UUK response to further UCU strikes over USS

4 Mar 2022

Commenting on UCU’s decision to take further strike action in 2022 over USS, a Universities UK spokesperson, on behalf of USS Employers said:

“Taking university staff out on strike again will not remove the need to reform USS to ensure it remains affordable for members and employers. The package of reforms proposed by employers has now passed the JNC and the USS Trustee Board, and will be implemented from 1st April 2022.

“February’s industrial action did not achieve the outcome UCU intended, and data gathered by UCEA suggests turnout on picket lines was even lower than before, with limited disruption to students. With news of more strikes and yet another ballot, reasonable onlookers will conclude the union has an ideological fixation with strike action and is determined to pursue it, no matter the cost. Since 2019, an average member of staff earning £55,000 per annum taking strike action has forgone over £4,800 in pay deductions, to no avail. Scheme members should ask themselves whether they are willing to sacrifice even more to pay higher pensions contributions based on UCU’s unsubstantiated view that another valuation will yield a better outcome.

“Employers have repeatedly made clear that current contributions are at the very limit of affordability, and a majority of those responding to a consultation on UCU’s proposal for higher contributions rejected it. Recent government announcements underline the wider financial uncertainty universities are facing, and with the 2020 valuation now concluded, it is time to look forward and identify lasting improvements to USS that can be made ahead of the next valuation.”

Notes to editors

  1. Although the latest funding update provided by the USS Trustee shows the scheme’s technical provisions deficit has decreased since March 2020, the Trustee has stated that without the planned reforms, the deficit would be higher, and that it is very difficult to reach any definitive conclusions as to the true direction of travel based on the last few months alone. Even with full employer covenant support, the USS Trustee has confirmed the cost of current benefits as c.43% of pay.
  2. In November the USS Trustee confirmed that ‘there is no silver bullet’ to the scheme’s funding challenges, in an article which also draws attention to The Pensions Regulator’s view of the valuation.
  3. To secure a final contribution rate of 31.4% of salary, employers have collectively committed an additional £1.3 billion of financial support to the scheme, known as ‘covenant support’. It was only on account of this support that the USS Trustee was willing to adjust its assumptions, to allow employers to continue to provide scheme members with a good level of guaranteed defined benefits at affordable contribution rates.
  4. All pensions built up to date are safe and protected, and unaffected by the proposed changes which will come into effect on 1 April 2022.
  5. In 2021-22 alone, an average HE staff member earning circa £55,000 per annum (ONS, 2021) and taking the full 10 days of strikes will have lost £1,506 in strike pay (1/365 x 10) on top of £3,315 for 22 days of strike action in 2019-20.