University pension talks to resume but union doubts success

26 Feb 18

Talks in the bitter university pensions dispute are due to resume tomorrow but the University and College Union has warned that these are likely to prove fruitless.

The UCU said it could not see how the talks could resolve the dispute since employers’ body Universities UK (UUK) had said it “would not re-open the Joint Negotiating Committee decision made on 23 January”, to move away from a defined benefits pensions scheme to a defined contributions one.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Because this is so serious for students and for staff we will of course attend. I am however very concerned that UUK has explicitly ruled out discussing the imposed changes that have caused the strikes.

“The universities minister was very clear that he wanted talks without preconditions and we hope UUK will reconsider his words before we meet on Tuesday. We remain committed to serious negotiations aimed at resolving this dispute.”

UUK said in a statement that it had “never refused to continue to try to find an affordable, mutually acceptable solution.

“We would be willing to discuss a credible proposal that addresses the significant financial issues the scheme is facing.

“The problem that we share as interested parties in the Universities Superannuation Scheme is that, to continue to offer current benefits, contributions would have to rise by approximately £1bn per annum. The scheme has a £6.1bn deficit and there has been an increase of more than a third in the cost of future pensions.”

In an open letter to scheme members last week, USS president Dame Janet Beer said: “Only the government could guarantee the level of financial backing for a defined benefit scheme to achieve a sufficiently manageable level of risk, and USS is not a government-backed scheme.

“The only options to address the funding challenges are to increase contributions to the scheme substantially or change the future benefit structure.”

Beer said UUK paid 18% of staff salaries into USS, and a majority of employers “were clear that an increase in the employer contribution is simply not feasible”.

Universities minister Sam Gyimah said in a tweet that money not paid to lecturers while on strike should go towards compensating students.

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