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: http://www.ussjep.org.uk/report-of-the-joint-expert-panel/

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

Help us set priorities for 2018-19

20180831_172159LAUNCHING NOW: a survey for members and prospective members

We would like to encourage all University of London staff to complete our short questionnaire.

Fill out the paper copy we’re circulating at desks or complete the survey online. Please just fill it out once.

Paper copies can be returned to us in these ways:

  • Hand it to a branch rep
  • Drop off at union office Senate House (SB25). We are there Mondays 12.30pm – 1.30pm directions: london.ac.uk/2018/07/27/monday-lunchtimes but you can pop completed forms under the door at any time.
  • Come by UCU stand in Deller Hall; Tuesday 4th and Wednesday 12th September 12.00pm – 1.00pm
  • Stick in an envelope and put in internal post (Room: SB25, addressed to UCU)

The survey will close on Friday 14 September.

Results will be shared with UCU members at the next branch meeting: Wednesday 19 September at 12.30pm in the Court Room, Senate House

What’s the difference between a robust management style and bullying?

There can be a fine line between behaviour by a manager that is encouraged to help us do a good job and behaviour that is deliberately confrontational and aggressive.

If you’ve ever wondered how you can start identifying the difference, take a look at this questionnaire which gives you some points to consider.

mgmt or bullying

It comes from UCU’s guide to challenging bullying and harassment at work (UCU), which is definitely also worth a read.

If you find yourself ticking lots of boxes on this questionnaire, then please do get in touch.

Mental health and wellbeing support services for UCU members

Education Support Partnership

At a recent training course, we learnt about Educational Support Partnership (ESP). They provide a free helpline which is available to UCU members.

In their words,

“We have been in education for over 140 years and our specialist team of counsellors and information experts are fully trained to deal with a wide range of personal and professional issues affecting your staff. It provides:

  • confidential emotional support and counselling available 24 hours a day, 365 days a week
  • up to six sessions of face-to-face or telephone counselling
  • access to online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
  • management consultation to support those responsible for managing others
  • specialist information on work-life balance
  • financial and legal information
  • information on local services such as elder care and childcare”

For more information about Education Support Partnership, visit their website: https://www.educationsupportpartnership.org.uk/

FREE HELPLINE: 08000 562 561

Update on pensions

Dear Members,

I understand that this is a bit of a long one but I wanted for you all to be as informed as possible so please do take the time to read it.

By now most of you will have received an email from HR sent on behalf of USS. The email explained what their plan for cost sharing will look like: 

Under the 2017 valuation that USS approved in November 2017, contributions will eventually rise by 10.6% from 26% of salary (18% employer, 8% member) to 36.6% (24.9% employer, 11.7% member) in order to retain the status quo.

Why is the cost-sharing rule being implemented in USS?
Members will already know that under its current valuation, USS is in deficit. USS has been claiming for months that it is legally obliged to have a plan in place for dealing with that deficit. But the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) will not make any decisions about the current valuation until September 2018, and the previous plan to recover the deficit by removing the Defined Benefit element of the scheme was left in tatters after strike action by our members: you!

As a result, USS has chosen to trigger a process known as ‘cost-sharing’, although it is better described by the phrase ‘shared contribution increases’. Under Rules 76.4–8 of the scheme, the trustee can require employers and members to increase their contributions to the rate which they deem sufficient. This decision has been made without the pension regulator’s enforcement – they are still happy for UUK, USS, and UCU to resolve this without their intervention.

We must stay vigilant because there are few signs that UUK has abandoned its long-standing goal of transferring as much of the cost and the risk of pension provision onto employees as possible. Prior to the USS dispute, UUK used a manufactured deficit in USS to represent Defined Benefit pensions as unaffordable. The JEP arose out of USS members’ growing appreciation that the deficit was, in fact, illusory, and the reforms which it had been used to justify were not needed. More information on the JEP can be found on the UCU website at this address: https://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforuss

Pension Contribution Calculator
Here’s a tool that lets you get an idea of how much more you can expect to pay in contributions under this new plan: https://beta.observablehq.com/@scjoss/uss-cost-sharing.

It’s important to note that UniversitiesUK had the option of taking up the extra member increases themselves should they have wished to do so, but turned it down. That would have been possible by a resolution of the JNC. UCU negotiator Sam Marsh pushed for UniversitiesUK to cover the full burden of interim cost sharing, given strike was entirely UUK’s fault and we’ve already lost a lot of money via strike deductions. This seemed a fair compromise. Again, UUK said no – hence it falls to us all.

Now it looks like USS are prepared to listen to a rethink from UUK on their ‘risk-appetite’ (which if you remember, most said they were willing to stay will current level, with some saying they’d be happy with increase – UUK decided to go with the minority of employers and push through a low-risk appetite strategy). This is an area the JEP are likely to comment on. The hope will be that a change to the Test 1 parameter will lead to a resolution to this dispute but it’s important to keep informed.

Excellent information can be found on https://ussbriefs.com – A website built and populated with content by UCU members volunteering their time and expertise to keep the rest of us informed.

If you have any questions please email ucu@london.ac.uk.

All my best,

Tim Hall
UCU Senate House Branch Chair