The joint proposal announced for consideration by the University and College Union (UCU) and Universities UK (UUK) has been roundly rejected by UCU University branches, including Sussex.
The proposal included some element of Defined Benefit, the scheduled removal of which was the initial cited reason for the strikes. Staff would have a guaranteed pension outcome on salaries up to £42,000 per year, with Defined Contribution (set employee payments with outcomes based on investment performance) above that.
It is understood that the ‘overwhelming’ majority of branches saw the £42,000 figure as too low, as well as being disappointed at employer’s lack of willingness to take on more risk. UUK say the rejection is ‘hugely disappointing’, and that they had addressed each of UCU’s demands.
According to the proposal, UUK expected this would see industrial action suspended from tomorrow. After the deliberation of local UCU branches, that has not been the case.
In a vote this morning, 157 out of 170 present at a meeting of Sussex UCU voted for a motion reading:
‘UCU Sussex welcomes UUK’s acceptance that the present system of valuation of USS is flawed, and the decision to refer it to an independent evaluation. In the light of this we call for the maintenance of the existing defined benefit arrangement in its present form for the next three years. If UUK does not agree with this we call on UCU to continue the industrial action.’
The Higher Education Committee, the senior body relating to Universities within the UCU, has now rejected the deal. General Secretary of the UCU Sally Hunt had argued for the proposal after negotiations this week with UUK mediated by ACAS, with Sussex VC Adam Tickell representing University Vice-Chancellors on the employer side.
UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: ‘Branches made it clear today that they wanted to reject the proposal. UCU’s greatest strength is that we are run by and for our members and it is right that members always have the final say.
‘The strike action for this week remains on and we will now make detailed preparations for strikes over the assessment and exam period. We want urgent talks with the universities’ representatives to try and find a way to get this dispute resolved.’
Speaking outside UCU HQ yesterday, Ms Hunt had said ‘we did everything we could to get as much as we could on the table [most importantly] to get rid of DC and get us to the place where we could have Defined Benefit’ to audible heckles from the assembled crowd, clutching ‘#nocapitulation’ signs. One individual shouted that Ms Hunt was ‘now objectively on the side of the employers’.
In an email sent to UCU branches seen by The Badger, Ms Hunt clarified that ‘today’s decision means that:
- the union will not now attend the USS JNC [Joint Negotiating Committee] tomorrow to endorse the ACAS proposal,
- the strike action called for this week will continue and the union will now make detailed preparations for fourteen days of strikes in the assessment and exam season,
- members who are external examiners at USS institutions will be asked to consider their position with a view to putting pressure upon the assessment season,
- the action short of a strike (ASOS) including the refusal to reschedule lectures or classes will remain in place.’
Due to Professor Tickell’s involvement, a national demonstration has been called at Sussex campus for this Thursday (15th). It is understood that after this vote both industrial action and demonstrations remain on, with no prospect of an end to the dispute in the near future. In an email to students today, Deputy VC Saul Becker announced that campus would be totally shut on Thursday, with services rescheduled.
In a statement this afternoon, UUK responded: ‘Universities UK is now consulting with Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) employers about a revised mandate ahead of the scheduled Joint Negotiating Committee tomorrow (Wednesday 14 March).
A Universities UK spokesperson said: ‘It is hugely disappointing that students’ education will be further disrupted through continued strike action.
‘We have engaged extensively with UCU negotiators to find a mutually acceptable way forward. The jointly developed proposal on the table, agreed at ACAS, addresses the priorities that UCU set out.
‘We have listened to the concerns of university staff and offered to increase employer contributions to ensure that all members would receive meaningful defined benefits.
‘We recognised concerns raised about the valuation and have agreed to convene an independent expert valuation group.
“Our hope is that UCU can find a way to continue to engage constructively, in the interests of students and those staff who are keen to return to work.’
Teaching is set to go ahead as scheduled next week.
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