UCU USS National Dispute Committee Statement to USS branches

22 May 2020

This document sets out the position of the UCU USS National Dispute Committee in respect of the ongoing USS dispute and offers recommendations to branch delegates. The purpose is to aid discussions at the branch delegates’ meetings and to inform national debate within our union.

There has been significant movement in the USS negotiations, but employers are refusing to move on contribution rates. The movement which we have won may be harder for members to see but they will help our union in the longer term.

The big wins have been to get agreement from the employers for:

  1. Removing de-risking in the current form. Any future de-risking can only be introduced if it is properly evidenced and justified in respect of form, content and timing
  2. Abandoning test 1
  3. Committing to greater transparency and to using confidentiality appropriately and only where justified.

All these will greatly reduce the risks and costs in the Scheme and make it more sustainable. This builds on the work that the National Disputes Committee and beyond have been arguing for a while now, and which employers had chosen to ignore.

We should continue to argue to limit (and reverse) contribution increases for our members however, this fight with the employers cannot be reduced simply to dispute over increases to the contribution rate. It is about halting the longer-term erosion of the Scheme and halting the continuing slide toward impoverishing members or reducing benefits on false pretences. This is what we need to continue to focus on, so the Scheme doesn’t start haemorrhaging members or employers on spurious grounds of increased costs.

Most importantly the courage to fight these important struggles have given a voice to previously disenfranchised members (particularly those suffering from rampant casualisation).

We have also changed our union - more people are interested in and scrutinising what employers and the union do. Our membership has grown phenomenally, and we are a strong union. The USS disputes have built networks of activists who have exposed serious improprieties on the part of USS, our employers and their representative bodies. This includes exposing employers’ manipulation of the consultation processes, misuse of spin and PR techniques to completely misrepresent the health of the Scheme. Our members see these more clearly now.

Whatever we do next, we must not go back to cosy deals or meeting employers halfway at times with them starting at unreasonable starting points and us making reasonable arguments. The acceptable range of discourse (Overton window) has been widened significantly. Employers are cleverly trying to close that down using Covid and the brute force of being able to withstand more pain than our overworked and underpaid members .Let’s resist them - and do it in a way that builds on the wins above.

Our advice below to branches and branch delegates is based on the view that the pensions and four fights disputes are closely linked. Given the importance of Health and Safety throughout the Covid crisis settling now will send completely the wrong message to our employers.

Recommendation from NDC to branch delegate meeting:

  1. We advise not to settle the pension dispute at this time
  2. We recommend that a Special Congress be organised to discuss proposals for four fights and pensions prior to any decision to reballot or take industrial action.

Published by UCU USS National Dispute Committee - 20 May 2020