University strikes ‘inevitable’ as pension cuts progress, union says

A committee of union representatives and employers backed plans to tackle a multi-billion pound funding shortfall.

University strikes ‘inevitable’ as pension cuts progress, union says iStock

Industrial action on Scottish university campuses is “inevitable” as controversial plans to slash pensions were backed by employer representatives, a union has said.

The University and College Union (UCU) said the proposals would see a typical lecturer suffer a 35% cut to their retirement benefits.

The Universities Superannuation Scheme’s (USS), the sector’s main pension fund, has an estimated funding shortfall of between £14.9bn and £17.9bn.

At a meeting of the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) on Tuesday, employer body Universities UK (UUK) and union representatives agreed to progress the plans to consultation.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady, said: “Employers represented by UUK have today voted to implement a set of regressive USS pension proposals that will reduce member benefits, discourage low paid and insecurely employed staff from joining USS, and threaten the viability of the scheme as a whole.”

The decision comes as students across Scotland return to higher education campuses for the new term.

UCU said its own proposals were “superior” to UUK’s but that employers had “chosen to use a flawed valuation conducted at the start of the pandemic to rush through cuts to members’ pensions”.

Ms Grady said: “Unless employers allow for a rapid consultation on our proposals with a view to revoking their decision today, the path looks inevitably to lead to industrial action – and that is the responsibility of UUK.”

UCU said the changes will threaten the viability of the pension scheme, with more staff likely to decide to leave the scheme in the face of cuts to benefits and increases in contributions.

A spokesperson for USS employers said: “Employers have consistently said that they would be happy to explore viable alternative proposals for reform from the UCU.

“While the reform package passed by the JNC today proposes a particular set of changes to the future pensions earned from USS’s defined benefit and defined contribution sections, the upcoming consultation is important and open – and could lead to these proposals being amended.

“Employers remain open to considering alternative benefit structures and formulations, provided they are viable, affordable and implementable.”

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