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In the news 13 December 2019

Second report from Joint Expert Panel on USS released

UCU has welcomed the second report from the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) looking at the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). The JEP was set up by UCU and Universities UK following the industrial dispute over proposed changes to the USS pension scheme.

Commenting on the report, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'UCU welcomes the second report from the JEP and we would like to thank the panel members for all their work and also thank those who submitted evidence.

'This second report looks at key issues around the governance of the scheme and makes some strong recommendations that, if implemented, should give scheme members greater confidence about how the scheme is run. We are particularly pleased that the report highlights the importance of mutuality.

'This report sets out a path which may provide an opportunity for lower contributions than USS has scheduled. We need all parties to now engage with the report in order to secure members' pension benefits in an affordable way and to ensure the scheme's long-term sustainability.

'We also welcome the JEP's call for facilitated meetings between stakeholders, the Trustee and, where appropriate, The Pension Regulator, as a way to find agreement between all parties. While implementation of the JEP recommendations won't solve all the issues at stake in the dispute, this report provides a strong starting point for further discussions.'

The press statement from the Joint Expert Panel is available here and the full report is available here.

 

UCU says universities need to give their representatives a mandate if they want to resolve dispute

UCU wrote the Universities and Employers Association (Ucea) on Wednesday in relation to the pay and equalities dispute, outlining the union's disappointment at the employers' letter from last week that said they were unwilling to reopen negotiations on pay.

The letter reaffirmed UCU's position that all four elements of the dispute - pay, casualisation, workload and equality pay gaps - needed to be meaningfully addressed if the dispute was to be resolved.

The letter confirmed that UCU is willing to meet Ucea on Tuesday (17 December) for further negotiations. UCU made it clear in the letter that universities should provide UCEA with a mandate to make an offer that substantively engages with every element of the dispute.

 

Colleges are out of excuses to deal with pay problem, says UCU

Writing on the eve of the election for Tes, UCU head of further education Andrew Harden said that the key question facing colleges post-election was how to put new funding to best use. He says that all of the main political parties pledged extra cash for further education during the campaign as the importance of additional resource to meet the country's growing skills needs has finally got through to politicians of all stripes.

He argues that a key priority must be to close the gap between rhetoric and reality when it comes to how further education staff are valued by their employers. Andrew says that staff are the cornerstone of every successful college, but they have suffered from a decade of cuts, closures and pay suppression.

He warns colleges that if they fail to act now then they will face disruption in the news year but concludes that there is an opportunity for college leaders to strike a different tone for the years ahead, by rewarding staff fairly for the important work they do.

 

Universities should pay immigration fees for staff

UCU is calling for universities to pay immigration fees for their overseas staff, as academics struggle to pay costs that can total many thousands of pounds to take up their posts. The union said the escalating cost of visas discourages qualified professionals from applying to work at UK universities and discriminates against migrants.

Speaking to the Financial Times, Dima Chami - one of UCU's newly-elected migrant members representatives - said: 'The fees are visible part of the hostile environment'

Non-EU overseas employees make up 13 per cent of academic staff at UK universities and must have a Tier 2 visa to work in Britain. Fees, which apply for the employee and each dependent, begin at £610 per person for a three-year visa, rising to £1,220 for five years. There is also an annual mandatory immigration health surcharge of £400 per person for use of the NHS.

This means visas can cost as much as £12,880 for a family of four over five years, according to the Royal Society, Britain's independent scientific academy, who argues Britain needs to reassess its visa offer to remain competitive in research.

 

Another bad week for the University of Liverpool

Following complaints about strong-arm tactics and controversy over vice-chancellor Janet Beer's £50,000 pay rise as staff walked out on strike for eight days, the University of Liverpool was back in the news this week. The Guardian reported that UCU members who went on strike over pay and pensions asked to work for free or face penalties as university employers refuse to discuss low wages.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said that Liverpool's punitive approach was not one being taken by many universities. The university's controversial vice- chancellor was chair of Universities UK during last year's strikes.

Jo said: 'We know those in charge of the dispute have been putting pressure on universities to go in as strong as possible in terms of docking pay and demand people make up work they were not paid for when on strike. We hope other university leaders can persuade those in charge of the dispute on the employers' side that their energies would be better spent trying to resolve the disputes, not to punish staff. This type of approach failed in the last dispute as it angered students, who could see how unfair it was, and hardened the resolve of staff.'

 

Teesside University says staff must apply for permission to work off-campus

Times Higher Education reported that staff at Teesside University have been told they cannot work from home for more than one or two days a semester. UCU said the imposition of such archaic conditions restricted people's ability to do their jobs and could lead to industrial action.

UCU regional official Iain Owens said there was "widespread discontent among staff" about working conditions and "archaic restrictions being imposed on the ability of staff to work flexibly". He said: 'Restricting staff to only two days per semester working from home is patronising, impractical and smacks of micromanagerialism.

'Staff have grave concerns that the proposals will impact negatively on teaching quality, research output and staff morale, which is already stretched to breaking point. Members feel that professional respect should be afforded to all staff, and if there is no resolution and the restrictions remain, then we may have no option but to ballot for a formal dispute.'

Last updated: 27 March 2020

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