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HE industrial action update: revised 'Four Fights' offer, UCU response coming soon

15 April 2020 | last updated: 24 April 2020

As I have said before, the issues which we are in dispute with employers over have not gone away.

For all the work our members and staff are doing to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, we continue to devote a lot of time and effort to our ongoing negotiations on pay, equality, workload and job security and on USS pensions. 

Your elected negotiators have continued to talk to employers since our strike action came to an end, to press for agreement on the issues that concern us. Meanwhile, we continue to ask the branches in our higher education disputes to keep pressure on employers by observing action short of a strike (ASOS) until our mandate for industrial action ends on 28 April. 

Four Fights update: UCU negotiators responding to revised employer offer 

In the Four Fights dispute over pay and working conditions, employers recently tabled a revised version of the offer which they originally made in January. The offer arrived on 1 April. Our negotiators have responded and the two parties are planning to meet soon. I will update you as soon as I can about the progress of those talks. 

As you know, negotiators can make recommendations on how the union should respond to an offer from employers, but the decision-making power lies solely with the elected reps on UCU's higher education committee (HEC). The HEC will consider any offer that is on the table, and any steps which it may wish to take, at its next meeting on Friday 24 April. 

USS update 

In our USS dispute, our negotiators have continued to focus on making employers work with us to bring about positive changes to the way USS governs itself and conducts its valuation process. Talks continue on the recommendations of the Joint Expert Panel, via regular meetings of the tripartite group, which is chaired by Joanne Segars (the chair of the Joint Expert Panel) and features representatives from UCU, Universities UK and USS. Updates from each meeting are published on the Joint Expert Panel website.

At the same time we have also been attending regular meetings of the USS joint negotiating committee (JNC) and the USS valuation methodology discussion forum (VMDF), which was created for employers and UCU to discuss the 2020 valuation with USS.

This has been a particularly intense period which will have an important bearing on the longer-term future of our pensions, and our negotiators have been working extremely hard to respond to every development. As things stand we have several causes for concern: 

1. We remain some distance from employers on what would constitute an acceptable resolution to the dispute, as far as the sharing of pension contributions is concerned.

2. UCU and our professional advisers, First Actuarial, are not satisfied by USS's plans for the 2020 valuation. In particular, we do not feel that USS has provided employers or member representatives with enough information about the advantages, as well as the disadvantages, of alternative approaches to the valuation which could make the Scheme more affordable and sustainable, without necessarily exposing it to more risk. However, employers are currently more willing than they have been previously to present a united front with us on issues such as these - thanks to your industrial action and the continuing pressure it has placed on them. UCU and employers are continuing to work together to seek further information and clarifications from USS on matters that particularly concern us. 

3. The coronavirus crisis has serious implications for the pensions industry, and particularly for schemes such as USS whose valuation date happened to fall on March 31 this year. USS has - unlike some other schemes - decided to go ahead with its valuation as originally scheduled. Our negotiators continue to argue that USS needs to take a long-term view of the situation, bearing in mind the overall health and viability of the employers that support it, rather than making knee-jerk decisions based on short-term market shocks.

More updates coming soon

I will update you further as negotiations continue to develop, and in particular after the HEC meets on 24 April. 

Jo Grady
UCU general secretary

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