Agreement reached subject to approval between UCU and UUK

Image credit: Will Tilbrook

This evening, UCU have announced a provisional agreement with UUK concerning university staff pensions, in a bid to end the ongoing strike dispute.

The announcement, posted on the UCU Twitter feed at 7pm this evening, explained that 'ACAS talks on USS concluded with Universities UK (UUK) and the University and College Union (UCU) agreeing to a revised benefit reform proposal (subject to consultation by both parties and subsequent agreement at the USS Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC)).' The discussions under ACAS, which stands for Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service, were instigated at the end of last month, though progress was frequently reported as disappointing. 

The three-page agreement established today states that 'both parties agreed to a transitional benefit arrangement outcome for this valuation which maintains a meaningful level of defined benefits (DB) for all scheme members. The transitional arrangement will take effect from 1 April 2019 lasting for 3 years.' It also mentions that 'to achieve this interim solution both employers and members will be required to pay higher contributions. This includes a total employer contribution of 19.3% of salaries and a total member contribution of 8.7%. These increased contributions are only in place for the duration of the 3-year transitional arrangement.'

The document also points out that 'given the concerns raised by some employers and UCU about the scheme’s valuation methodology and assumptions an agreement has been reached between UCU and UUK to convene an independent expert valuation group...UCU and UUK jointly agree to form an independent expert group on valuation with an independent chair, involving academics and pension professionals, and liaising with USS. The objective will be to inform the next USS valuation and therefore will be completed by the end of 2019.'

It also assures staff that 'both UUK and UCU recognise that trust needs to be rebuilt following this dispute. They also recognise that strike action will lead to the loss of pay. The issue of lower paid Graduate Teaching Assistants who have participated in the action is acknowledged. UUK asks institutions to consider ways in which the financial impact on Graduate Teaching Assistants may be minimised. UCU undertakes to encourage its members to prioritise the rescheduling of teaching in order to minimise the disruption to students.'

The Financial Times has reported that 'the settlement, which will have to be approved by UCU members, means the union will now almost certainly not go ahead with plans, announced last week, to disrupt end-of-year exams with a series of strikes between April and June', adding that 'UCU’s branch representatives, the heads of the union’s local groups, and its higher education committee will meet on Tuesday to discuss whether formally to call off the strike action. However, it would be a surprise if they decided against such a step. UCU undertook to encourage their members to reschedule classes that had been missed during the industrial action...assuming that academics return to work on Wednesday, 11 days of work will still have been lost.'

Many staff took to Twitter following the announcement, with the majority of voices uncertain about whether the measures would prove beneficial. Dr Priyamvada Gopal tweeted an email from Cambridge Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope, which stated:

'I am writing to tell you that I have asked for and received Council's approval for the University to make higher pension contributions to support a Defined Benefit pension in the USS...We believe the continuation of Defined Benefit is the right short term resolution to the current impasse. The University of Cambridge is now ready to act without delay should such an agreement be reached between UUK and the UCU.'

Dr Gopal then added, 'Let's drop the 'short term' bit...there's no 'short term' acceptable: unless you really feel like striking again in three years time. We've bit the bullet, we should stay the course. There's no evidence this is much more than a strategy to stop 'current impasse', i.e. devastating strike action.'

Cambridge UCU has taken a wide approach on Twitter, tweeting with the hashtag coined to defy the agreement, #nocapitulation: '#USSstrike All members, if you think the proposals from UCU/UUK negotiators are derisory please retweet with hashtag #NoCapitulation @ucu'

Other university UCU branches have also spoke out about this development, with Warwick UCU sharing an open letter rejecting the agreement, and UCL UCU encouraging further industrial action: 'Time to get your #NoCapitulation banners out - Carlow Street NW1 - bring the noise.'

The news of this agreement comes during the current occupation of the Old Schools in Cambridge by Cambridge Defend Education.

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