issued on Wednesday are actually more extreme than those which prompted these unrestrained remarks.
The branch is engaging with management colleagues here at Loughborough. A report will be provided at the forthcoming AGM and members will have the opportunity to pose questions to our Pensions Rep, Matthew Inglis.