RUSU update on UCU Strike Action in Spring 2018

Update – 17th April 2018

All strike action has been placed on hold after UCU members voted to accept a revised deal which proposed to establish a Joint Expert Panel to re-examine the USS 2017 valuation.

We are pleased to say that this means there will not be strike action during the examination period.

More information can be found from UCU and UUK.

As a result, the current referendum on RUSU’s position relating to the strikes has been put on hold pending further information and you can find more information about what will happen next here.

Update – 16th March 2018

The current confirmed strikes taking place over the last four weeks have now ended. Action short of strike is still ongoing.

Disappointingly, on the 13th March 2018, following joint negotiations between UUK and UCU with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), UCU rejected a revised proposal.

UCU is now threatening a further 14 days of strike action which would be timed to coincide with the exam period. As soon as we know more we will update you further.

In the meantime, it is important you take the following actions if you have been impacted by the strike action.

  1. Report any missed classes.
  2. Report any impacts on your assessments. This could include missed dissertation supervision meetings, any assessment you have felt disadvantaged in or any piece of work you are struggling with as a result of strike action. Please note wherever possible this form should be completed within 48 hours of an impact.
  3. Read the University’s Frequently Asked Questions. If you have any further queries, go to your Support Centre, HBS admin desk, ISLI or Graduate School.
  4. If you have evidence for a new or existing condition which has been exacerbated by strike action fill in an ECF form.
  5. Continue to check Me@Reading for the latest information from the University.

As always, you can contact RUSU's Advice Service for independent, confidential advice if you feel impacted by the strikes and need help with complaints or appeals.

In other news, there is to be a referendum on RUSU’s position relating to the strikes.

Update – 21st February 2018

The strike action is set to begin tomorrow (Thursday 22nd) and we understand that many of you will have a number of worries or questions. The University has released a set of frequently asked questions (FAQ's) on Me@Reading and they will be updating these as and when further details are received. Please get in contact with your Education Officer, Ed White, if you have any questions which are not addressed.

In the run up to the proposed action please make sure you regularly check Me@Reading for the most up to date information regarding the upcoming strike action.

Some students have contacted us asking if they are bound by RUSU’s position. This is not the case and RUSU’s position is that of the organisation. Students can of course decide to support whichever side/action they believe is right.

You can also contact RUSU's Advice Service for independent, confidential advice if you feel impacted by the strikes and need help with complaints or appeals.

FAQ's

Where can I find more information on the University's answer to common questions?

The University has released a set of frequently asked questions (FAQ's) on Me@Reading and they will be updating these as and when further details are received.

What has Sir David Bell said?

Take a look at Sir David Bell's open letter to staff and students.

What are Reading's UCU saying?

Read Reading's UCU's latest update.

What is USS?

Universities Superannuation Scheme is one of the largest private pension schemes in the UK and is the principal scheme for academic and comparable staff in UK universities and other higher education and research institutions with over 350 employers participating in it.

What is UCU?

The University and College Union (UCU) represents over 110,000 academics, lecturers, trainers, instructors, researchers, managers, administrators, computer staff, librarians and postgraduates in universities, colleges, prisons, adult education and training organisations across the UK.

What is UUK?

Universities UK is the representative organisation for the UK's universities. It has formed its pensions benefit proposal following consultation with employers, drawing together the views of employers responsible for 92% of USS active scheme members.

What have NUS said about the pensions dispute?

NUS and UCU are sister organisations committed to promoting the interests of our members and to defending education. We are proud of our work together in calling for a better deal for students and staff and in challenging the marketisation of education.

We believe that fairly rewarded staff are the cornerstone of the university experience and that the proposal by Universities UK to substantially cut the pensions of members of the USS pension scheme will be hugely damaging if implemented.

As representatives of students, NUS is worried that the imposition of these cuts in the face of sector wide opposition will lead to a demotivated and unhappy workforce and consequent recruitment and retention problems as staff vote with their feet and move elsewhere.

As representatives of staff, UCU is concerned that alongside recent cuts in the real terms value of pay and the very high rates of casualisation, these proposals are seen as yet another kick in the teeth for hard working staff.

We believe that the current policy of paying ever higher salaries for VCs and Principals while cutting pensions for those who do the work sends a hugely damaging signal to both students and staff.

In sending its full solidarity to UCU, NUS asks its members to:

  • continue to call for the university employers to recognise the seriousness of the situation and agree to meaningful negotiations either directly with the union or via ACAS;
  • write to their institution head to complain about the impact the strike will have on their learning;
  • participate in local demonstrative solidarity action during the strikes in support of UCU members.

In response, UCU agrees to:

  • work closely with NUS to explain to students why action is taking place;
  • commit to meaningful negotiations in order to settle the dispute if possible;
  • continue to support NUS in our wider struggle for a fair and just education system.

Source: NUS Connect

What have UCU said about the pensions dispute?

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'Staff will feel utterly betrayed by their leaders. We are disappointed at how talks ended today, particularly after UUK suggested [on the 22/1/18] that it wanted more talks to avoid strikes. Universities must be on notice that unless there are dramatic changes in their negotiators' position then strike action will be arriving on campus next month.

'There is much talk of a crisis of leadership in higher education at the moment, especially after the recent vice-chancellor pay and perks scandals. Now is the time for university leaders to recognise the scale of this problem, how angry their staff are and to work with us to avoid widespread disruption in universities.'

The union said it was disappointed that the talks ended with the changes being imposed on USS members. It added it was surprised that more talks had also been dismissed after UUK said it hoped to avoid industrial action through further talks with UCU.

No education professional wants to strike but we also deserve long-term security and our students deserve staff who are able to focus fully on the job. We have called for extended negotiations with the employers but, disappointingly, talks ended with the changes being imposed.

Staff feel angry and betrayed but even now we call on university leaders to work with us to find a solution and avoid widespread disruption for our students.

Source 1: UCU

Last week talks between UCU and the employers' representative Universities UK (UUK) ended without agreement and UUK's plans to transform the scheme were forced through by the chair's casting vote.

The dispute centres on UUK's proposals to end the defined benefit element of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension scheme. UCU says this would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement than under the current set-up.

In the recent strike ballot UCU members overwhelmingly backed industrial action. Overall, 88% of members who voted backed strike action and 93% backed action short of a strike. The turnout was 58%. A full breakdown of the results by institution is available here.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: 'Staff who have delivered the international excellence universities boast of are understandably angry at efforts to slash their pensions. They feel let down by vice-chancellors who seem to care more about defending their own pay and perks than the rights of their staff.

'Strike action on this scale has not been seen before on UK campuses, but universities need to know the full scale of the disruption they will be hit with if they refuse to sort this mess out.'

Source 2: UCU

What have UUK said about the pensions dispute?

The Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) has agreed a proposal to put the USS pension scheme on a secure and sustainable footing while offering the best pensions that can be afforded by both employers and employees.

The JNC is the formal and legally established forum for deciding changes to USS, which provides pensions for academic and other university staff. Difficult economic circumstances have resulted in the scheme having an increased deficit and a significant increase in the cost of future defined pension benefits of more than a third since 2014.

The proposal agreed today was put forward by Universities UK, on behalf of more than 350 higher education employers. It offers market leading defined contribution pension benefits on all salaries from 1 April 2019 with a commitment to consider in three years' time if defined benefits can be re-introduced should the scheme's funding conditions improve.

"The reform proposal will tackle the scheme's deficit and the significant rise in the cost of future pensions so that universities can continue to offer attractive pensions to staff, now and in the future. It will also ensure that contributions remain affordable to both staff members and employers.

"Today's decision is a necessary step to put the scheme on a sustainable footing for the long-term. Our focus now is to work with USS and UCU to shape the details of the new benefit structure so that it offers flexibility, choice and market-leading defined contributions pensions."

UUK has designed a lower-cost saving option to ensure that USS remains a suitable scheme for all. In this option, members can pay contributions of 4% rather than 8% of salary while still benefitting from the 18% employer contribution. USS would continue to offer very valuable life assurance and substantial benefits in the event of ill-health.

Pension benefits already built up are protected by law and cannot be changed retrospectively.

Following a series of over 30 meetings to discuss USS reform with UCU a negotiated settlement could not be found. The UCU proposal which was tabled today would have increased financial contributions to unmanageable levels for employers and many employees – UCU proposed an increase of 35% in member contributions to get lower pensions benefits and increasing employers' contributions by c£500 million a year. Employer contributions have already risen by 30% over the last decade and further increases are not affordable.

Employers will now hold a consultation with all members - expected to run for 60 days from mid-late March - on the possible impact of these changes on individuals. Any changes would not come into force until 1 April 2019.

Source: Universities UK

Update – 15th February 2018

RUSU is aware that strike action is now likely to proceed as planned. We are committed to protecting the best interests of our members both now and in the future. We are therefore working with the University to ensure their planned mitigating actions are appropriate and robust enough to safeguard our students from being detrimentally impacted by any action.

Context

RUSU's Trustee Board, our governing body, took a vote on the 6th February to decide RUSU's stance relating to the matter. The board voted on the following motions in the following ways:

We do not support the strike. 8 for, 0 against, 1 abstention
We do not support the position of UUK. 5 for, 2 against, 2 abstentions
We do not support UCU for their strike action that will be damaging to students. 4 for, 2 against, 3 abstentions

Position

We understand the situation our staff are in and believe that rewarded and motivated staff define our students' learning experience. We also believe that the proposed changes could risk leading to a demotivated and unhappy workforce and result in a less attractive career path which may lead to recruitment and retention issues in higher education. These factors could damage your learning experience in both the short and long term.

Whilst we hold the above beliefs, RUSU is an organisation which primarily exists to protect students and therefore cannot support any action which fundamentally damages our students. UCU have opted to strike at a particularly disruptive time and we do not believe that students should be used as a negotiating tool. Therefore, RUSU opposes UCU's strike action.

We also do not support the UUK decision to refuse to engage in further talks with UCU, an action which would stop the strike action. We urge UUK to return to the negotiating table with UCU.

Actions

There are two things that students can do now to attempt to halt strike action affecting them in Reading:

  • Students can email David Bell and UUK asking him to urge UUK to return to the negotiating table.
  • Students can also email their lecturers and UCU urging them to consider the impact of the strike on students and not to strike.

We are also investigating your options to complain, appeal and submit ECF forms and will update you when we know more.

Regardless of your views on this issue RUSU will ensure you are updated as the situation progresses and work to ensure the university's mitigating plans are suitable.

RUSU

Original Article

You may be aware that there are planned strikes affecting both University academic and support staff. These will commence on the 22nd February unless UCU and UUK reach an agreement before this date. The strikes are regarding proposed changes to the USS (Universities Superannuation Scheme) pension scheme.

At least 361 staff have voted for strike action outlined below and there is likely to be significant disruption beginning on the date below and continuing for 4 weeks.

Dates

  • Week one - Thursday 22nd and Friday 23rd February (two days)
  • Week two - Monday 26th, Tuesday 27th and Wednesday 28th February (three days)
  • Week three - Monday 5th, Tuesday 6th, Wednesday 7th and Thursday 8th March (four days)
  • Week four - Monday 12th, Tuesday 13th, Wednesday 14th, Thursday 15th and Friday 16th March (five days)

For further information in the meantime please see responses from:

We understand how this will impact on our students, so rest assured, RUSU is doing all it can to lobby the University to take measures to avoid the strike action. We will release our full position regarding the strikes on Wednesday 7th February 2018.

RUSU

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