Southampton university staff celebrate pensions win

Current staff to keep final salary pensions after strong campaign against proposals to change them – though scheme will be closed to new non-academic staff from 2019

Staff at the University of Southampton are celebrating after strong campaigning by UNISON and fellow campus unions saw university management withdraw its threat to replace their pensions with an inferior alternative.

The university had planned to close its current final salary scheme for non-academic staff from 1 August and replace it with a ‘defined contribution’ scheme, where a person’s pension would depend on what their total contributions could buy at the time they retired.

But collective action by the members affected, backed up by their union, means that current staff will keep their final salary pensions, though the scheme will not be open to new staff after next January.

“We welcome the change as a massive step in the right direction,” says UNISON rep Adrian Dolby, “but we will keep campaigning for improved pensions for all.

“Everybody deserves a decent pension.”

UNISON head of pensions Glyn Jenkins added that the “significant victory… shows that when we engage enough staff, change is possible”.

The union had argued that the scheme was not in financial difficulty, and organised a petition against the proposals during the statutory consultation period on the changes.

And a campus rally attracted hundreds of staff and students and the campaign was supported by Labour councillors, local Labour MP Alan Whitehead and academic union UCU.

At the end of the consultation, the university backtracked on ending existing members’ pensions.

UNISON says the decision is “an incredible shift” –  although closing the scheme to new members from January is “not ideal” –  which was only made possible by strong trade union campaigning led by the members.