USS Pension Justice: We earned it.

After 69 days total of industrial action following the needless pension cuts which were forced through by our employers two years ago members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) will see their benefits restored as of Monday 1 April 2024.

The key points of the settlement are that

  • the USS accrual rate be restored from 1/85 back to 1/75
  • the defined benefit threshold will lift from £41k back to over £70k
  • the hard inflation cap of 2.5% has been removed
  • £900m has been set aside for a one-off payment to make good losses which members have already suffered

Ceasefire NOW!

UCU joins with many others in Palestine, the UK, and beyond to reiterate the demands for an immediate ceasefire, the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages, unrestricted access to humanitarian aid, and the lifting of the siege of Gaza.

We call on all UCU members to sign the parliamentary petition calling for a ceasefire and to end Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Academic freedom and free speech

UCU is aware that some of our members have been targeted for speaking out about the events in Israel and Palestine, and that this targeting has unfortunately often been racialised. UCU has clear policy in defence of academic freedom; if you have been targeted in this way please contact your local rep or regional office for support.

Michelle Donelan’s Statement to the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee

For clarification, last week I publicly withdrew all of my concerns and without admitting liability, £15,000 was paid to settle the case and save any costs associated with a protracted legal dispute, which would have been significant, even if of course the department had won that case.

The legal expenditure was approved by my department’s accounting officer. While I always err on the side of transparency, I am now clear in this case I could have sent the letter in confidence to the UKRI in order for them to undertake the investigations privately. And I do apologise for not having done so — and for any distraction this decision has caused for this government’s positive agenda.

-Michelle Donelan

Have you voted Yes to save higher education?

On 14 August the UCU’s higher education committee (HEC) voted to launch a ballot for further industrial action in the ongoing dispute over pay and working conditions.

The ballot closes at 5pm on Friday 3 November. If you have not received your ballot paper please request a replacement using the form at https://yoursay.ucu.org.uk/s3/ucuRISING-ballotupdate before midnight on Sunday 29 October.

Why should I vote?

Taking part in industrial action works. We got our employers back to the negotiating table in the pension dispute and a statutory consultation on improved terms has been launched which should see the scheme on a more stable footing with benefits restored back to pre-2022 levels and members compensated for benefits lost in the meantime.

This only happened because members took action to prevent the shameful attempt to steal their pension benefits through a flawed valuation conducted at the height of the pandemic.

We need to keep fighting now to secure fair pay and tackle working conditions. Our university vice chancellors and senior management have been taking huge salaries and inflation busting pay rises while our members have seen pay cut by 25% in real terms since 2009 as they struggle to deal with inequality, job security, and the stress of ever increasing workloads.

It is more important than ever that you use your vote so that we meet the threshold which legislation requires, no matter which way you vote. If you haven’t voted, please vote now.

Heriot-Watt is on strike for fair pay and working conditions

Monday

Our employers may consider the 2022-23 pay negotiations to have been concluded with the imposed national uplift, but we do not. It fell far short. The 4-Fights dispute over fair pay and working conditions will continue until the Vice Chancellors use some of the record income that the sector is generating and the piles cash on which they are sitting to address the erosion of everyone else’s pay apart from their own and tackle the issues of excessive workloads, inequality, and insecure contracts.

We are on strike because we care passionately about our students, our stakeholders and research partners, our local community, and the environment. Our senior leadership team are failing to deliver on Strategy 2025 and the key performance indicators by which they should be judged. Staff and student satisfaction is at an all-time low, student to staff ratios are increasing, teaching and research facilities are inadequate, and our support systems are a shambles. These failures are reflected in our rankings and failures to secure funding. Shamelessly executive pay has increased, and it is the same up and down the country. It is the experience which should be rich, not the fat cats at the top.

You can help make it better. Support our staff. Support our students. Save the planet. Support the strike!

Strike action confirmed for week of 25-29 September

A big thank-you to all of the local members who were able to attend the online EGM yesterday and contribute to the discussions and vote at such short notice. The meeting was quorate and the vote was overwhelmingly in favour of continuing the strike action, consistent with the branch position at the end of August when members voted in favour of using the remaining mandate for strike action.

It is the beginning of a new session and no-one wants to be on strike but we need to hit our employers hard in order to force them back into negotiations over pay and working conditions. The only way to do this is with a complete withdrawal of labour. We will be standing with UCU members from branches up and down the UK as well as colleagues from Unite and Unison who remain committed to collective action as a means to secure fair pay and working conditions across the sector.

Picket line

The picket will form 8.00am each morning at the main gate and there with a group photo opportunity at 10.00am.

Strike Pay

Members will be able to apply to the national fighting fund for days 3,4 and 5 of the strike. We will take a vote to the branch members to enable the local hardship fund to be used to support members for days 1 and 2.

 

 

Strategy 2025: Failing to Shape Tomorrow Together

In Strategy 2025: Shaping Tomorrow Together our senior leadership sets the basic metrics of success by which they wish to be judged. Strategic performance indicators include:

  • Staff Satisfaction
  • Student Satisfaction,
  • World University Ranking
  • Research Income
  • Environmental Sustainability
  • Income Generation
  • Operating Surplus

None of these targets are being met. Staff satisfaction is at all all time low. Student satisfaction as measured by the National Student Survey has tanked, SFC funding allocations for research and teaching are down. We are slipping in all sorts of international league tables and rankings, and millions of pounds have been wasted on an Oracle ERP system which has failed to deliver some very basic functions like processing payments to suppliers and budgetary reporting for research projects.

The senior leadership team at Heriot-Watt are failing to deliver for anyone but themselves. The annual accounts to year end July 2022 show that the Principal took a very generous raise from £312,000 to 338,000. This is an increase of more than 8% compared to ordinary staff who received a 1.5% in this period on the back of 0% increase in 2020-21.

The accounts reveal that in the same 2 years salary cost of the key management personnel responsible for planning, directing, and controlling the activity of the university rose from £792,000 to £1,125,000, an increase of over 40%. While ordinary working staff struggle our jet set senior leadership team are shamelessly paying themselves more and delivering less.

One of the four cornerstone themes of Strategy 2025 is the building of flourishing communities through positive influence. Safe to say that we are not feeling very inspired or valued at the moment.

Update on Save university pensions, and save the planet: We’ve settled

Save university pensions, and save the planet is a crowdfunded legal action separate from the main UCU pension dispute. It may be of interest to members and non-members who are in the USS scheme. Updates published on behalf of the team at savepensionsandplanet.org.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

First of all, we are so grateful once more for your support. This has been the biggest crowdfund in UK history according to CrowdJustice, and we have pushed UUK to announce their reversal of the 2022 pension cuts. We didn’t win in the Court of Appeal, and so on Monday we decided to settle the USS directors’ legal costs. There were solid legal grounds for appealing the decision to the Supreme Court. However, we have achieved most of our aims – getting your pension back and shifting the USS’s climate policy – we couldn’t have done it without you! Six more things:

(1) Call for supporters

We’d love to invite everyone for a Zoom call to answer all questions and to thank you in person at 2pm Wednesday, 2nd August. Zoom link here.

(2) The USS Directors’ Pyrrhic victory

The USS directors have a victory that would make Phyrrus chortle. The judgment itself dismissed our appeal on procedural grounds, but said that a previously untested “beneficiary derivative claim” may be used to sue directors for breach of duty in a pension trust: see paras [78]-[90]. This was an unprecedented announcement. So, there were good grounds for us to appeal, but overall it was better for everyone to settle and help the directors focus on their future. The bottom line is that the USS directors will now know, and should be advised, that if they breach their duties, they can be sued personally – including for damages. If, in future, the directors do breach their duties, we will be in touch!

(3) A recap

To recap the reasons that your help and support have mattered so much are that since bringing the case:

  1. The USS directors have entirely reversed their position for the 2023 valuation.
    • They are now reporting a £7.4bn surplus.
    • They reduced prudence (as we said they should in our 2021 letter),
    • They allowed for greater mortality (as we said they should in 2021),
    • They have updated asset values and made other changes.
  2. USS could augment members’ benefits to reverse the unnecessary losses they imposed on members between April 2022 and April 2024.
  3. Future accrual of defined benefits could be restored from April 2024.
  4. The architect of these changes and USS CEO has announced his resignation.

Our litigation, which thousands of university staff and USS members have supported, has likely had a very substantial impact on the directors’ decisions, and is likely to affect their decisions in future.

(4) Change worth £8000 per member + a potential pay rise

If members’ 2022-2024 benefits are augmented, this could be worth £1.5bn (on average £8000 for each USS member). In the medium term, reversing the April 2022 cuts for future accrual will be worth many billions more. More than this, thousands of UK university staff could now get a pay rise – university accountants are (anecdotally) saying employee contributions could fall from 9.8% to 8%, and employer contributions down from 21.6% to 18% – the level they were at in 2019.

(5) Climate damage

We have already seen UUK say that it wants USS to commit to examining divestment. We fully expect USS’s position on climate change and fossil fuels to evolve and note that the judgment explicitly points to the possibility of future action against the trust fund being possible – as well as against directors personally for their future conduct.

(6) Governance reform

This legal action clearly demonstrates how badly the governance of the USS has failed and how little confidence USS members have that the USS directors were acting in their interests. We should not have to raise hundreds of thousands of pounds to hold the directors to account. The USS’s rules need to be changed to allow members a say in how their scheme is run. Universities and UCU urgently need to reform the governance of the scheme so it can begin to recover members’ trust. This legal action is the first step in that process, which needs to start ASAP.

Once more, we are incredibly grateful for the over 12,000 donations and the amazing support we’ve had from people across the UK. We are also enormously grateful to our outstanding legal team, David Grant KC, Philip Steer, Gus Baker, Meriel Hodgson-Teall, Richard Meeran, Georgia Rycroft and the team at Leigh Day, and also Dr Thomas Da Vieira Costa and Dr Lindsey Pike for their fantastic work in research and communications. This case has been hugely complex, and everyone has handled it brilliantly.

We would be delighted to meet with UCU branches or other groups to explain the outcome of the hearing and the next steps, which will not, you will be relieved to know, involve asking for more money.

Best wishes,
Neil and Ewan