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Southampton UCU Pickets and Activities Schedule, 22-28 February 2018

Download the schedule as a PDF here.

 

Date Activity
Thurs 22/2 Pickets 8am – 12pm

Highfield campus – meet outside 47 Uni Rd

Avenue campus– meet outside main entrance

2pm- 4pm

Teach out Swaythling Neighbourhood Centre

Traute Meyer – The big risk shift. Why British employers won’t make pension promises any more

In this session Traute Meyer, Professor of Social Policy, will talk about the important role occupational pensions have played in the UK for many decades. Employers contributed to pensions voluntarily, protecting many. This situation is ending. Private sector schemes have contracted or closed over the last two decades, currently we are witnessing a similar trend in the public sector. Why is this happening? Why does it matter? Can anything be done about it?

Fri 23/2 Pickets

8am – 12pm

Highfield campus – meet outside 47 Uni Rd

Avenue campus– meet outside main entrance

2pm- 4pm

Teach out

SUSU meeting room 2, Level 1 B42

John Langley – Time: Friend or Foe?

Do you struggle to meet deadlines? Does time control you or do you control your time?  This teach-out, led by Prof John Langley, will explore the different calls on our time and offer some ways to take back control so avoiding rushed work, deadline panic and allowing the opportunity for quality time to meet that work deadline.

Mon 26/2

 

Pickets 8am – 12pm

Highfield campus – meet outside 47 Uni Rd

Avenue campus– meet outside main entrance

12pm

Rally organised by Unite and Unison

Jubilee Plaza, outside B85, Highfield

Our sister unions, Unison and Unite, are organising a rally to talk about the attack on staff pensions at University of Southampton.  UCU is invited along to discuss the current USS dispute.

2pm- 4pm

Teach out October Books

243 Portswood Road, Southampton SO17 2NG

Shards from World histories of activism

For this session, held in support of our October Books’ drive to raise funding for its new premises, staff in English will explore some of the ways in which literature engages with moments of social and political activism. Stephanie Jones will talk about ‘Striking Sail, and other troubles at sea’. Emma Clery will discuss ‘’The Poetry of Protest in the Romantic period’. Ranka Primorac will introduce us to ‘Africans on Strike’ through Ousmane Sembene’s God’s Bits of Wood. We’ll end with a performance from Sarah Hayden that helps us think about how hope can drive political action: ‘Would it not be possible?’

Tues 27/2 Pickets 8am – 12pm

Highfield campus – meet outside 47 Uni Rd

Avenue campus– meet outside main entrance

2pm – 4pm

Teach out

SUSU meeting room 2, Level 1 B42

Denis Nicole – Cybersecurity and lock picking

It’s a secret – come along and find out…….

Weds 28/2

 

Pickets 8am – 12pm

Highfield campus – meet outside 47 Uni Rd

Avenue campus– meet outside main entrance

1pm

 Choir

Turner Sims Concert Hall, Highfield Campus

University of Southampton Voices (USV) are rehearsing Sergeant Pepper every Wednesday in the Turner Sims 1.10 – 1.50. All are welcome – no experience needed and Harvey Brough is happy to accommodate strikers and supporters to sing on our strike days.

2pm – 4pm

Teach out

SUSU meeting room 2, Level 1 B42

Beautiful Trouble: My First Strike.
Workshop led by Kevin Brazil
For many staff, as well as many students, this will be their first experience of strike action. This is an opportunity to bring staff and students together to learn about the process in a different way than usual, where students learn from staff. Instead the strike offers staff a chance to learn with students: to learn about strikes, activism, and what works. People, even participants, often focus on what is negative about strikes – loss of teaching, loss of money, conflict, anxiety, stress. But the history of activism shows that strikes can be acts of empowerment, bonding, and joy – acts of beautiful trouble. To learn together about strikes and activism, we will study a selection of modules from the Beautiful Trouble casebook, reflect on what works, what doesn’t – and what we might use together at Southampton. http://beautifultrouble.org/all-modules/

 

An open message from a member in Medicine: The USS Pension Hypothesis

This message was sent by Tilman Sanchez-Elsner to his colleagues on 15 February 2018.

I am writing to inform you that there may be strike action this February and (perhaps, hopefully not) in March that, unfortunately, could disrupt our ability to do our jobs.

There has been enough blame game being played when discussing the USS pension issue, so I would like to take a more “scientific” angle on the problem to try and simplify it detaching it from emotions, which is what we usually do in our profession.

Hypothesis: “There is a huge deficit in the USS pension.”

There are two options:

Hypothesis is FALSE: There is no deficit (or it is only transient, due to market fluctuations), there is no need to change our pension scheme. UCU (or, better, the Union’s actuaries) claims this is the case; depending on whether you calculate it, we might even have a surplus.

Hypothesis is TRUE: There is a long-term deficit. UUK (our employer) claims this is the case. We have to tackle the deficit.

UUK want to do this by reducing our current scheme from Defined Benefit (guaranteed income,) to Defined Contribution (no guaranteed income). This, according to economists in papers such as the Financial Times, is not the solution to the deficit. It is, yes, the solution to the risk that the deficit poses to the employer.

Why? Because in a Defined Contribution Scheme, the risk is placed on the pensioner. If the market hasn’t performed, if there is a huge deficit in the pension pot (remember, Hypothesis is TRUE) you will pay for it by getting a lower pension (some calculations claim -10K/year).

Conclusion, the deficit will stay rampant (if TRUE, remember) for the next 15-30 years (while USS is still paying mostly Final Salary pensions, the previous scheme, before Defined Benefits). By the time some of us retire, there will be very little in the pot unless we take action now and stop the deficit from bleeding us dry.

I am no expert, so I am not going to dare offer a solution. UCU suggested that increased contributions (by both employer and employees) could help tackle the deficit, if it exists. I just say UUK have to sit down with UCU and take this problem seriously with a credible solution to the deficit, not leave the hot potato to us. They have rejected all of UCU’s proposals.

As a biologist, I believe in competition as an important driver in the international academic ecosystem. That is why I think that a weak pension scheme, together with other recent national events, may be a huge hindrance when trying to recruit brilliant academics from neighbouring countries.

As a biologist, I also believe that co-operation is an important driver in any ecosystem. This is why I am desperately asking our management to sit down with UCU, to talk, to negotiate, to co-operate in finding a solution to a problem that won’t go away with a change in the scheme. This view is shared by our Government, in a letter I just received from our MP Caroline Nokes (Southampton North, CON): “The Government encourages both sides to continue negotiating and come to a sustainable and fair agreement.”

In an attachment to that letter, Sam Gyimah, Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation claims that “[…]an independent report commissioned by USS concluded that universities with USS schemes would remain strong and stable for at least the next 30 years.” In the same letter he expresses the interest of our Government in “[…]discussions on what, if anything, was needed to ensure that defined benefit pension schemes [such as ours] remain sustainable, whilst protecting members’ benefits.”

Summarising, let’s talk, let’s find a solution.

Feelings and emotions: I always thought that, if I worked hard enough I would be rewarded… and it has generally come true, particularly here, in the Faculty of Medicine… I feel, though, that, if they destroy our pension, no matter how hard I work or how much I produce, the result will be the same when I retire. I don’t want to find out that, when I am old and cannot work anymore, when I am defenseless, I will have barely enough to live and will have to spend the last years on this planet in poverty or unable to pay for specialized care or equipment when needed. It will be too late to protest then.

I think we deserve better.

Please join us and help us bring UUK to the negotiating table. Join UCU and strike. Short of that, please do not come to work the days of the strike. You have the legal right not to cross a picket line in solidarity with us. Don’t worry, we are not going to “intimidate” our own colleagues and friends nor the Hospital’s patients!

With a daughter in her final year here in Southampton, with teaching duties, papers and grant deadlines… the last thing I want is to strike. But I do not see an alternative to make UUK talk to us in a meaningful way.

Best Wishes,

Tilman

PS1.- If you want to help, please join UCU https://www.ucu.org.uk/join

PS2.- This e-mail is my personal opinion. For UCU´s take on the problem:https://www.ucu.org.uk/why-we-are-taking-action-over-USS

PS3.- If I have offended anyone, please accept my apologies, this was not my intention.

All Level 4-6 members: Check your final 2016 moderated Appraisal score!

Recently, casework revealed an Academic Unit had not told colleagues last year’s final moderated Appraisal rating scores. Members only discovered their final scores when preparing for this year’s appraisal. It appears these scores were only confirmed sometime after the Christmas break.

It’s hard to quantify the damage to morale this causes. Colleagues, who believe they have been identified by their peers as a 4/5 and gone forward into 2017, now discover they have been moderated down. Explanations that a 3 is the norm do not help to combat the sense of disappointment, or future disengagement from the process. This moderation may be carried out by senior staff far removed from the individual being appraised, and is explicitly not intended to produce an accurate reflection of individual performance (see para. 4 here [intranet link]).

Please, check your final appraisal contribution score, and if it has changed let the branch know. If you wish, we can support you to pursue why the change was not communicated to you, and to ask for the feedback you should have received.

There is no appeal process to a moderated score, however, failure to inform is a breach of the guidance:

It is of utmost importance that the direct line manager is  involved in the process of communication to the individual, and remains fully engaged in the process.

All final, moderated appraisal ratings must be communicated to appraisees and entered in the online appraisal form by line management in a timely manner [Not by HR; however, line managers are not able to do this in the current system]

Both of these actions should take place in a timely manner, and the reasons for any altered appraisal ratings should be explained in person to the appraisee, along with appropriate feedback.

The Reward project was held up as an example of UCU/UOS collaboration. We know numerous academic, non-academic and HR colleagues worked hard to try and create an appraisal process that was aimed at securing higher levels of employee engagement as a key tool in the University’s pursuit of ‘operational excellence’.

The local branch continues to lobby senior management over breaches to the negotiated appraisal process for L7 and level  4-6 staff. At our meeting with HR heads in October 2017 we asked again for the contribution score methodology, the benchmarking of scores (including the measuring of faculties and directorates against each other – see para. 4 here [intranet link] again), and the associated moderation process to be removed.

We feel that the appraisal process has changed from the one we negotiated; we wanted appraisal to support staff with an honest conversation with no surprises.  Instead staff are reduced to numerical score and submitted to an opaque moderation process. This final failure to even inform staff of the number confirms that appraisal currently is only about providing metrics for performance.

Anne-Marie Sitton, the recently confirmed Executive Director of Human Resources, promised at the October 2017 meeting to take our concerns and suggestions to UEB.  No outcome has been passed back to us.

UCU Industrial Action: a message to our members and colleagues

Dear members

Striking is hard. We know that you are wrestling with the momentous decision this branch and other UCU branches up and down the country have made to strike to defend our pensions.

None of us wants to harm our students’ education.

We don’t want to halt the world-leading research we are doing.

Nor do we want to stop the myriad activities we do every day that contribute to our university community.

BUT

We are facing an unprecedented attack – the changes to our pension represent a raid on our deferred salary.  The typical UCU member stands to see their retirement income reduced by £10,000 a year if these cuts to the USS pension fund are imposed. The proposed changes pose a threat to the future of the scheme, and the loss of a decent pension scheme poses a threat to the sector.

If we said you had to gamble your salary at a casino, knowing you’d lose £10,000, we hope you’d say no.

If we told you we were going to take 10-40% of your wages we hope you would do everything in your power to resist.

Our employers want to take away your guaranteed pension. Rather than sharing risk (as the current scheme does), UUK wants each individual member to shoulder all the risk of future stock market volatility. You only need to look at this morning’s papers to understand how risky this is.  Our employers are prioritising their profits, and washing their hands of their covenant to staff.

You have voted for this strike in record numbers. Striking has made a difference in the past, and can make a difference again now: an increasing number of VCs are publicly breaking from UUK’s hardline stance. We must maintain pressure on our senior management, and so all members of UCU must support the strike. We all have to be prepared to withdraw our labour on all of the strike days.

Southampton UCU members are expected to be on strike on Thursday, 22 February, and Friday, 23 February.

Then again from Monday 26 February to  Wednesday, 28 February.

And if UUK don’t come back to the negotiating table then we have to strike on Monday, 5 March, to Thursday, 8 March, and again Monday, 12 March, to Friday, 16 March.

Southampton students have voted to support us and we will be liaising closely with their representatives so that they understand why we have to strike.  We urge you to talk to your students and explain what is at stake here. There are resources on the UCU website – use them to educate our students, to inform parents and colleagues. This cut to our pension and total salary will make University of Southampton a less attractive place to work. Demoralised, devalued staff cannot deliver excellent education or research.  Ultimately this will damage the current and future students too.

UCU nationally and locally will be operating a hardship fund. We ask members who are able to please donate to support our colleagues – especially our casualised and hourly-paid colleagues – who will struggle financially in this strike.

We voted for strike action because the employers have pushed us too far.  We have delivered more and more for less and less reward. We are regarded as disposable assets and now our senior managers stand with UUK to dispense with our future financial security.

It’s time to stand together and say no.  We will see you on the picket line.

Laurie, Catherine, John, Tim, David, Mary, Mark, Roger, Marianne, Sarah, Cori, Huw, Maureen, Denis (Branch Committee 2017/18)

 

It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it  – our problem(s) with senior management at University of Southampton

We recently posted the ‘correspondence’ between your recognised trades union and the VC/President regarding the upcoming dispute on pensions on this blog. It will be clear to members that the VC is no longer in responsive mode, as least as regards UCU; we have received one-line acknowledgments to all our recent emails.  The VC also has access to the medium of SUSSED and all staff email lists where he has chosen to criticise individual members of UCU, and most recently to provide  a very particular view of the position regarding the USS pension situation.

This does not feel like meaningful dialogue.

In the run up to strike action it is common for the respective sides to become ever more polarised, and we are not hopeful that communication between senior managers and UCU will improve in the coming weeks. We are about to withdraw our labour, following an overwhelming vote by UCU members, signalling that they will not accept cuts to their pensions. Understandably much of the attention, in emails from the branch and from UCU headquarters, has been on the pension dispute and the coming strike action.  But the pension is not the only area of concern for members of Southampton UCU. Locally we continue to represent our members on a number of other issues, not least of which is the proposed restructuring of the University and cuts to staff.  On these other local issues the senior management appears unwilling to engage in meaningful communication.

UCU wants to talk with senior managers about what they are doing. Below we list just five of the pressing local issues that we’d like to discuss properly with our senior management: the University restructure; staff cuts; appraisal; casualisation; and equal pay.

1. Restructuring the University

 To be clear, UCU members don’t necessarily have a problem with restructuring, but we remain deeply unconvinced that reconfiguring to five instead of eight Faculties is the best way forward. Staff and students here are already suffering the ill effects of ten years’ poorly managed organisational change – the INEX project, Transition, the move from three to eight Faculties, the Pay and Reward review are just a few of the large-scale changes we have endured in recent years. Staff numbers have been cut, teams formed and reformed, people moved in and out of Faculties, with little or no thought to organisational culture, wellbeing, or morale.

Successive staff surveys have revealed low trust in senior management and deep concern at their failures to listen to staff, and yet we are about to embark on yet another top-down major organisational reconfiguration. Staff and students need to be supported and listened to before and during significant change. Genuine engagement with staff requires meaningful negotiation and consultation with recognised trades unions, and strong organisational development support – both missing in the early stages of this restructuring. The recent announcement that Mathematics will remain as a single academic unit and not be split into two different Faculties is a small step in the right direction, but this came rather late in the process and only after sustained lobbying.

2. Staff cuts and saving money 

Again, UCU is prepared to listen to arguments about cutting staff.  Of course, we must take a hard line against the threat of compulsory redundancies, and we have been angered by the so-called protected conversations with targeted individual staff, pressuring some to leave the University.  But when the voluntary severance scheme was announced, we asked if it could be opened up beyond the six publicly identified areas, not least because this appeared more likely to achieve cost savings and would have spread the losses, thereby reducing negative impacts on education and research. The University Executive said no to this.

Moreover, whilst imposing cuts to academic, administrative, and support staff to save money, the senior leadership of the University have studiously ignored widespread commentary on senior staff salaries. So we are cutting staff after a bumper year when the University spent approx £700,000, paying off the outgoing VC and making our incoming VC one of the highest paid University leaders in the country.  Little wonder that former education minister, Andrew Adonis, singled out these pay packages for criticism, but the University accounts also show that the salaries and benefits for 15.2 members of the top tier (‘key management personnel’) totalled £3.723m (ave. £245K each) in 2016-2017. Perhaps if Southampton wanted to take a consistent approach,  while we are cutting student-facing staff to save money we could consider a little prudence at the top end of the salary scale.

3. Misuse of appraisal

UCU is becoming increasingly disturbed by the misuse of appraisal and the introduction of increasingly draconian performance review measures. Our current case work includes examples of inappropriate conversations with staff, bullying and harassment. In some cases ‘Performance Improvement Plans’ have been imposed in a very one-sided, unhelpful manner – a case of “you will deliver more with less, but don’t expect any help from us”. The lack of staff development resource (following the closure of ILIaD and the loss of key staff) and the withdrawal of budgets for staff training supports the conclusion that PIPS are less about improvement and more about dismissal.

All staff at the University at some point went through a recruitment and selection process that deemed them worthy of appointment: why then do we refuse to develop and support them? Many colleagues already tell us that they pay for conferences, research materials, and business-related travel out of their own salary – now it seems they have to add training and development to these expenses. Are we really saying that the University of Southampton cannot afford to develop its own staff?   Southampton UCU simply wants senior managers to adhere to the negotiated appraisal process and to start supporting staff to deliver to their highest potential.

4. Casualisation 

We have always been critical of the reliance on short-term contracts and the damage that job insecurity does to education and research. We have an army of early career staff delivering research and education who struggle to make ends meet and are constantly at risk of contract termination. These staff are typically enduring high living costs whilst paying off debt incurred from years of study.  Many commute, either because partners work elsewhere, or because they can’t afford to move for a short temporary contract, or just can’t afford to move, full stop. Some will have been hit by the rise in train fares in January and those who drive already tell us how punitive the car parking charges are here.

Precarity damages education and research. Hourly-paid lecturers on short term contracts cannot engage in team meetings or curriculum development – this is bad for their development and students’ education and support.  Researchers on fixed-term contracts are preoccupied by their contract end date, and may find it impossible to get a mortgage, find they are not eligible for enhanced maternity pay, and so on, all to the detriment of our research. Alongside them, academic-related colleagues also find they too are increasingly offered only temporary contracts – and thus we regularly lose organisational memory and capacity.

Finally, a body of staff comprised largely of short- and fixed-term, hourly-paid, and fractional contracted staff will struggle to form a cohesive and supportive community, among themselves and with the students. This may be the intention of senior management, of course, but it is to the detriment of the institution, both currently and in the long term. We are all damaged by the reliance on casual teaching staff. UCU nationally and locally has continuously pointed to the damage wreaked by casualisation in higher education. We believe the University of Southampton should deliver on the commitments that it has given to UCU to reducing its reliance on casualised labour, in the interests of everyone.

5. The gender pay gap and equal pay

Senior managers are currently preparing the latest local pay review. UCU expects that that this will once again demonstrate a very significant gender pay gap at the University.  While much is made of the ‘equal pay’ for men and women within job grades (e.g. at level 4) the average gap between men and women’s pay in higher education is 12% – in 2015,the mean gap across all grades at Southampton was 22.9%, whereas in HE nationally it was 18.9%. Women continue to be clustered lower down the pay scale and in part-time jobs. The four most senior academic roles, some of our highest paid positons in the University (the VC/President and three Vice-Presidents), are all white men.

The new JNCHES Equal Pay Reviews and Gender Pay Gap Reporting Guidance for Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) – published as part of the Pay Settlement for 2016/17 – calls attention to gender and diversity issues in our Universities, but this University does not seem to be at the forefront of those tackling these inequalities.  While the University of Essex took action and moved  female professors up three pay points to bring their average salaries in line with male counterparts there is no talk of such a move here. UCU has repeatedly called attention to pay gaps – not only gender, but also race and disability. Locally, we have asked for greater transparency in promotion and for better staff training on unconscious bias, but we see little evidence that senior managers wish to address this problem.

What is the branch doing? And how can you help?

Members of UCU can rest assured that this branch will continue to push senior management here to address these issues; your branch representatives take every opportunity to press for improvements to the working lives of staff here, and to defend education and research.  We do this alongside significant individual case work (and thanks are due to all our volunteers who support members in case work). We have pressed senior managers to improve the wording of redundancy and severance agreements, to improve their processes for consultation with staff, and to stop bullying and harassment. We will continue to make the case that the University will prosper if senior managers listen to staff and students. We will continue to do all this whilst pursuing the strike action to defend pensions that you have mandated. As ever we ask members of the branch to volunteer to help us take forward our work on these issues. If you can help – even for half an hour a week, we can use you.

Collegiality and Communication

Several members have asked what has been happening to letters to the VC about the USS  pension.  Below is our correspondence to date.

 

From: UCU U.
Sent: 09 January 2018 11:05
To: Vice-Chancellor <vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: USS pension

Dear Sir Christopher

Happy New Year to you.

Please find attached letter from UCU regarding the USS pension.  We hope that you are able to give your support to your staff and help protect their pensions.

We look forward to receiving a positive response from you soon.

With regards

Amanda Bitouche
Southampton UCU

 

 

 

From: Vice-Chancellor
Sent: 09 January 2018 15:37
To: UCU U. <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: USS pension

Dear Amanda,

Thank you for your email and the attached letter from Professor Pope.

Kind regards,

Christopher Snowden

 

 

From: UCU U.
Sent: 26 January 2018 16:50
To: Vice-Chancellor <vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: USS pension dispute

Dear Sir Christopher

Please find attached letter from Southampton UCU in relation to the USS pension dispute.

We look forward to receiving your response.

With regards

Amanda Bitouche
Southampton UCU

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From: Vice-Chancellor
Sent: 26 January 2018 18:13
To: UCU U. <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: USS pension dispute

Dear Amanda,

Thank you for your email and attached letter.

Kind regards,

Christopher Snowden

 

 

From: UCU U.
Sent: 29 January 2018 10:58
To: Vice-Chancellor <vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: USS pension dispute

Dear Sir Christopher

Thank you for acknowledging receipt of our letter sent to you on Friday 26 January (copy attached).  Would you be willing to make a statement to members responding to the points raised in this letter?

I look forward to receiving your response.

With regards

 

 

From: Vice-Chancellor
Sent: 29 January 2018 17:55
To: UCU U. <ucu@soton.ac.uk>
Subject: RE: USS pension dispute

Dear Amanda,

Thank you for your email.

Recognising that their pensions are of great importance to all USS members at the University, I will be posting an item on SUSSED within the next few days which will  also address points raised in UCU’s recent letters.

Kind regards,

Christopher Snowden

 

Hands off our money – fight to defend our pensions

With a single casting vote in the pension joint negotiating committee the financial security of current and future academic staff has been jeopardised.

Sadly this means that our strike action must go ahead. https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/9235/UCU-says-strikes-now-look-like-a-reality-as-pension-talks-end

Academics and academic related staff don’t like striking. We are here because we care about education and research. Most of us work longer hours than we are contracted for because we believe in what we do, because we chose service rather than profit.

But strike we must.

Here at Southampton UCU we are regarded (and regard ourselves) as a pretty moderate bunch. The turnout for the vote and the overwhelming support for strike action indicates that we have been pushed too far. This attack on our financial futures cannot be allowed to succeed.

The move to defined contribution pension with its frighteningly individualised risks (the value of investments may go DOWN as well as up) and attendant administrative charges, is nothing less than a pay cut. It is pay cut of between 10-40%, taken from our deferred salary. What is more, it is a pay cut supported by the members of the UUK side of the JNC who are most likely to be financially secure (http://www.ucea.ac.uk/en/empres/pensions/uss/governance/).

Not all VCs backed the UUK side or these damaging changes to USS. On Thursday last week, Warwick’s VC wrote that “there is a need to maintain a meaningful defined benefit scheme for those members of staff, present and future, who perceive pension provision as a key factor in their choice entering or remaining in higher education”. https://warwick.ac.uk/insite/news/intnews2/vc_letter_to_uuk.

Alongside him, the VC of Loughborough also stated his opposition in a letter (partially reproduced here https://twitter.com/sheffielducu/status/952873826475528192 ) .

Colleagues at Bristol reported that their employers had been keen to find a middle ground and planned to revise how much the institution was willing to pay in contributions.

Sadly our own VC, one of the highest paid senior academic leaders in this country, did not stand with us against the proposals. The senior management here have continued to support the move to defined contributions.

Members can expect more emails in coming days about the strike action. What we can say now is that we must strike to show our employer that our deferred salary is not theirs to bargain away.

Your executive committee will meet on Friday 26th Jan to plan the action here. In the meantime here are some of the things you can do now to help defend your pension.

  1. Volunteer for our picket lines.We will picket areas across our university campuses and need up to six on each picket line. Please email Amanda with contact details (ucu@soton.ac.uk)
  2. Pass the message on. Tell those who are not members that these changes could wipe £200,000 from their pension. See https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/9093/Overhaul-of-university-pensions-could-leave-staff-200000-worse-off-in-retirement. Urge non-members to join UCU https://www.ucu.org.uk/join and join us in action to defend our pension.
  3. Bookmarkhttps://www.ucu.org.uk/strikeforussfor updates on the action.
  4. email the VC vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk and ask him why he did not defend your pension

Finally remember we are your branch. You are UCU. Send us your comments and ideas about how to make this strike effective. ucu@soton.ac.uk.

We may be reluctant to strike, but strike we must. We cannot allow this assault on our retirement security to go unchallenged.

 

the photo used is from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cardboard_ballot_box_-_Smithsonian.jpgorm  and depicts an early US ballot box which of course is not related to the USS vote in any way but is instead a rather lovely piece of history.

 

Why pensions matter (and why you really must vote to save USS)

When I started working in academia I didn’t think much about my pension. I joined USS because I thought I should (a bit like my reason for joining AUT the forerunner to UCU). Someone explained that my pension payments – made by me and my employer – were deferred salary.

That made sense.  My pension is money paid to me but kept back for when I can no longer work. Over the years I put up with pay freezes and below inflation pay awards, the gender pay gap, and short term fixed term contracts, in the knowledge that I would be OK when I retired.

The current proposals to close the defined benefit element – if enacted – rob us of that future financial security.

UCU have calculated that ending guaranteed pension payments would mean a loss more than £200,000 over the course of a retirement for a typical member of staff.  You can see the First Actuarial report analysis here, and admire the critique from our resourceful colleagues at Sheffield UCU below (reproduced graphically for best effect):

UUK have been muddling with the figures on potential losses by including state pension in their calculation (see here an analysis of the impact of their proposals produced by Aon) but even if we take their estimate, current USS members lose 20% of the value of their pension.

Even with UUK taking  liberties with the calculation of the size of your pension cut, this still produces a reduction of 20%.  That’s a lot of deferred salary.  Are you prepared to take a 20% pay cut?

It is difficult to precisely calculate the level of cut in pension our members could face, due to the nature of the move from defined benefit to defined contribution pensions.  Essentially, University employers are wanting to move the risk of providing pensions from Universities to individual employees.  This is an unnecessary gamble, and means that retirement income will be dependent on the peculiarities and upheavals in the stock market.

Little wonder we are angry and starting to get serious about our pensions.

As I write our UCU national negotiators are continuing to put forward counter proposals for a way forward.

  • We know that there are very different views about the methodology for valuing the scheme and the way of managing risk.
  • We know that most employers could afford an increase in contributions from the current 18% of pensionable salary to at least 21% (and this may not be needed in perpetuity).

Your local UCU branch like others around the country has been asking our Vice Chancellor to stand with staff to defend our pension. So far Sir Christopher and the senior management have continued to support the UUK and USS Board proposals. (Perhaps their relatively higher salaries mean that they have fewer financial worries about their futures?).

UCU are balloting for nationally coordinated action initially aimed at shutting down lectures and classes, including a refusal to reschedule any lost due to strikes, throughout February. Already, the pressure created by the strike ballot has forced UUK to extend their deadline for talks, due to end on 19 December 2017, to 23 January 2018. They have also been persuaded to consult their members on an alternative proposal from UCU, which maintains the defined benefits (DB) cap at £55,500, reduces accrual rates to one-eightieth and means increased contributions for both employers and staff (based on the previous cost sharing agreement).

But we cannot afford to be complacent. We know that only the threat of sustained strike action will move the employers’ position, and we must deliver a clear message – before the ballot closes – that we will not tolerate this attack on our pensions.

It is time to think about your pension, but also to act. We need a 50% turnout in the vote for the ballot to be legally binding, so your vote really does matter – regardless of whether you vote in favour or against the strike.  And we need this 50% from University of Southampton members, as the ballot will be counted locally: if Southampton members do not vote in the necessary numbers, our voices will not be heard in the ballot.

PLEASE ENSURE THAT YOU HAVE POSTED YOUR BALLOT PAPER BY 16 JANUARY AT THE LATEST.

If you have not yet received or have misplaced your ballot papers, please visit this address before 12 January for a replacement: https://www.ucu.org.uk/ussballotrequest

We are having a General Meeting on 9 January 2018 at 1215pm, in 45/2040 (Lecture Theatre A), which will be addressed by Christine Haswell, UCU’s National Pensions Official, and we will be running surgeries after the meeting.  Please let us know on ucu@soton.ac.uk if you wish to attend – all members are welcome, or if you are not a member, please come and join!

Please tell your colleagues to VOTE. If they are not members they can join UCU today at https://www.ucu.org.uk/join – and if they do so by 12 January, they can get a ballot paper.

If you want to know more about the arguments about USS there are resources here and our UCU colleagues at Sheffield have produced some useful audio and slide sets:

Catherine Pope
Southampton UCU vice-president

Get The Vote Out: Pensions update, and just who/what is Mercer?

We hope by now that all members will have received their half-a-Christmas-card with our cheery round robin reminding you to vote. You may also meet some of us on Thursday, as we knock on doors to introduce ourselves and to, once again, remind you to vote.  We need to stress to each and every member how important it is to get that ballot paper posted, regardless of whether or not you support the action. The turnout is key to whether or not it will be a valid ballot.

The only member who did not receive half a Christmas card was the Vice-Chancellor himself, as we understand that he no longer contributes to USS, having achieved the maximum number of years’ contribution.  We sent him a whole card, but in it we included a letter:

Dear Sir Christopher

On behalf of USS and UCU members employed at the University of Southampton I would like to ask you once again to challenge the UUK and USS board proposals for the future of our pensions.  Your colleague, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Warwick, Stuart Croft, has produced a couple of blog posts that provide a model for how someone in your position can support the employees of his institution by questioning the rationale behind the latest changes: https://warwick.ac.uk/services/vco/blog/

 

We note that you have invited Mercer to brief staff on 18 December 2017, claiming that Mercer work only for the University of Southampton, and not USS, UUK, or UCU.  While it may be that the representatives from Mercer who join us on 18 December have no professional relationship with USS, we note that the USS Actuary, Ali Tayyebi, is also a Mercer employee. It would be helpful if you could make this potential conflict clearer in the material advertising the event.

 

Given the hotly contested debate about the methodology for valuing the pension, and in the interests of giving staff the fullest possible evidence on which to base their decisions, we ask you also to invite representatives from First Actuarial to provide their view of the situation, at some point early in the new year before the ballot closes. First Actuarial have provided an alternative narrative throughout the negotiations, and have recently completed an evaluation of the latest proposals: https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/8916/TPS–USS-no-DB-comparison-First-Actuarial-29-Nov-17/pdf/firstacturial_ussvtps_nodb_29nov17.pdf. This demonstration of impartiality would be welcomed by members.

We have not yet received a reply.

In case the relationship between Mercer and USS is not clear to our readers, USS state on their website that the scheme valuation “is carried out by the trustee with the support of the scheme actuary, an appointed specialist who reports to the board, as required by law and under the scheme rules.”  The scheme actuary, as we stated in our letter to the VC, is employed by Mercer. You can even download Mercer’s latest valuation from this page on the USS site.

Our Pensions department sent out an invitation to all USS members on 11 December, saying “The session will be run by independent pension experts, Mercer, who are working for our University and not for USS, UUK or University and College Union (UCU).”

We note that as of 13 December, the news post on SUSSED still states: “The Mercer pensions experts, who will run these sessions, work for the University of Southampton, not for USS, Universities UK (UUK) or University College Union (UCU).”

We asked Pensions on 11 December and 13 December to ensure that members were made aware of the interest. As yet, they have not.

We find this extraordinary, particularly given the number of times senior management have accused UCU of lying and misleading its members, students, and the public.

Perhaps they know something we don’t, or have a different definition of the word “independent.”

We do hope that Mercer, at least, will be honest with those who attend the Monday session.