Feb 06 2018

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The College received formal notification from the University and College Union (UCU) on Monday 29 January of the industrial action it is intending its members to take as a result of its dispute regarding the proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pensions.  Royal Holloway is one of 61 universities where the UCU is proposing industrial action.

Notice has been given of strike action on the following dates:

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

Notice has also been given of continuous action short of strike (ASOS) starting from 22 February 2018. 

Action short of strike has been defined by UCU as:

  • Working to contract
  • Not undertaking any voluntary activities
  • Not covering for absent colleagues
  • Not rescheduling lectures or classes cancelled due to strike action

We respect union members’ right to take industrial action however, we are obliged to make every effort possible to minimise the impact of any action on our students. 

 Background to the dispute

Every three years the USS trustee is required to carry out a valuation of the pension scheme. The valuation carried out at March 2017 revealed a funding deficit of £7.5bn. In order to ensure that the scheme remained sustainable and member benefits protected, changes had to be made. Changes to USS are negotiated by the USS Joint Negotiating Committee which comprises five representatives of Universities UK and five representatives of UCU, together with an independent committee member who acts as Chair.

On the 23 January, the USS Joint Negotiating Committee decided (on a casting vote of the Chair) on a proposal to reform future scheme benefits which will now be consulted upon with scheme members.

Proposed changes

This proposal changes USS so that members earn defined contribution benefits on all of their salary from April 2019. Currently, defined contribution benefits are only earned on salary over £55,550, with defined benefits earned on salary below the threshold.

Defined contribution and defined benefits are distinct and both have their advantages. A defined benefit pension scheme is one where the amount you are paid is based on the number of years you have worked for your employer and the salary you have earned. With a defined contribution pension you build up a fund which you can then use to provide an income in retirement. The income you might get from a defined contribution scheme depends on factors including the amount paid in, the fund’s investment performance and the choices you make at retirement. Defined benefit schemes are more certain, defined contribution schemes are more flexible. Both may provide excellent pensions in retirement.

If the USS Joint Negotiating Committee had not reached a decision on the way forward in respect of the funding challenge, rule 76.4 of the scheme would have been applied to deal with this. The effect of that would have been an increase in employer contributions from 18% to 24% of salaries and an increase in member contributions from 8% to over 11% of salaries. These increases may have been unaffordable for many members and similarly unaffordable for many Higher Education Institutions.                                               

If you intend to take strike action

The College regrets UCU’s decision to take industrial action but we respect the rights of our trade union members. Nonetheless, we are obliged to take all reasonable steps to ensure that any disruption is kept to a minimum.  

If you are participating in strike action, the College will withhold pay for each day at a rate of 1/365th. Relevant deductions will be made as soon as possible after action taken.

You are not required to inform the College in advance of your intention to participate in strike action. However, if you do take strike action you are required to declare your participation immediately following each period of strike action. Further information will be provided about the means of notification.

If you intend to take action short of strike  

You are expected to perform your contractual duties in full. The College does not accept partial performance and where breaches of contract occur, will withhold pay for each day at a rate of 1/365th. Pay will continue to be withheld until such time as you confirm and resume full duties.

Keeping up to date

Colleagues and students are encouraged to check the intranet regularly for updates.  If students ask about the industrial action, please refer them to the student intranet.

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