Apr 06

KENT UCU ANALYSIS OF SALLY HUNT’S BALLOT MESSAGE (3.04.18)

WHY WE SUGGEST YOU VOTE NO

The ballot was released and was accompanied by a lengthy email from Sally Hunt (SH), in which she advocated for a ‘yes’ vote to accept the UUK’s offer. There are many problems with the message, but we feel that the misleading information she relayed surrounding the position we are in now, as well as her misinterpretation and misrepresentation of the Revise and Resubmit vs. No Detriment positions, must be addressed. Please read the points below for our response to her message. We are not including the full text of Sally Hunt’s message but you can find that here. With apologies for the length!

We (KENT UCU) address each of Sally Hunt’s eight points using the headings from her message below:

1. What gains have we made?
SH says: “The employers have taken their ‘defined contribution’ proposal off the table. This would have cost the average UCU member around £200,000 in their retirement. Now the employers say they ‘do not intend to return to the proposal’.”

KENT says: It is certainly a positive sign that UUK has now stated they “do not intend to return to the proposal” but offers no assurances; members need to ACTUALLY know that this proposal is definitely off the table. An intention not to return is not good enough. If the proposal is dead, then UUK needs to say that it is dead.

2. A guaranteed pension
SH: The employers previously said the only affordable defined benefit scheme would have such a small guaranteed element it was not worth pursuing. Now they say that future work will “reflect the clear wish of staff to have a guaranteed pension comparable with current provision.”

KENT: The offer we were given on 12 March, which was almost unanimously rejected by UCU membership across the country, was also described as ‘comparable’ and ‘broadly comparable’ with current provision. It was a defined benefits offer, but it would have drastically cut our pensions. We know that UUK’s understanding of comparable is very different to ours.

3. A joint expert panel
SH: “The employers have ignored UCU’s criticisms of the valuation methodology used by USS for years. Now they have agreed to a joint expert panel, nominated in equal numbers from both sides, to agree key principles to underpin the joint approach of UUK and UCU to the valuation of the USS fund.”

KENT: There is a lot that we do not know about this panel. This was the point that raised the most requests for clarification not only in our branch, but in branches around the country. To date, no clarifications have been given. We understand that not all clarification can be provided at this point but:

We do not know its composition, its scope, whether it will be accepted by USS trustees or the Pensions Regulator, its time frame, whether its recommendations will be accepted, when its recommendations will be made in the academic year, etc. We also do not know for certain that the findings of this panel will be retroactive – is this panel working to replace the problematic November valuation and the preceding dodgy employer survey, or is it going to impact the next valuation (see below pt. 4)? What happens to our pensions post-April 2019 if this panel’s focus is the next valuation? There are simply too many crucial unknowns.

Further, in the last pensions dispute in 2015, part of the resolution was “an agreement to continue a review of the contested funding methodology adopted by USS.” We have been made this promise before – it is thus fair to suggest at this point that we need more specifics before we can trust that this review will be (even potentially) meaningful.

4. Reassessed valuation
SH: “The employers said that the debate about the USS valuation was concluded. Now they accept that the joint expert panel “will make an assessment of the valuation” and make joint recommendations to the JNC aimed at providing a guaranteed [e.g. defined benefit] pension.”

KENT: From the information we have been provided, together with expert analysis and commentary, we know that the panel is likely to inform the next valuation cycle, not this one. Thus, the debate about the USS valuation is not concluded.

It appears that, despite the setting up of the joint expert panel, the 2017 valuation will still go ahead, on the November 2017 assumptions, and this is likely to trigger large automatic increases in contributions or reversion to previous proposals to cut benefits.

We do not have a guarantee of the status quo beyond April 2019. The joint expert panel may or may not lead to rational reform of the valuation process for future valuations. If changes are forced prior to a new valuation going into effect in the next valuation cycle, it will be almost impossible to win back the losses. We must have guarantees and clarity about what the process is, and what we are walking into.

5. Comparability with TPS
SH: “The employers said that the unfavourable comparisons made by UCU between USS benefits and those provided by the Teachers’ Pension Scheme (TPS) were inappropriate. Now they have agreed to joint discussions on ‘comparability between USS and TPS’.”

KENT: While we would like discussions about making USS more comparable with TPS, all we are being promised right now are discussions.

Further, what is left out of this statement is that in the same sentence in UUK’s latest offer, they also want to continue exploring new forms of pension schemes. For UUK, this has long been a desire to move towards a DC scheme, with a Collective Defined Contribution (CDC) scheme being their current preference. UUK has been offering it throughout this dispute as an alternative to straight DC. The risks for employees are the same as the DC scheme that we went on strike over. They are not acceptable.

6. The Pensions Regulator engagement
SH: “The Pensions Regulator has already indicated in a letter to USS that they will engage with the joint expert panel. Similarly, if there is agreement from UCU members, UUK and UCU will jointly approach the USS Board to seek its endorsement.”

KENT: The Pensions Regulator is a bit of an unknown in this dispute, and we welcome signs of flexibility from tPR. However, there is still time to work out further details and clarity in the terms of this panel before tPR’s 30 June deadline.

7. Can we get more?
SH: “Some members have argued that the union should press the employers for a further step – to ‘review and resubmit’ their proposal so it includes a ‘no detriment’ clause. ‘No detriment’ in this context means that the employers would fund, on their own, any changes required to retain existing benefits and contribution levels which arise from the independent joint expert panel’s report.
I respect the intent but ‘review and resubmit’ contains a significant flaw as a strategy.
Under pressure from UCU, the employers have conceded an independent joint expert panel. They have now even agreed that whatever comes out of the panel, they will work with UCU to retain a comparable, guaranteed pension.
However, while many vice-chancellors are now sympathetic to UCU’s views on the USS valuation and risk, none that I have met have been prepared to discuss a ‘no detriment’ agreement.”

KENT: The revise and resubmit/R+R (not “review and resubmit”) option was proposed by many branches because the offer lacked the clarity and guarantees necessary for it to be accepted. To be clear: the R+R position was asking the UCU Higher Education Committee (HEC) to NOT send the offer to ballot prior to clarifications and guarantees being secured. In essence, it was asking for the UCU negotiators to be able to secure more certainty from what is currently a unilateral UUK offer. Ours was not a straightforward reject, but rather saying progress had been made, but we didn’t have enough certainty or, even more modestly, clarity yet and NOW would be the time to get it.

Incidentally, the no detriment argument is premised on the rejection of the flawed November valuation. The fact that UUK maintains that the November valuation is robust is what is causing the no detriment option to be an “impossibility”.

8. [Sally Hunt’s] proposed approach
SH: “I do not think we should risk what we have achieved to chase a ‘no detriment’ clause.
I believe instead that we should bank the substantial concessions we have achieved from the employers – the dumping of the defined contributions proposal, the creation of the joint expert panel, the agreement to discuss USS versus TPS, inter-generational and equality issues and, of course, the employers’ new found commitment to defined benefit.
Then we should work hard to ensure the joint expert panel comes up with sensible proposals which have the confidence of UCU members.
If the employers behave properly, we should work with them to protect your pension benefits.
If they misbehave, we should use the union’s new-found strength to challenge them again.
I am cautiously optimistic.”

KENT: It is disappointing that the General Secretary of UCU is not keeping all options on the table.
The only concession listed in Sally Hunt’s message is the potential ‘dumping’ of the DC proposal. But again, it is the Employers’ current intention not to return to it, but there is no guarantee that it is dead. If it was ‘dumped’, UUK should say so unequivocally. That would make this process much easier and fair moving forward.

We agree that if the employers behave “properly”, we should work with them to protect our pensions. Statements by the employers suggest that they do not take seriously the prospect of making any serious reform of the valuation. Unfortunately, throughout this dispute there has been significant reason to be wary of placing our futures in the hands of UUK, hoping that it behaves “properly”.

KUCU’s Position
We remain highly skeptical of UUK’s offer and the leap of faith that we are being asked to take. Sally Hunt is not certain either, she is “cautiously optimistic”. That does not dispel our skepticism or assuage our modest concerns.

We want a REASONABLE short period of time to attain greater clarity and certainty about the various elements of UUK’s proposal.

We strongly recommend that you vote ‘No’ to reject this proposal.

Some Helpful Sources

USS Briefs: Papers by a number of academics in response to this most recent proposal and the issues underpinning the current dispute.

Transcript of the Branch Reps meeting at UCU HQ on Wednesday, 28 March
Simple breakdown of branch positions expressed at the Branch Reps meeting at UCU HQ on Wednesday, 28 March

Follow us @UoK_UCU on Twitter. You don’t have to be twitter-savvy to set up an account and follow us, you don’t need to do anything else with your twitter account, and you need not ever send a tweet (!) but it is the speediest way to keep each other informed.

KENT BRANCH COMMITTEE

Apr 06

Local Hardship Fund – Update

Dear University of Kent UCU members,

I would like to update you all on the local hardship fund, which covers losses sustained from the strike days on 22nd Feb, 23rd Feb and 26th Feb (the national fund covers later days).

The local hardship committee has met twice this week and considered 26 applications.

We have been able to accept 24 of those and electronic payments have now been made to all of those members.

In the other 2 cases we require some extra information, but hope to be able to pay claims on receipt of that information.

We would encourage all members suffering hardship from pay deductions for those to claim as soon as possible, so that we can make payments as soon as possible.

Details of how to do so, both locally, and nationally, are contained in the chain of emails below.

If, for whatever reason, pay deductions have not yet been made from you, but are made in a future month, rest assured that you will then be able to claim (within 3 months of the deduction being made, but the sooner you apply, the sooner you can receive).

If you would like to donate to the local hardship fund, and we warmly thanks all those who have already done so (approximately five thousand pounds has been raised, on top of the branch’s initial contribution of thirty thousand), details are here, as well as details of local school top-up funds.
https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/ucuuok/2018/03/03/membership-and-hardship-fund-donations/
Best wishes,
Owen

Mar 29

Local Hardship Fund

Dear University of Kent UCU members,

I accessed my payslip today (Thursday 29th March) on Staff Connect.

It shows the first industrial action pay deductions, as it will for many colleagues.

It is listed as “Ind Action Unpaid” and specifies the amount, which in my case is 3/365ths of my annual salary, as I expected, given the way the university management have announced they will spread deductions (at UCU’s request).

It is now possible to apply to the local hardship fund if these deductions have caused you hardship. Please note, the local fund covers days 1-3 of the strikes, the national fund covers days 4 to 14 (details of how to apply to this online at https://ucu.custhelp.com/app/fighting_fund/
and more guidance is here: https://ucu.custhelp.com/ci/fattach/get/175411/0/filename/Fighting+Fund+Applications+Guidance.pdf )

The instructions for how to apply locally differ, depending whether you are hourly-paid or on a substantive contract. Please carefully read the relevant section. If you have multiple contracts of different types, please ask for personal advice.

Remember, we can only accept applications from University of Kent UCU members (we will check – if UCU have you listed as a member of another branch, this MUST be resolved before we can pay locally) and we can only pay a maximum of £50 per strike day (or the value of the loss, if smaller).

Substantive staff

Please save a PDF copy of the payslip which shows the deduction from Staff Connect. I was able to do this using Google Chrome, by selecting Print then using Destination to Save as PDF. I was NOT able to do this using Firefox and the Staff Connect help warns it may not work using Internet Explorer.

Email this payslip to myself, along with a covering email, stating the dates you were on strike and a brief explanation of the reason the deduction will cause you hardship. Please also give bank account details, so that we can make an electronic payment to you as soon as your application is processed. You can also send copies of documents by internal mail (Owen Lyne, SMSAS, Sibson), but email is likely to be quicker.

Hourly-paid staff

We will AUTOMATICALLY consider an hourly-paid colleague to be in hardship – no further evidence/explanation of that is required.

To demonstrate the losses from industrial action, which we don’t expect to be clear from a payslip, please provide the following document.

A completed copy of the “Record of Hours Not Worked (hourly paid staff) form”, authorised by the employing school:
https://www.kent.ac.uk/human-resources/pensions/documents/Hourly%20paid%20staff%20-%20Record%20of%20hours%20missed%20and%20Maintaining%20pension%20contributions%20-%20Claim%20Form.docxEmail this to myself (eg scanned), along with a covering email, stating the dates you were on strike, a note of your hourly rate and the total amount of money you have therefore lost.

Please also give bank account details, so that we can make an electronic payment to you as soon as your application is processed. You can also send copies of documents by internal mail (Owen Lyne, SMSAS, Sibson), but email is likely to be quicker. For bank details, we will need all of: Name of your account; your account number and your bank sort code.

GTAs

We believe GTAs should suffer no deductions, but inform us if you do.

Best wishes,
Owen (on behalf of local hardship committee)

Mar 08

International Womans Day

Poster here

Mar 05

Information for overseas (esp. Chinese students

One of our members has produced these documents to help you answer questions from international students.

For International students

For Chinese Students

Mar 05

Support from little ones

Mar 03

Kent in the News

For all the wrong reasons:
3rd March 2017
Guardian:
https://www.theguardian.com/education/2018/mar/02/uk-universities-threaten-punish-striking-staff-cancelled-lectures

Kent online:
http://www.kentonline.co.uk/canterbury/news/university-accused-of-bribing-striking-160939/

We were also on an unofficial academic boycott list, we asked to be removed pending consulting local members.

Mar 03

Timetable of Kent strike events

The timetable is on google docs at:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lICVdji1AJroGDBgguaXJrs_Z29xCdWbY43-5EUaRZ0/edit

Please add any events that you are planning.

Mar 03

Membership and hardship fund donations

Dear UCU members,

A particular welcome to the 220 new members since the start of February! Today’s local membership list has 982 members on it, and many of the newest processed today actually joined on Feb 21st – so big is the processing backlog of colleagues eager to join us (rest assured they are all members and fully covered, I just don’t know it yet). Thus I am certain we are truly well over 1000 members now and likely well on the way to 1100.

I would like to remind colleagues, and inform new ones, of the various ways we are raising money to support those who suffer hardship as a result of any pay deductions for industrial action.

Firstly, we have set upan account for the local branch hardship fund (which will make payments for the first 3 strike days) with Unity Trust Bank.

The UCU requires all donations and payments to be processed electronically.

If you would like to donate to the local hardship fund, you need the following information:

Account name UCU Kent LA26

Account number 20391184

Sortcode 60-83-01

Then there is the national fighting fund (which will cover strikes days 4 onwards) and 3 crowdfunding schemes in particular Kent departments. If I have missed any out, do tell me privately and I will add next time I send this reminder.

Here are the links:

https://www.ucu.org.uk/fightingfund

English:

https://www.gofundme.com/strikefund-eng

Law:

https://www.gofundme.com/precarious-teachers-strike-fund

Psychology:

https://www.gofundme.com/ucustrike-emergency-fund-psych

Politics and IR:

https://www.gofundme.com/7kpam-ucu-strike-emergency-fund-polir

SSPSSR:

https://www.gofundme.com/ucustrike-precarious-workers-fund

Mar 03

Picketing next week

Picketing at Medway on Monday from 8am, Meet at Gillingham Building.
Picketing at Canterbury on Monday from 8am, meet at Jarman Plaza

It is vital that we keep the pressure up.
We ask all members at all levels in Kent to join the picket on Monday. If you have not felt able up to now, you will be warmly welcomed. If you are in a role that makes you feel conflicted just take a few minutes to say hello to your colleagues, grab a coffee with us or pop in to a teach in.

There is no legal “right” to picket but peaceful picketing has long been recognised as a lawful activity. We can peacefully obtain or communicate information and peacefully ask others not to work.

We cannot compel, physically block people or vehicles. We are not to use violent or abusive language or behaviour, we cannot damage property. Only members can picket, don’t bring friends and family to the picket line.

We cannot trespass and all colleagues and Students in the University have a right to be treated with respect and dignity.

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