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Marking boycott ends after staff accept pension proposals

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) have voted to accept new pension proposals suggested by Universities UK (UUK), ending an ongoing dispute which had sparked the two-week marking boycott of November 6 last year.

67.1 percent voted against reinstating their marking boycott and instead voted to accept the proposals which concern the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

The new proposals include an increase in the earnings cap to £55,000 from the initial proposal of £40,000, although the UUK had already formally proposed an increase to £50,000 during the ballot.

Other significant new proposals include an agreement with employers that any improvement in the USS funding position should be used to improve benefits rather than be kept in USS funds for ‘de-risking’.

Employers have also guaranteed that they will maintain an increased pension contribution for at least the next five years.

67.1 percent voted against reinstating their marking boycott

A number of the original controversial proposals with ‘final salary’, the salary used to determine pension earnings, however, have not been removed in the newly agreed version.

Rather than taking the ‘final salary’ as a proportion of the individual’s income in the year before their retirement, it will be taken as a ‘career average’, the average earnings throughout their period of membership with the USS. This generally lowers the pension income of staff.

The ‘final salary’ will also be indexed by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the generally lower value of inflation, instead of being taken as a fixed value.

Some members of the Warwick UCU branch were disappointed with the accepted proposals.

Warwick UCU President Professor Dennis Leech commented on the response of members at the latest Annual General Meeting: “Members are very angry with both the Union negotiators and the employers for the changes they have agreed.

“These changes will make what has hitherto been an excellent final salary scheme into a very inferior one.

“It will mean the end of the final salary link and its replacement with a hybrid scheme consisting of pensions based on career average earnings up to a cap of £50k and a savings scheme (defined contribution) above that.

“We do not accept the case for change put forward by the employers (who are all pre-1992 universities). They have made the scheme appear to be in deficit by putting out false information and making absurdly cautious assumptions.”

The agreement follows months of disagreement between the two organisations.

Members are very angry with both the Union negotiators and the employers for the changes they have agreed.
Dennis Leech

Tensions reached a high point when UCU members at 69 universities went on a two-week marking boycott after negotiations collapsed on 22 October 2014.

87 percent voted in favour of the boycott, with an unprecedented 45 percent turnout.

The boycott was suspended following a joint statement from the UCU and UUK announcing their decision to work together to come to an agreement, along with setting the dates for a series of negotiating meetings.

Nevertheless, Leech claims that members of the UCU have not been consulted enough. “They have tried to prove that pensioners will live longer in the future by putting out life expectancy figures without evidence.

“One of our members, professor Jane Hutton of the Statistics department and a pensions expert, has exposed their mendacity… we are very critical of the UCU negotiators for not drawing on the wealth of expertise on pensions matters in universities.”

The joint statement also claimed that the early suspension of the boycott had prevented much damage being done to students or staff.

Second-year Computer Science undergraduate Ebony Babb acknowledged this, saying: “if I’m honest, I wasn’t even really aware that there was a marking boycott at the time”.


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