University and College Union (UCU) members have voted to accept a proposed deal from Universities UK (UUK), triggering the suspension of long-running industrial action by university staff.
A total of 64% of members voted to accept the proposed deal, compared to 36% against. There was a record turnout of UCU members, with 63.5% of all eligible voters taking part.
The proposed deal will see the creation of a “Joint Expert Panel”, comprised of actuarial and academic experts nominated in equal numbers from both UCU and UUK.
UCU ballot results come in today. Whichever way it falls, stick together, Union buddies. These strikes have brought us all closer, lecturers, researchers, professional services, all of us as one team. Let's not lose that.
— Caroline Proctor (@cagglesproctor) April 13, 2018
It is hoped the panel will agree to key principles which will underpin the future joint approach of UUK and UCU to the valuation of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) fund.
The valuation of the scheme has been a source of contention throughout the dispute, with UCU consistently criticising the methodology used to calculate the USS’s supposed £6.1 billion deficit.
According to UCU Secretary Sally Hunt, the work of the group will also “reflect the clear wish of staff to have a guaranteed pension comparable with current provision whilst meeting the affordability challenges for all parties, within the current regulatory framework.”
However, critics argue that the influence of the joint panel may not be enough. Neither UCU, UUK, or a joint panel of the two can make changes to the scheme. They are reliant on the USS trustees to do that, and they themselves are required by law to decide upon changes to USS pensions by June 30th this year.
The Pensions Regulator has already said that it impossible for them to change the June 30 deadline, meaning there will not be enough time to form a joint expert panel to revalue the scheme.
Moreover, even if The Pensions Regulator tolerates the missing of the deadline, there is still no obligation for the USS trustees to listen to the joint panel if they don’t agree with its findings.
There has been significant criticism of union’s handling of the ballot. Accusations of poor consultation with local UCU branches is a point of particular concern, with the UCU leadership’s decisions to first hold a ballot and then endorse a ‘Yes’ vote going against the wishes of many rank-and-file members.
— Enrico Reuter (@ReuterEnrico) April 13, 2018
Cherwell understands that at least 23 UCU branches decided to endorse a ‘No’ vote, with only three calling for members to vote ‘Yes’. However, the majority of branches opted not to take an official position.
Oxford UCU chose not to officially endorse either a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote in the ballot. Oxford UCU vice-president, Terry Hoad, told Cherwell: “In Oxford UCU we are very pleased that the determined action of the union members in our university, along with that of our UCU colleagues around the country, has been effective in persuading the employers to pull back from their earlier proposals to seriously weaken the pension benefits of staff in UK universities.”
“The aim of ending a guaranteed pension level, related to salary, has been replaced by a commitment to establish something comparable to the present scheme. There are also other issues raised by UCU on which the employers have agreed to work with the union.
“Alongside salaries (not extravagantly high for the great majority of university staff), pensions are a very important part of the total package of benefits for all those whose work goes towards maintaining the very high-quality activity in our universities.
“UCU members are very conscious of the fact that when they take industrial action it interferes with the work we share in with students. We have always appreciated the understanding and support we have received from students, who recognise that in standing up for appropriate salary and other benefits for staff we are defending also the interests of current and future generations of students.
“We are naturally very glad that the ending of the industrial action means that we can return to the collaborative work with our students that we and they all desire.”
Cherwell has contacted the University for comment.