Whilst we were on strike this month, the University of Kent rejected UCU’s proposal to stave off cuts to our pension pay-outs. This is the text of their rejection: Proposed Consultation Response – UCU proposal feb22.pdf
Management’s response is clear: their financial mismanagement has led to the position whereby we must take a ~35% cut to our pensions. Instead of being able to temporarily soak up a small increase in contributions, only for these to undoubtably be lowered after the next valuation, they have instead decided to build more fancy buildings and pay off creditors earlier than needed. We have outlined how we believe management is mismanaging finances in greater detail in this blog post.
As we have reported in previous branch meetings, there are currently two legal actions being brought against USS: one from UCU HQ itself and another by two UCU pensions reps., Neil Davies of Bristol University and Ewan McGaughey of KCL. UCU HQ have been quiet on their action, no doubt to ensure USS cannot prepare a defence in advance however, on 28th February, the High Court accepted the latter case, which will now be heard in court on 21st March. There are a range of remedies that the claimants could seek from the court, but ultimately these would come down to the judge. Neil and Ewan have said that they intend to right the wrongs we are alleging (e.g. timing of the valuation, implausible valuation assumptions, discrimination, costs, lack of a plan for climate change).
This legal challenge makes up one prong of a three-pronged attack on USS:
- Political: through hard hitting industrial action
- Legal: through national UCU focussing on bringing challenges to JNC/USS processes and rules, and
- Replacing USS ltd as a trustee.
It is clear that the USS Trustees must be replaced by either another company or partially through a rebalancing of its members and the removal of the independent chair with a casting vote. This independent chair has no formally political stake in the issue and, consequently, always sides with the most prudent option on the table. This is always the UUK’s option as they are being leaned on by The Pensions Regulator to reduce almost all risk in the valuation.
As Neil Davies has argued, it is vital that UCU is proactive in submitting plans to the JNC for replacing the USS Trustees. Without a proactive approach, UCU will remain reactive and reactionary; submitting plans will at least force UUK to provide reasons as to why they want to maintain the current status quo and this, in turn, may open them up to legal challenges.
It is clear that sustained and committed industrial action is essential to a successful campaign to save our pensions. Whilst the benefits of this period of action are yet to be seen, we would not have saved 50% of our pensions in the previous period of action without striking through that cold March. Whilst no-one would rather go on strike than do their jobs, and there are financial costs to doing so, the alternative to going on strike is thousands of pounds deducted from every member’s pension. You can see how much your pension will be reduced by using the UCU USS modeller.
Not only is this a direct assault on the remuneration we agreed with our employer when we signed our contracts, but such enormous reductions will have a significant impact on future employment: it is hard to see what will attract staff to work at Kent and other British universities when they can be so much better of financially abroad.
Branch officers will continue to pressure UCU HQ to take a proactive approach to addressing USS, and to ensure that industrial action is as effective as possible. For example, branches must have control of the days on which they strike so that they can work around reading weeks, etc.
We would also welcome input from members with expertise in the pensions sector or with governance bodies. None of the officers have specialist expertise in the area, but are keen to be as effective as possible in defending our pensions. Please get in touch with me if you have any expertise that could contribute to the fight.
Thanks and best wishes,
Co-Vice President on behalf of the Committee