Socialist Worker

Workers were right on university pensions

by Carlo Morelli
Issue No. 2622

University workers on strike earlier this year

University workers on strike earlier this year (Pic: Guy Smallman)

A new report has totally vindicated university workers’ decision to strike over pensions earlier this year.

UCU union leaders halted strikes at over 60 universities after bosses agreed that a Joint Expert Panel (JEP) would assess the USS pension scheme’s health.

Bosses wanted to replace workers’ defined benefit scheme with a worse defined contribution scheme.

The JEP report blames bosses, pension scheme managers and the government for an attempt to rob hundreds of thousands of university workers.

The government intervened to ensure the valuation was more damming to the scheme. The employers carried out an inept and biased consultation and the pension scheme managers went along with this to ensure there was a deficit.

The JEP report calls for a return to an earlier and less conservative assessment of the pension scheme. And it calls for a set of further adjustments, which would leave the defined benefit pension mostly intact.

Our 14 days of strikes were crucial in defeating the bosses’ and pension scheme managers’ plans.

The JEP proposals far exceed the deal union leaders and bosses cobbled together in March. Without the rank and file revolt by union members that threw out those proposals, we would not have the JEP outcome.

It remains to be seen if the bosses accept the findings.

By using a valuation from September, the JEP report would still involve increases in contributions potentially of 1 percent of pensionable pay. Employers cut their contributions for over a decade. So we should demand no detriment and that they foot the full bill for the maintenance of the scheme.

If they refuse, the pay ballot underway should ensure the increased pension contributions are reimbursed through higher pay.

And finally there is unfinished business in the pensions strike. Much of the support came from university workers wanting to protest against casualisation, pay discrimination and workloads.

The pay ballot now has to ensure these are the central issues in our dispute.

Colleges and universities could strike for higher pay

The UCU union and the NUS are backing a lobby of parliament on 17 October to demand more funding for further education (FE) colleges.

It comes as figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that FE has been “the biggest loser” from funding cuts.

It found that funding for 16-18 education per student has been slashed by 8 percent since 2010-11.

The lobby comes two days before pay ballots of UCU union members in colleges and universities end.

College workers want a 5 percent rise, while university staff are calling for 7.5 percent.

The bosses’ Association of Colleges is backing the 17 October lobby as part of its “week of action” over funding.

It’s a sign of the scale of cuts that college bosses have been pushed to speak out.

But they won’t be reliable allies in a fight for more funding.

Strike over pensions

Unison union members at Staffordshire university struck on Monday to defend their pensions. It follows three days of strikes in August.

Workers are being transferred from the Local Government Pension Scheme to the Staffordshire University Pension Scheme.

They say the change will cost them thousands of pounds.

Some 80 percent of Unison members who voted backed strikes against the attack in a ballot.

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