Report from our delegate to UCU’s sector conference on pay and pensions on 7 Nov

mosi manchesterI went to the Higher Education Sector Conference (HESC) on pay and pensions yesterday, held at the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester. Here are some personal reflections. I wrote these notes on the train home, and other reports will undoubtedly be available through the usual channels. Apologies for brevity and typos in places.

There was a very lively debate about whether or not UCU should reballot us on industrial action over this year’s 2% pay offer. And, if so, how, when and what support and further research would be required to facilitate a successful campaign. There was also discussion about what the pros and cons of current UK-wide pay bargaining with one motion suggesting multiyear pay deals should be considered for the future.

On the specific issue of reballoting UCU members on this year’s 2% pay offer (with reference to the individual motions)
Motion 1 resolves (ii) reballot all branches in turnout range 35-50%: not carried
Motion 2 resolves (i) reballot all post 92 branches with over 35% turnout: not carried
Motion 3 “consider reballoting all branches where there is a realistic chance of getting a 50% turnout”: not carried

Motion 5 resolves (b) “as a consequence of the 2018/19 dispute remaining unresolved, the union should complete a statutory ballot by the end of March 2019 at the latest so as to enter 2019/20 negotiations with a legal mandate for industrial action”: carried.

This could give the joint negotiation process a different look for next year as we can ballot for striking earlier but it wasn’t entirely clear to me what we’d be voting for. The HEC will consider this in more detail.

For me, highlights among the other motions that were passed included:
– more research will be done into timing and duration of ballots, including whether e-ballots distract rather than support member mobilisation
– intensify political campaigning against the 50% ballot threshold
– in the next pay ballot, work towards a UK-wide aggregated 50% turnout rather than 50% at individual branch level
– redefine the next pay dispute to place greater emphasis on casualisation, equality and workload
– UCU called on to speak at branch meetings and produce local material to support Getting the Vote Out


The afternoon session on pensions was not quorate due to registered delegates sending apologies or not turning up. Therefore any motions passed have advisory status only.

Confirmation received by UCU Head of HE that UCU’s negotiating position going forward will be one of no detriment. The Head of HE that UCU and UUK will meet today (Thursday) – UCU will get an initial sense of what the outcomes of the UUK consultation were.

UCU National Dispute Committee (NDC) co-chair gave a passionate representation that NDC, set up to give UCU representative steer on the pension dispute, should take a strong negotiating position and be fully integrated into UCU structures. They support the JEP but think it should have gone further.

Emergency motions (not currently online) submitted by the NDC, through the HEC, passed:
– affirmation that there is no justification for benefit reduction or contribution increases
– ballot members for industrial action if UUK attempts the above 
– demand an apology to staff and students by UUK and employers for their role in triggering the dispute
– call on employers to reimburse staff lost earnings 
– call on employers to compensate students for lost teaching during strike 

Motions we considered: click here

Some highlights:

  • Motion 1 was passed, except for further (i), which set an agreement deadline of 4 Jan 2019
  • All motions in section 3 (JEP phase 2),  section 5 were passed.
  • In section 4 (valuation), motions 11, 13, 15 and 16 passed. But motions 12 and 14 fell.
  • Conference voted to demand resignation of UUK Chief Executive but not the USS Executive. And demand a formal apology from UUK President.

Again, note inquoracy issue. Advisory status only.

General observations

  1. It was a really interesting day . Intense, stimulating and recommended. I hope other branch members will put themselves forward to experience similar events in 2019.
  2. At a few points during day, especially motion 5 on pay, votes (expressed by sticking up your voting card), were counted, recounted and recounted again. There were debates about quoracy and the standard items that govern the meeting. To me, this was a waste of time and could be easily solved by introducing electronic voting to congress and conference. UCU spent £250 on my travel and accommodation to attend this conference, most of which probably comes from member subscriptions. Electronic voting would give more time for debate and avoid us wasting time like we did today. I may well submit a motion to this effect to a future branch meeting.

USS dispute regains pace ahead of 7 Nov UCU HE sector conference


There have been at least six important developments since the Joint Expert Panel released its report. These include:

1. UUK have consulted employers on JEP recommendations. We understand that the University of London supports JEP recommendations for resolving 2017 valuation (maintaining DB benefit levels with a small contribution increase).

2. Evidence by credible figures within UCU that the 2017 valuation can be resolved without any detrimental changes to benefits or contributions.

Read: “USS valuation rests on a large and demonstrable mistake“, Michael Otsuka

3. The new UCU USS National Dispute Committee (NDC, for short), established following discussion and voting by UCU members (including delegates from this branch!) at the May’s Congress and June’s special HE sector conference met for the first time. A report from their first meeting has been published by UCU and will be considered by UCU’s Superannuation Working Group, and it’s well worth a read.

According to one of our long-standing branch members, the NDC’s report is “hard hitting and to the point…calling for an apology and reimbursement of lost earnings on the basis that the dispute need never have happened“.

4. USS has now indicated, subject to being satisfied with the position reached by the employers, that it would be prepared to hold a fresh valuation which would enable the scheme to take account of JEP and its aftermath.

5. The next step for UCU is that the Higher Education Committee (HEC) will this week consider the latest position including the reports of Superannuation Working Group and the National Disputes Committee (NDC) which is the body that advises the SWG.

6. A delegate conference on USS will then take place on 7 November. A representative from the Senate House branch and will consider and vote on finalised motions. Unfortunately, the draft motions are not available at the moment but we will consult members (before 7 Noc) if input around the next stages of the dispute is required.

Conclusions for today

1. USS dispute is not over and, that even following the publication of JEP, there are a number of important considerations to be taken before UCU determines its negotiating position.

2. We have come a very long way in 12 months. Last November, UUK proposed to close USS defined benefit scheme – this is not on the table now. This is significant progress for UCU and is evidence union-coordinated resistance to change works.

As ever, please get in touch with the branch committee with questions and comments.

Annual General Meeting: 4th December 2018 at 12.30pm


Dear Members,

We invite you to attend the 2018 Annual General Meeting (AGM) for the Senate House branch of UCU. At this meeting, we’ll take a look back at successes and challenges we faced in 2018 and ask you to nominate the branch committee for 2019.

Our AGM is an essential part of the yearly plan and ensures that our union remains democratic by giving you the opportunity to stand and vote in a new committee, make changes to the constitution and hear the annual report from the Chair and other committee members.

Did you know: all UCU members are entitled to attend the AGM within working hours – in other words, you can attend the meeting and then take your lunch break.

Nominate your branch committee for 2019

Your local committee represents you. Make sure you’re involved in choosing who they are!

At the AGM, we will seek to appoint the 2019 branch committee. In the coming weeks, we will provide information about what roles we’d like to appoint to and how you can put yourself forward to these roles.

To coordinate the nominations process, we would like to appoint a Returning Officer. This person will receive nominations in advance of the meeting and announce appointees at the AGM. If you would like to be the Returning Officer at the 2018 AGM, please email or a branch officer by Wednesday 31st October.

A further reason to attend? Sandwiches, tea, coffee, biscuits (and perhaps some mince pies) will be provided. A special guest speaker will also be announced closer to the date to come and join us to present on an important topic relating to the trade union movement.

If you have any questions about or suggestions for the AGM, please get in touch!

Best wishes,

UCU Senate House branch committee (Tim, Angela, Huw, Kumar, Clare, Theresa, Sarah, Liz)

Joint Expert Panel report: our initial view

Pushed for time? Here are the headlines…

  • The expert panel, with both UCU and UUK elected reps, are unanimous in their view that retaining a Defined Benefits (DB) pension is both affordable and viable.
  • The report is critical of the management of the USS pension scheme – this is also the unanimous view of the employee and employer elected panel members.
  • As these views are unanimous, it may offer common ground for UCU and UUK to work from in future.
  • We think the JEP represents significant progress compared to the offers that have been on the table over the last 12 months.

Earlier this month, following a period of almost a whole year, we were very pleased by the release of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) report on USS:

In this post, we share with you what we think are some of the key points from the report, highlight a key point of debate within the union, put the report in the context of the pensions dispute over the last 12 months, and suggest some possible next steps.

Continue reading

Eight things you could write in response to the USS consultation on increased contributions

Why are we being consulted on increased costs now?

The USS Consultation on contribution increases is now open! This consultation is happening because the USS JNC failed to reach agreement on pension reform in 2017.

The incredible industrial action that took place earlier this year over the 2017 USS valuation resulted in the creation of the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) which is seeking to make recommendations for favourable benefit arrangements for the future.

Our expectation is that the outcomes of the JEP will kick these cost-sharing measures into the long grass. It’s still really important though that as many UCU members take part in this consultation so as to let USS know what we think of their awful proposals!

Here are eight things you could write when responding to the consultation

1. You have lost confidence in the administration of the scheme.
(Read the recent USSBrief’s contribution if you need convincing on this point!)

2. You do not consider the case to have been made for increased contributions, and consider it an appalling lack of judgement that the trustee has implemented them without awaiting the report of the Joint Expert Panel.

3. You do not believe that either UniversitiesUK or USS have been acting in the best interests of your university, and are of the opinion that a re-run of the consultation last year which established employer views on the valuation is essential.

4. You believe the scheme has failed to engage effectively with its stakeholders. In particular, that the stakeholders of the scheme have not been given sufficient actuarial information, particularly with regards projections of the funding level over the next 20 years.

5. You are concerned that the trustee has selectively released actuarial information, withholding important data of interest to both employers and members and refusing direct requests for information.

6. You believe that the poor judgement of the trustee and its executive has been a major factor in avoidable industrial action in Higher Education, with direct implications for the education of students, the international reputation of UK institutions, and the livelihoods of its staff.

7. You call on the trustee board to rethink urgently its approach to the funding of the scheme, particularly with regards to its flawed and harmful Test 1, and reconsider the required contribution rates.

8. You would be prepared to take further industrial action in defence of your pension and will do so if the case for any future changes is not made beyond a reasonable doubt, including with much greater levels of transparency.
It’s so important that all USS members contribute to this process otherwise your voice will not be heard!

You can contribute to the consultation now. You’ll need your USS member and national insurance numbers (member numbers can be found on your USS statements and consultation letter recently received).