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Defend your USS pension

September 27, 2010

(With a nod of thanks to Swansea UCU, from whom we have borrowed  the text below)

Help to defend your USS pension. Take part in the USS referendum – you can vote whether you are a UCU member or not.

The University and College Union (UCU) is trying to stop the employers introducing detrimental changes to your USS pension benefits with effect from April 2011. In a recent UCU ballot in which more than 20,000 staff took part, 96% rejected the changes. Despite that, the employers forced slightly amended proposals through the USS Joint Committee on a casting vote, and are now initiating a period of what they call ‘consultation’ with employers and fund members. The employers have tried everything to avoid having a ballot of members before the changes are applied.

First, they blocked a  proposal from UCU’s nominated USS directors for a national ballot of all USS members. Then, when UCU wrote to each individual employer asking them to organise a local ballot, not one employer agreed.

Now we are told that the consultation process will be run by a public relations firm called Antony Hodges Consulting who, in their own words, explain pension changes through an approach that ‘blends psychology with media production and corporate awareness.’ Whatever that means, it certainly is not the open ballot that USS members have been requesting.

Enough is enough.

As USS eligible members our voices must be heard, not drowned out by a public relations exercise. That is why UCU has launched a referendum for all USS members, whether they are in UCU or not. This will give us the voice the employers are trying to ignore. UCU will respect the result whatever it is and we are calling upon the employers to think again and do the same.

You can read a summary of their final proposals from the employers which were pushed through despite opposition from UCU’s nominated USS directors:

UCU opposes the proposals because they will mean:

  • the end of final salary benefits for new starters leading to a loss of more than £100,000 in benefits for many and with future pressure for the end of final salary scheme for existing members
  • the loss of final salary benefits for staff made redundant or who take a career break and who do not rejoin the sector within six months
  • the loss of final salary benefits for fixed term staff with employment gaps of more than six months.
  • an increase in employee contribution effectively amounting to a cut in salary
  • lower annual pension increases for current and future pensioners

The employers made it clear in negotiations that their preference is to move all USS members from final salary benefits to an inferior Career Average Related Earnings scheme (‘CARE’), not just new starters. UCU were able to block them this time but allowing a two tier scheme is the thin end of the wedge and will lead to pressure upon existing staff to accept reduced benefits too.

Introducing detrimental pension benefits without the consent of those affected would be wrong at any time, but to do so at a time when USS has had, by its own admission, an excellent year is perverse.  You may have read that the value of the USS fund grew by £4.5bn in the twelve months to March 2010, a brilliant performance at a time of deepening recession which confirms UCU’s view that our fund is far from being in crisis. You can read the advice of our actuary here (.pdf).

UCU does not oppose change where it can be shown that our fund and others face challenges. We have made proposals to secure the fund’s future through the fair sharing of costs and the protection of benefits. The employers would not accept that. They want to reduce their costs even further and are using the recession and the political environment as an excuse to downgrade benefits even though independent advice shows the fund is robust.

UCU is quite clear. The scheme is not in crisis. In fact, it is growing. This is an attempt by the employers to reduce the cost of the scheme to themselves and, we believe, to undermine it in the longer term. We know how valuable USS is to members.

We are therefore asking you to act to defend not just your pension and your family’s future financial security but also your right to be consulted properly before changes that affect you take place.

If you are a UCU member, you may already have received a message similar to this from the UCU General Secretary, Sally Hunt. If so, please use the appropriate link on that message to cast your vote. If you have not received that message or if you are not a UCU member (but are a member of the USS pension scheme), then please email: with ‘Defend USS’ in the subject line – you will then be sent a unique link to take part.

Don’t forget, this referendum is open to non-members of UCU as well as members. It is also open to those already drawing their pensions, since they would be affected by the propose lower annual increases. So please help us and help yourself by emailing the above address.

Background information and resources:

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