TEXT OF THE MESSAGE THAT WENT OUT TO ALL YORK UCU MEMBERS 17TH JANUARY:
As colleagues may already have seen, we have reached the point in the dispute over reforming USS when it is appropriate to involve members in deciding our next steps.
On 19 November it was decided to suspend the industrial action begun on 6 November in order to allow detailed negotiations between UCU representatives, employers, technical experts and the USS board to continue until 15 January. Since then there has been a series of such meetings, which concluded on 13 January, allowing our negotiators to report to the Higher Education Committee (HEC) the following day. A very full report on a set of new proposals and their implications was presented to HEC along with three recommendations:-
- That the new proposals be put to our members in pre-’92 institutions in a consultative ballot;
- That HEC not recommend the new proposals, but inform members that they are the best to be obtained by the current negotiating process; any further changes would require a long period of intense industrial action targeted on assessment;
- That the suspension of industrial action be maintained until the consultative ballot is completed.
The negotiators were absolutely clear that they do not regard these as a good set of proposals, but that they offered some significant improvements, and that any further changes for the better would require intense and sustained action by the majority of members. In their view only the members themselves can now determine whether they want such action, whether they can implement it effectively, and whether they want to face punitive sanctions from our employers.
After extensive discussion HEC decided to accept the report and the recommendations, and Electoral Reform Services are already contacting individual members to enable them to vote in the ballot. The ballot runs until noon on Monday 26 January. There will be a meeting of representatives from pre-1992 branches on Wednesday 28 January to discuss the ballot result and next steps. Members should be aware that if the new proposals are rejected, the employers will revert to the proposals which they tabled in October, including a 1/80th accrual rate and a £40-£50k income cap for defined benefits, rather than seeking an agreement with UCU.
The York UCU executive view
Your branch executive urges members to read and reflect on the information contained in the ERS material and above all to vote, so that our future actions can be informed by the fullest possible expression of members’ views. Members can also use the modelling facility provided by UCU via the link in the ERS material to see how both the new proposals and the original employers’ proposals will affect them personally.
We think that our responsibility is to provide members with means to make an informed decision about the proposals rather than to express views about them. Below we set out the improvements and the limitations in the new proposals, and the view taken by the negotiators endorsed by the HEC.
What improvements have been made?
- Improvement in the accrual rate from 1/80th to 1/75th
- An increase in the earnings cap to £55,000 (above which defined benefit career average benefits will not build up). This means that more than 75% of USS members will now have 100% of their salary within the defined benefit scheme, up from 39% of members covered by the originally proposed threshold of £40,000.
- A guarantee that the employers will maintain an increased contribution (which has gone from 16% to 18% of salary) for two further valuations for at least the next five years (to 2020).
- An agreement with the employers that any improvement in the USS funding position should be used to improve benefits rather than be used by USS for further de-risking.
- Agreement to continue a review of the contested funding methodology adopted by USS. This is testimony to the effectiveness of the critique of that methodology mounted by our negotiators and activists over the last eighteen months
How does this affect my estimated annual pension income?
UCU has commissioned a modeller from First Actuarial which will estimate the impact of the latest proposals on your pension once you have inputted some personal variables. This modeller will also show you the difference between the latest and the initial proposals. To access this please click http://defenduss.web.ucu.org.uk/whats-my-pension/
The UCU/HEC view
UCU has worked hard to persuade the employers to negotiate properly, and this final position does represent considerable improvement on the opening proposals. The shift in the earnings threshold from £40k to £55k and the improvement of the accrual rate from 1/80th to 1/75th are the two main changes. Members should also note that the positive accrual rate change improves the current terms for new entrants to the scheme. The package still includes a defined contribution scheme above the £55,000 cap.
However, members should be clear that even under these new proposals many members will still see their estimated annual pension income fall (though by less than under the original proposals) and all members will see their pension contributions rise by between 0.5 and 1.5%. Members will also have the option to make an additional contribution of 1% to the defined contribution scheme which will be matched by the employers.
The employers consider this to be as far as they are prepared to go and if these proposals are not accepted, have stated that they will revert to their preferred option of a 1/80th accrual rate.
Given the constraints imposed by the funding environment, HEC believes that this is the best that can be achieved through negotiation. Further improvement is unlikely without sustained industrial action by members targeted against student assessment.
At this point it is important and necessary for members themselves to have their say on the next steps
- Please consider the information provided, and contact us if you have specific questions; if we don’t know the answer we will pass them on to those who do!
- do use the UCU modeller to explore the detailed implications of the proposals for your own particular circumstances
- do VOTE in the ballot which closes at noon of 26 January
from your local branch executive