University members asked to strike to defend USS pension scheme

Industrial action ballot follows 91% rejection of proposed move to ‘defined contribution’ scheme in consultation of affected members

UNISON is urging members at universities across the UK who are members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme to vote for strike action to defend their pension scheme, which employers want to change from a ‘defined benefit’ scheme to a ‘defined contribution’ scheme.

That would mean members’ pensions would depend not on how long they’d worked and paid into the scheme, but what sort of package they could buy with their individual fund when they retired.

Academic staff colleagues at universities across the UK who are in the UCU union have already begun strike action over the proposals, which UNISON members rejected by 91% in an internal consultation.

Now, the union’s higher education service group executive is unanimously calling on them to take strike action. An industrial action ballot will start in April.

“It seems unthinkable that Universities UK is putting forward a proposal to make some of the lowest-paid take on more risk for less money in retirement,” said UNISON head of higher education Donna Rowe-Merriman.

She pointed out that the proposed changes will affect everyone currently in the scheme, including professional support staff such as administrators and librarians, as well as a number of cleaners, security staff and porters.

Ms Rowe-Merriman added: “The significant turnout in UNISON’s consultation shows the strength of feeling. UNISON members are prepared to defend the USS scheme and take strike action alongside UCU colleagues.

“UNISON believes the current valuation used to value the USS pension scheme deficit is flawed and that any proposals for changes to the USS scheme should be based on an agreed process and a jointly respected actuarial assessment.

“Attacks on pensions for support staff go beyond the current USS dispute.

“The employers have offered years of below-inflation pay cuts, arguing that pensions are part of the reward package for staff. Now they are offering cuts to pay and pensions, with no fig leaf to hide behind.”

Beyond the Universities Superannuation Scheme, Ms Rowe-Merriman pointed out that “an increasing number of universities with separate local pension schemes for support staff are also seeking to undermine their schemes and others are exploring ways to prevent staff from getting access to the Local Government Pension Scheme.

“This is not the way to reward staff for their hard work, by robbing them of their hard-earned pension.”

“Universities in the UK are on a race to the bottom of pension provision for their staff. UNISON members are saying enough is enough – the mood is changing.

“Staff are making it clear that decent pensions are worth taking action to defend.”

Related story: HE members to be consulted over proposed pension changes (13 February 18)

Related story: UNISON writes to vice chancellors over university pensions dispute (20 February 18)

UNISON’s response to USS consultation [,pdf]

Factsheet: What is a defined contribution pension scheme? [Word]