Dear UCU member
On Friday afternoon you will have received an email from the university’s Registrar regarding the proposed changes to USS, and UCU’s current ballot for industrial action. Several members contacted the UCU office and asked for a formal union response.
In writing to you now we wish to make clear that we see the negotiations relating to this issue as part of a national process involving Universities UK and UCU. As a union we have sought to maintain a clear focus on national negotiations, and we will continue to do so. We have always sought to avoid localising the issues and, for our part, this will continue to guide our actions. We see this as the best way to maintain good relations in the university at a difficult time. UCU locally is currently working with the University on a number of difficult issues and making progress on these in the interests of all concerned is, we believe, best achieved by keeping national and local issues as separate as is possible. We recognise this is not easy, but it defines our approach.
In the email you received on Friday it was argued that the UCU ballot is ‘unhelpful and premature’. This is the view being presented by the employers’ nationally (see the weblink in the Registrar’s email).
We recognise it is unusual to commence a ballot prior to negotiations taking place. However these are unusual circumstances. Although formal proposals have not been tabled, substantial preliminary work has already been undertaken in relation to the triennial valuation of USS. The final details have yet to emerge but it is already clear that:
1) Final salary provision will be ended for all members
2) A hybrid scheme will be introduced in which ‘defined benefits’ will be capped, and pension provision above a specified salary level will be based on a ‘defined contributions’ model. This is a pensions model where final pension entitlement is linked to the market performance of investments.
What is not disputed is that your pension provision is about to get worse. Quite possibly much worse.
That is why delegates at UCU’s recent conference voted overwhelmingly to support this ballot. Delegates recognised that if we are to defend our existing entitlements the union must be proactive in asserting its case. Hence the union’s decision to enter negotiations with a clear mandate from the membership that demonstrates member feeling on this issue. It will also provide a clear steer to our own negotiators as to the strength of members’ views.
Our argument is that questions about ‘affordability’ are ultimately political questions about choices and priorities.
At a time when we are urged to deliver more and more we believe it is vital to defend the benefits we have. Our pay has already been eroded by year after year of below inflation pay awards. The proposed pension cuts, coming on top of cuts imposed in 2011, exacerbate an already unacceptable situation.
The view of UCU, and supported at a members’ meeting in Nottingham in September, is that we must mobilise as much pressure as possible to secure a satisfactory outcome in the coming negotiations. There are choices to be made by the employers and we are clear what those choices should be.
If the negotiations are successful there will be no industrial action. Nobody will be more delighted than us. We are not the ones changing the pension provision and we do not want to have to take industrial action to defend what we already have. However, if the negotiations are not successful we feel we will have no choice but to challenge that outcome. Whether that involves industrial action will depend on the outcome of the ballot. In a democratic organisation that decision is taken by you – the membership.
To conclude, our position is unchanged from when we last wrote to you.
1) Above all we are asking you to VOTE. You have your ballot paper. Please make sure you vote and return it. UCU is a democratic organisation. However you choose to vote we urge you to vote – so your representatives nationally and locally know what your views are. There are lots of ways to familiarise yourself with the issues (see UCU’s views at http://defenduss.web.ucu.org.uk/ and the Registrar’s email contains the link with the employers’ analysis). At Nottingham, UCU has organised at least three meetings to help explain the issues (the next is on Wednesday 8th October – https://uonucu.org/2014/10/03/meeting-for-ucu-members-based-in-the-trent-building-8th-october-1pm/). Scotland has recently reminded us how invigorating and empowering it is to engage in genuine, popular decision-making. We urge you – discuss, debate, decide – and VOTE.
2) For the reasons outlined in this email – as a union we are recommending you to VOTE YES. We believe a decisive YES vote, based on the largest possible turnout, is the most effective way to signal to the employers our determination to defend our pension. We hope this in itself will help ensure a satisfactory outcome to the negotiations.
3) Depending on the outcome of both the ballot and the negotiations it may well be that industrial action is required. If this is the case we expect all members to abide by the democratic decision of the union and support the action.
Our commitment, as your local representatives, will be to keep you informed of all developments as fully as possible (and with apologies in advance for the likely flow of emails). We are very happy to visit members in Schools and Departments to discuss the issues, and we are committed to consulting fully with you whenever decisions are to be made. We are also committed to engaging fully with the national union’s democratic decision making processes and ensuring members’ views at the University of Nottingham are fully represented in any national level discussions and decisions.
Thank you once again for taking the time to read this email. Thank you also for your continued support for the union.
With best wishes
University of Nottingham, UCU Branch Committee