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All Edinburgh UCU meeting: Building the Ballots, Preparing to Fight

We will be holding an all Edinburgh online meeting via Zoom on Wednesday October 13, 2021 from 12:30-1:30 PM. To join the meeting please use the Zoom link which has been sent to all HWUCU members by email. If you require a reminder, please contact the local branch office or a member of the branch committee.

Edinburgh, QMU, and HWU will be balloted on the 4 fights: Pay, Workloads, Casualisation, Equal pay. Edinburgh and HWU will also be balloted on the USS pension dispute. The main focus of the meeting will be the 4 fights as this is what unites all the Edinburgh branches. We will have a few speakers including at least one National pay negotiator, and UCU Scotland President, Lena Wanggren.

All members are welcome to come as are interested non-members. Come along and bring your colleagues. This is an ideal opportunity to find out about the disputes, to ask questions, and to make suggestions for actions we can take.

If BSL interpreting would be of assistance to the meeting please contact the on-campus BSL interpreting service (marion.fletcher@hw.ac.uk) directly to arrange this. Please give Marion as much notice as possible.

Growing The Powerbase

We are a strong Branch with well-attended AGMs/EGMs and an active membership and Committee but we can always use more help. To find out more about the work of our local HWUCU branch please check out the rest of this website and our Twitter feed at @UCU_HWUBranch.

If you have a few spare moments and you would like to get more involved please get in touch with one of our school or service reps, or the Membership Officer. Contacts can be found at https://heriotwatt.web.ucu.org.uk/branchcommittee/

If you are not already a member here are 5 Reasons to Join UCU. It only takes 10 minutes and subscriptions start from just £2 per month, so why not join today?

EGM to discuss outcome of HE Sector Conference and the USS dispute

There will be an on online HWU Branch members extraordinary general meeting at 12.30 on Thursday 23 September 2021 to discuss the outcome of HE Sector Conference and the USS dispute. To join the meeting please use the Zoom link which has been sent to all HWUCU members by email. If you require a reminder, please contact Juergen Munz at Juergen.Munz@hw.ac.uk.

If BSL interpreting would be of assistance to the meeting please contact the on-campus BSL interpreting service (marion.fletcher@hw.ac.uk ) directly to arrange this.

Pay and 4 fights

The annual pay bargaining has now closed without a resolution. A derisory pay rise of 1.5% has been imposed by employers without UCU agreement. No further progress has been made on pay gaps, casualisation and workload other than the usual offer for more working groups. Therefore with the USS situation at a critical point for the future of our pensions and no resolution on pay it is likely that we will be balloted on both.

The USS dispute

The UUK proposal has been voted through by the UUK JNC representatives with the Chair’s casting vote. This proposal if not revoked, will see a significant cut to our future guaranteed pension accrual *of at least 12%*, probably more like 23% once indexation is factored in.

What changes are being proposed to your pension?

In March 2020, the USS Board who oversee the Universities Superannuation Scheme, conducted a valuation of the pension scheme – a time when global financial markets were at a deep low. This valuation (the 2020 valuation) estimated that the USS scheme carried a projected deficit of between £9.4 to £14bn, with the USS trustees later arguing the deficit could even be as high as £17bn. The valuation was shared with Universities UK (UUK; the organisation that represents employers) and UCU.

Sam Marsh, one of the UCU negotiations at the JNC called for more information on the methodology used in the 2020 valuation but was denied. Marsh has since conducted his own analysis which can be found at https://medium.com/ussbriefs/how-extreme-prudence-and-misguided-risk-management-sent-the-uss-into-crisis-baf78c35d9e1

In short, he argues that 2020 valuation is overly-prudent.

What is important here is that each assumption being made by USS’ actuaries will impact on the level of cost and benefit in the scheme. The USS Board are obliged by UK pension law to choose prudent assumptions in determining future costs in a pension scheme, and more pessimistic assumptions (i.e. assumptions that are more prudent) will result in higher costs and lower asset values. The USS Board changed their valuation methodology and definition of prudence specifically for the 2020 valuation and has not yet fully and transparently disclosed the justifications for these changes, save for a brief response comparing the general changes in prudence from previous valuations.

Negotiators representing UUK also demand more transparency regarding the 2020 valuation.

In March 2021, the USS Board presented their own proposal which we have shared with members before. For reference the current contribution to the scheme is 30.7%: members (you) pay 9.6% of your salary, and employers pay 21.1%. In order to keep the current package of defined benefits in our post-retirement income, USS proposed that the lowest contribution rate they were prepared to accept was 42.1%, which would be split roughly one-third by members (you) and two-thirds by employers.

This was rejected by both UCU and UUK as being too costly.

UUK have since accepted the contentious 2020 valuation and have made their own proposal on benefit reform and cost sharing, which was accepted by USS and a new USS-UUK agreed cost sharing proposal was considered and shared with UCU.

How has UCU responded?

UCU has disagreed with the 2020 valuation, maintaining that the deficit has been exaggerated because of inaccurate technical assumptions, and that the valuation was conducted when markets were suffering from the immediate shock of the Covid-19 crisis.

Indeed, when the valuation was conducted, scheme assets were estimated to be £66.5bn, but as recently as 31 July 2021, the USS own monitoring dashboard valued the assets at £87.8bn. This represents substantial growth over the last 15 months, challenging the pessimistic and overly-prudent assumptions of the 2020 valuation.

UCU negotiators on the JNC have cited this growth in assets and have asked for USS to conduct a March 2021 valuation, but have been denied this request. The USS Board have repeatedly claimed that a 2021 valuation is not possible, and the USS Board have maintained that if a 2021 valuation was to be done the outcome would be the same.

Instead, USS accepted the UUK proposal and have supported this. The UUK proposal is focussed on cost cutting and reducing the benefits owed to members (you).

UCU negotiators through July and August proposed different ways of cutting costs and ensuring existing benefits could continue to be delivered to members. UCU negotiators also highlighted how the UUK proposal would contribute to a worsening intergenerational fairness, creating in effect a two-tiered pension scheme that reduces guaranteed defined benefits for all members enrolled in the scheme.

UCU negotiators tabled their own counter, but UUK cited procedural issues and refused to extend support to the UCU proposal and did not recognise the UCU proposal as being a formal offer at the negotiations. This, instead, ensured that the only proposal under discussion for employers and members was the UUK proposal. One of the UCU negotiators has written about this refusal to acknowledge the UCU proposal here.

In August 2021, the final JNC session to discuss the UUK proposal was held. In that meeting, the voting was split – the independent chair appointed to the JNC voted in favour of the UUK proposal. This means that we are now faced with cuts to our post-retirement, higher contribution rates, and an overall degradation to the defined benefit element of our pension.

Despite previously disagreeing with the USS Board’s very pessimistic (and despite the scheme enjoying significant asset growth since the 2020 valuation), UUK instead has signalled with their proposal that employers are not willing to support the existing levels of defined benefits. Pensions are our deferred wages, and employers by accepting the UUK proposal, are now content to cut our own entitlement to our own deferred wages. This on the back of several years of real terms pay cuts and growing casualisation across the UK Higher Education sector comes to some as a real slap in the face. Especially when some employers saw fit to cut jobs and embark on redundancy schemes when staff had over-worked to ensure universities continued to run smoothly during the pandemic. You will recall we faced those very same challenges last year.

UCU nationally has called for action on pay and pensions, with both issues being recently discussed at a specially convened conference last week (the Higher Education Special Sector Conference, held on 9 September 2021).

Further Information

We also highly recommend you watch the following short videos from the recent UCU Solidarity meeting where UCU pensions experts explain different aspect of the USS scheme in small bite size chunks.

Part 1: USS basics

Part 2: The current valuation

Part 3: Is there an alternative

Part 4 and 5 to follow shortly.

What can you do?

  • Check your membership details are correct (and consider adding your mobile phone)
  • When you get your ballot paper- vote!
  • Come along to the EGM
  • Talk to your colleagues- if they are not in UCU they need to join and fight to protect *their* pensions. They cannot keep relying on others to do the fighting for them. Since we protected the USS scheme in 2018 they have already received an additional guaranteed annual income in retirement equivalent to 1/25th of their annual salary that they would not have got had it not been for UCU members.

Finally, at the meeting we will be voting on a motion to call for a Special Scottish Conference on Covid. We hope all staff are well and safe and able to work in a way that protects their own health and that of their loved ones and community. However, we have concerns about the way that H&S is being handled at HWU and this is shared across many other institutions. If you have specific concerns or queries related to return to campus then please contact us and come along to the EGM.

Know Your Pension

In USS pension scheme? Want to know more about USS, how decisions that affect your pension are made and what you can do about it, come along on Thursday to ‘Know Your Pension’.

Information on the Key Issues in the USS Pensions Debate. All your pension questions answered in bit-sized chunks.

Meeting will be held online via Zoom at 6.30pm on Thursday 2 September. All staff welcome to attend. You don’t have to have to be a member of a union to be concerned about your pension.

Register at https://bit.ly/3jS1dZ1

EGM round-up June 2021

Pay and the proposed pension cuts were the big issues of the day. An overwhelming majority of members indicated that they would be prepared to take action if an improved pay offer cannot be negotiated, and long-term solution put in place to secure pension benefits.

Four Fights One Voice

While executive pay is rising your pay has fallen by more than 20% in real terms since 2009. Staff are being asked to work hard and longer than ever. Women and black and minority ethnic staff still suffer significant pay discrimination. The use of precarious zero hours casual contracts remain entrenched. Our employers are failing to tackle these issues.

The USS Dispute

Universities UK who represent our employers want to end guaranteed pension benefits. This means that your pension will depend upon how ‘investments’ perform instead of your deferred salary contributions, you will end up paying more for less. A typical member on a lecturer’s salary, aged 37, will suffer a 35% loss to the guaranteed retirement benefits which they will build up over the rest of their career.

Solidarity Fund

A number of branches across the country are currently fighting redundancies. At Liverpool University staff are currently facing 100% pay deductions and being denied their annual leave for taking part in a marking boycott as action short of strike after management announced their intention to sack 47 staff based on some very dubious metrics.

We are raising cash to help support colleagues in other branches via our solidarity fund. For members who would like to give some or all their July-Thank-you-payment of £200 you can donate via PayPal to our solidarity fund at https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/HWUCUWhipRound. If you would still like to donate but PayPal is not an option, please donate to our hardship fund account and then email r.j.hartnett@hw.ac.uk in confidence to let him know your donation is intended for the solidarity fund: Bank: Unity Trust Bank; Account name: UCU – Heriot-Watt University LA 023 Hardship Fund; Sort Code: 60-83-01; Account No. 20391168.

Growing The Powerbase

We are a strong Branch with well-attended AGMs/EGMs and an active membership and Committee but we can always use more help. To find out more about the work of our local HWUCU branch please check out the rest of this website and our Twitter feed at @UCU_HWUBranch.

If you have a few spare moments and you would like to get more involved please get in touch with one of our school or service reps, or the Membership Officer. Contacts can be found at https://heriotwatt.web.ucu.org.uk/branchcommittee/

If you are not already a member here are 5 Reasons to Join UCU. It only takes 10 minutes and subscriptions start from just £2 per month, so why not join today?

EGM to discuss pay and pensions

Members voted to reject last years 0% offer on pay and lack of movement on equalities and workload. This year’s offer is little better. For BME, disabled, part-time and female members of staff, the same pay inequalities persist and are exacerbated.

On pensions, the UUK consultation has just completed and employers have supported cutting our future pension benefits and starting a second rate scheme for lower paid staff, which will undermine the current scheme and set up two tiers of employment. UUK persist in claiming the cut to our pensions will *only* be 12%. This is a misrepresentation, with the indexation cap the reduction is approaching a whopping 25% alongside a real reduction in what employers are paying into our pensions that is the same as a cut in our pay. This is alongside the continued real terms cuts to our pay. Employers propose slashing our benefits and taking none of the pain themselves. USS have signalled they may accept the UUK offer to cut our benefits but probably not as the contribution rate that UUK has proposed. Pay more get less pension at the same time do more work get less pay.

Save the date

Our EGM is on Wednesday June 30th from 01:15-02:15 PM. This is your chance to ask questions and also make your views known about what action UCU should take. Please put it in your calendar.

To join the meeting please use the Zoom link which has been sent to all HWUCU members by email. If you require a reminder, please contact Juergen Munz at Juergen.Munz@hw.ac.uk.

Annual General Meeting 2021

This year’s AGM will be held online by Zoom meeting on Wednesday 26 May 2021 at 12:00. All of our local members should already have received an invite by email. If not, or if you require a reminder, please contact Juergen Munz at Juergen.Munz@hw.ac.uk.

BSL interpreting can be arranged through the on-campus interpreting service. Please contact Marion Fletcher at marion.fletcher@hw.ac.uk, giving as much notice as possible.

Agenda

  1. Welcome
  2. Attendance and apologies
  3. Minutes of AGM 2020
  4. Report from the committee
  5. Treasurer’s report
  6. Appointment of auditor
  7. Local rule change
  8. Election of Officers and Representatives of the Committee
  9. USS dispute – update
  10. Pay dispute – update and branch position
  11. AOB

Join the UCU today, at https://www.ucu.org.uk/join

Solidarity whip round for EIS Fela

At a recent Branch meeting we voted to set up a solidarity fund to allow branch members to donate to central fund that will then make donations to other UCU branches and our sister unions when they are in dispute.

This is now active so if you can please consider donating to help support striking workers at https://www.paypal.com/paypalme/HWUCUWhipRound . All donations most welcome, however big or small, but please do not feel under any obligation if now is not a good time.

Funds collected up to £200 will be donated to EIS Fela, in the name of Heriot-Watt UCU, with any left over being rolled over to the next cause that comes up- there is no shortage just now as many UCU are, have recently been, or will soon be in dispute including Goldsmiths, Liverpool, Roehampton and many others.

About the EIS Fela dispute

The first fund to which we would like to donate to is EIS Fela. Our comrades in EIS Fela have been in a protracted dispute with their employers over plans to change from hiring lecturers / calling staff who lecture lecturers and changing to staff who do not get allocated time for preparation and marking.

Our near neighbours at EIS Fela Forth Valley College, from where we receive students into year 3 of some of our engineering programmes via Associate Student Scheme, have been in dispute since 20 November 2020.

Further information about the dispute can be found at https://www.eis.org.uk/FELA-News/FVCDispute

USS explained and why you cannot ignore your pension

The University and College Union (UCU) has exclusive employee representation rights for all members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

We would like to invite all of the USS members at Heriot-Watt University to an open online meeting about the future of the scheme.

Q. Why should I attend when I have already heard from Heriot-Watt University and can find information on the USS website?

A. Our USS pensions could be subject to substantial reductions in benefits. We believe that we cannot make an informed decision about the future of the USS pension scheme without hearing from the third key formal stakeholder in our pension scheme. You, the members.

The meeting will be held on Wednesday 12 May at 3pm via Zoom. An email with the link to the meeting has been sent to all HWU staff in the UK. Please check your inbox for an email from the HWU All-staff mailing list at 10.05 on 06/05/2021, with subject line: [All-staff] USS explained – why you can’t ignore your pension. If you have not received this you can contact Juergen.Munz@hw.ac.uk at the local branch office for login details.

At the meeting we will be hearing from the following speakers:

  • Vicky Blake, UCU President
  • Christine Haswell, UCU National Pensions Official
  • Sarah Joss, HWUCU Vice President (acting)
  • Kenneth Weir, HWUCU Pensions Officer (acting)

If you require BSL interpreting, please contact Marion Fletcher at the on-campus BSL interpreting service. Marion can be contacted at marion.fletcher@hw.ac.uk. Please give as much notice as possible.

You can ask questions on the day or if you wish to ask questions in advance and/or anonymously please forward them to Joss at s.joss@hw.ac.uk before the meeting.

We very much look forward to seeing as many of our Heriot-Watt staff and USS members at the meeting as possible.

To find out more about the work of our local HWUCU branch please check out the rest of this website and our Twitter feed at @UCU_HWUBranch.

Further Information

Branch Members’ Meeting about the USS Pension Scheme

The next HWUCU Branch Members’ Meeting will be about the USS Pension Scheme and the current valuation. The meeting will be held online via Zoom on Wednesday 31 March from 12:00 to 13:00hrs and there will be a talk by Sam Marsh (UCU Pensions Negotiator).

We hope to see as many of you as possible. If you have not already received instructions on how to attend please contact the local branch office at ucu@hw.ac.uk.

If you are not already a member here are 5 Reasons to Join UCU. It only takes 10 minutes and subscriptions start from just £2 per month, so why not join today?

Have you voted yet? Watch this short video if you need more info on why you need to cast your vote asap.