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USS Pension

The Dinosaur is extinct, but Solidarity is forever.

The Dinosaur of Solidarity (@of_dinosaur) was a surprising, joyful, hugely inflated, creation, born out of, and in, the strike to defend our pensions in 2018.

Just typing these words feels like a lifetime ago.

The Dinosaur has been ‘mostly sleeping’ since the strike ended, but it is with sadness that we announce today that we will be deleting the Twitter account and that the Dinosaur Of Solidarity will make her last appearance at the Southampton UCU summer celebration on 20th June.

For those that don’t know, the idea for the Dinosaur of Solidarity came from a joke started by our former UCU Branch President, Laurie Stras. Laurie was recovering from a serious operation over the early months of 2018, leaving me in the Presidential hot seat to oversee the strike. Her surgeon advised her to restrict her arm movements, with the suggestion that she should ‘think T-Rex – teeny tiny arms’; the rest, as they say, is history.

A package arrived at the Southampton UCU office, containing a gigantic inflatable dinosaur suit, and a plan was hatched to use this to rally the strikers, and to have a bit of fun. Members of the branch exec set up a Twitter account with the loose aim of supporting the strike. We naively imagined a few of our 1000+ strong membership might engage with the account and that it might inject some humour into our information sharing.

During the strike the ‘live’ dinosaur addressed the assembled pickets across our campuses, each day, usually providing an update on the pension negotiations, and sometimes instigating dancing or call and response chanting. Alongside this our ‘DoS social media team’ put out Twitter updates, some factual, but many simply dreadful puns or satirical comments. Expertise in the team meant we had some great photos, video clips and an unexpected wealth of knowledge relating to palaeontology (oh, the things you find out about your colleagues when you actually have time to talk to them). We also had the benefit of humorous responses to our tweets, which kept our spirits high.

Inspired by the LadyBird Books for Grown Ups that filled stockings everywhere over the preceding Christmas, I found an old Ladybird book, and in the evenings, after strike planning, picketing, rallies and attending teach outs, the Ed the Badger book was created as a Twitter meme. The text accompanying the 1950s illustrations of mice and woodland creatures was tried out on the social media team; if they laughed it went out. Again this was simply an attempt to keep our spirits high through the campaign. One of my most joyful memories in the strike was sitting upstairs in union house, pressing the Tweet button, and hearing the ping ping ping ping as people liked and retweeted the book pages.

The strike was hard. We were a small local team, few of us had experience of major strike action.

It was cold. It snowed. It rained. People were angry about their pensions.

Our local management were very much aligned with UUK, and unsupportive. But the strike held. We had pickets across campuses, some in venues that had never had a picket before. We had the largest and longest supported industrial action in the history of the branch. And the Dinosaur was part of that. She was shared with a few thousand people on Twitter, and encouraged some fabulous imitations (Picketing Panda became a friend) but above all she was ours, she belonged to Southampton UCU. The branch activists were clear that she was there to amplify the messages about the strike, and to boost morale. She did her best to do just that.

Behind the scenes the DinoTeam learnt on the job. Sometimes we made mistakes – learning quickly that we should read to the end and view all videos before ReTweeting, for example. Occasionally the tone of a Tweet or a comment at a rally was wrong. We apologised, amended and tried to do better. We talked as a team about how best to use the Twitter account and what was ‘allowed’ and what did not feel right. I will always have positive memories of this time because we were the union and the university at its best, we were a learning collective working for and with each other, acting with integrity, and with joy.

In the months that followed the strike, the EC lost several members, including two of the three members of the DinoTeam. I stepped into the President role. Meanwhile the Dino slumbered, and there was less room for comic interludes as the branch dealt with rising casework, severances, the VC’s early retirement and the fallout from a devastating staff survey.

We are aware of other branches where UCU members have been subject to victimization for posts made on social media in periods of strike action. Recently a Times Higher editorial criticised ‘trolling’ of University managers by parody social media accounts, claiming that these undermined the sector. These events and discussions remind us that words and ideas are powerful, and can serve multiple interests, and so need to be used with care. Latterly a disturbing parody of the parody emerged as a ‘fake dino’ Twitter account began injecting negativity into the General Secretary election campaign. This was not associated with anyone involved with the Southampton @of_dinosaur team and was, we felt, an extremely unhelpful intervention in an important democratic process.

At a branch executive in May we discussed the closure of the @of_dinosaur account and the ‘death’ of the Dinosaur of Solidarity. This decision was linked to my own departure from the University. Branch executive members agreed that the Dinosaur had been a marvellous vehicle for ideas and humour in the strike but that the responsibility for the Twitter account and the ‘creation’ could not easily be transferred. In the event of a future strike or action new approaches would be needed, and these would necessarily be supported by a new team.

The departure of the Dinosaur is tinged with my personal sadness at leaving the University of Southampton, and the local branch after 16 years, but I am proud of what we achieved in the strike and of the part that @of_dinosaur played in our success.

News last week from USS indicates that we have more to do defending pensions, but also on pay, fighting for equality, job security and better workloads. The work continues and will go on. I am leaving the branch in strong capable hands. The next generation of activists and volunteers will take us forward without the Dinosaur. And that feels right. The Dinosaur understood extinction from the start. Together we were always clear that it was the living mammals that mattered.

RIP The Dinosaur of Solidarity (@of_Dinosaur).
Years active, 2018-2019.
T-Rex, UCU member, humourist, and defender of USS pensions.

New Year – New Hopes

This time last year we were preparing for what turned out to be the biggest and longest strike action taken at this branch – to protect our USS pensions. UCU members came out in the rain and snow (and occasionally in the sunshine) in unprecedented numbers to defend their defined benefit pension. UCU made a clear case that our pensions are deferred salary and that the proposed changes and cuts to benefits were unacceptable, coming as they had after years of below inflation pay settlements and significant increases in workloads.

The strike campaign revealed fundamental flaws in the valuation of the pension, and in the way that many of our employers – including our own VC – represented our interests in negotiations with USS. Our pressure on our employers won concessions from USS, not least the establishment of the JEP, which reviewed the methodology and valuation of our pension. Unfortunately, intransigence on the part of USS and some employers means that we have to continue to press USS to implement all the recommendations of the JEP. To that end this branch has written an open letter to our VC Sir Christopher Snowden to ask him to ensure that the JEP recommendations are implemented.

Against the backdrop of this vital national campaign about USS, this branch was busy in 2018 supporting UCU members facing job cuts and highly disruptive organisational change. We helped staff facing Voluntary Severance across several departments, and those affected by Voluntary Redundancy in Health Sciences. We were sad and angry that the VC and senior managers reneged on earlier promises of ‘no more reorganisations’. Once again we found ourselves having to protect individual members and groups facing threats to their livelihoods. Sadly it was often necessary for us to push the senior management to adhere to employment law and recognise the damage of poorly managed organisational change.

Members of the branch attended numerous consultations with senior management on a range of issues from the project restructuring our Faculties from 8 to 5, as well as reviews of professional services, and closures of units. We constantly asked senior management to follow, and where necessary, improve, policies.  Over the course of 2018 we were forced to raise many concerns, in particular, about the abuse of appraisal and performance metrics. Members also raised complaints about the introduction of the new Clarity travel system and, thanks to positive engagement by the senior management side with UCU, many initial problems were resolved. We will continue, of course, to take your complaints about the new travel process to the management team – please let us know of  difficulties you experience.

In 2018 we lobbied the University Council as part of our campaign to improve University governance. We highlighted staff and student concerns about the cuts to frontline staff and dissatisfaction with the excessive rates of pay for both the VC and the ever growing number of senior managers. Linked to this, and prompted by members we created a petition about the new VC, and you may have seen that the UCU elves reiterated our demands before the Christmas break. We will continue to push the university to improve senior management.

Throughout the strike and beyond we had several successful branch General Meetings and these were well attended and sparked vigorous debate. We held three branch strategy days, and have been able to offer training for new representatives. We have outlined priorities for the branch in 2019 as follows:
Better Governance – more diversity in membership of key governance committees and restore effective staff representation at Senate and more public sector and education to Council.
Improve Appraisals – fix the many problems with new appraisal metrics and processes to restore the positive and developmental appraisal process negotiated with UCU
Ensure Equality – focus on the gender pay gap and take action on unconscious bias
Deliver Living Wage – work with sister unions to ensure living wage for all staff at the University and push for fairer VC and senior management salaries
Defend Health and Safety – focus on excessive workloads and overwork culture at the university, stamp out bullying and harassment, but also continue to push senior managers to mitigate serious risks to health of staff and students.

Alongside these our network of volunteer caseworkers and reps will continue to support members across the University. As ever the more members we have the stronger we are – so please do speak to your colleagues about joining UCU. We will be continuing our series of UCU workshops and Take a lunch break meet ups. We welcome ideas from you about how to get members involved in the work of the local branch.

As we head into Semester 2 we will retain our optimism for 2019. Let us hope that the new VC is able and willing to listen to frontline staff and our students, and will work with us to improve our University.

Open letter from Southampton UCU Executive Committee to University of Southampton President and Vice-Chancellor regarding the USS Pension Scheme

Dear Sir Christopher

We write with concern as to the recent developments regarding the USS pension scheme.

As you know, nearly a year ago staff here at Southampton took unprecedented action to defend their USS pensions. Since the JEP report and the decisions of UCU and UUK to endorse the JEP’s recommendations, USS has stated that it will now undertake a fresh valuation of the USS pension scheme using March 2018 data. This new valuation requires participating employers to be consulted on the assumptions used to value the scheme’s liabilities

https://www.ussemployers.org.uk/sites/default/files/field/attachemnt/2018-technical-provisions-consultation.pdf

The JEP estimated that if all its recommendations were implemented, current benefits (minus the match) could be secured for 29.2% – 3.2% higher than the current 26%, but substantially lower than the 36.6% previously proposed by USS.

In the new technical provisions, USS states that it is not persuaded of the case for two of the proposals made by the JEP: the postponement of de-risking in the first 10 years and the smoothing of contributions over two valuation cycles. However they also say that, even without implementing these two recommendations, contributions can be as low as 29.7% if they can agree suitable contingency arrangements with the employers.

The USS consultation with the employers finishes in mid-February and we ask on behalf of Southampton UCU members and members of the USS pension scheme here that this University will call for the full implementation of the JEP, including the postponement of de-risking and the smoothing of contributions.

We seek assurances that this University will:

  • call for the full implementation of JEP recommendations;
  • support measures to secure the lowest contributions possible for staff (mindful that pay has not kept pace with inflation);
  • support further work by the JEP to improve the methodology for future valuations which would have the support of all sides.

We look forward to your response and formally request permission to communicate such to our members.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely

Catherine Pope

On behalf of Southampton UCU Executive Committee

Something for the holidays – brief update on the USS Pension ‘holiday’

In the late 1990s the University of Southampton like other employers reduced its USS pension contributions to 14%. Tom Pike, Vice President of Imperial’s UCU wrote an open letter earlier this year saying “with the benefit of hindsight can be seen as the source of the current technical deficit — if employers had maintained an 18.55% contribution there would be another £7 bn in the fund, based on the known subsequent net levels of USS investment return.” Universities UK have argued that the ‘special rate’ of 18.55% met the cost of the future benefits then accruing, and met the shortfall in funding terms relating to the USS’s predecessor scheme, known as FSSU. Universities UK claim that linking the reduction in contributions to the current (disputed) deficit is misinformed.

More on USS pensions (and why the USS consultation is just a paper exercise).

Members will have seen the SUSSED statement, and had personal emails, informing them that USS is consulting on increased pension contributions from both employers and employees. USS have announced that they have opened the statutory consultation about these increases. The USS consultation is, we suspect, like all previous USS consultations – simply a paper process to comply with regulations. We have no evidence that USS has ever responded to input from scheme members or made any changes following such consultations.

To summarise the USS statement, the planned increases in contributions would be staggered, from April 2019, adding 0.8% to the existing 8% employees pay for April 2019 and this will rise in two steps to 11.7% in April 2020. Employers would also pay larger phased increases, and their 1% match of voluntary additional contributions would come to an end. These plans are being imposed by the USS Trustees under the scheme’s “rule 76” as the Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC), composed of UCU and employer representatives, has not yet reached agreement on how to balance contributions and benefits to the actuary’s satisfaction. USS claim the increases are needed to cover the projected (but much disputed) deficit in the scheme.

Following the strike action earlier this year a Joint Expert Panel was set up to look at the USS valuation and the alleged deficit. The JEP is continuing its work and will report to the JNC in September 2018. USS have said that their Trustees will continue to engage constructively with the JEP.

The valuation of the pension is at the heart of our dispute. The November re-valuation offered a gloomy forecast of a growing deficit. This re-valuation was provoked and supported – as we subsequently discovered – by a minority of employers with vested interests in shifting to a defined contribution scheme. (Members will recall the additional and coordinated voting by several Oxbridge Colleges).

In response to the earlier September 2017 valuation of the pension, USS suggested that employing institutions could afford increases, and as Mike Ostuka recently noted it would have been possible to retain the current pension benefits (minus the 1% match) via a more modest 5.8% total increase in contributions.

The November re-valuation of the scheme ‘created’ an allegedly much larger deficit but in recent months this has dropped from £17.5bn to £8.4bn in response to new modelling based on revised mortality trends and bond yield forecasts.

Our action earlier this year forced the employers and USS to suspend their plans to reduce our pension benefits and they agreed to set up the JEP.  We believe it is unlikely that the current proposals to increase contributions will actually be implemented as the employer costs are very high; they result from the trustees following the rulebook without waiting for the JEP or JNC.

Rather than wasting time engaging with the USS paper consultation, members here might like to write to our VC asking him not to support those in USS and Universities UK who want to reduce the value of our pensions. After a year of demoralising cuts and restructuring it is time that our VC stood up for his staff.

For those who want to read more on about the pension UCU has provided regular updates about the JEP. Mike Otsuka has threaded a series of his blogs about USS. There are also a number of new  USSBriefs on this topic.

“Don’t let our pensions go extinct” – Or, it’s not over ’til it’s over

It’s now been a month since the Dinosaur of Solidarity led striking members around the campus in a conga, celebrating our strength of resolve that was evident from the fourteen days of successful strike action held during February and March.

We hope that branch members are aware of the result of the e-ballot consultation on UUK’s proposal, in which nationally members voted almost 2:1 in favour of suspending strike action to allow for the formation of a Joint Expert Panel; the JEP will be charged with scrutinising the valuation methodology of the USS scheme.  We understand that UUK and UCU are meeting this week to scope out a framework for the panel. We also understand that objections have been raised both in this forum and by UCU press office about UUK’s press release on Friday 13 April, after the result of the consultative ballot became known. We await a report to HEC on these deliberations.

We have so much to be proud of as a branch. We’ve delivered a continual and joyous message of solidarity throughout the strike (Nota bene: it’s not over ’til it’s over). Our commitment to consensus and democracy may make the message we deliver seem out of step with other parts of the union, but we’ve maintained a respectful conversation within the branch about the way the dispute has been managed; we have done our utmost to consult with our members on substantive issues, and we have tried to help all members make decisions for themselves.

We would love to see the warmth and cooperation of the strike weeks continue in the branch’s activities in the months to come: while none of us wanted to cancel classes or lose income, and most of us really didn’t like being out in the cold and wet, almost every other aspect of the picket was life-enhancing: the singing, the baking (if you ignore an extra kilo or two), the space and time to meet and talk with new colleagues, the shared sense of purpose, the support of our students, the teach-outs, the generosity of strangers.  While senior management opine about – without ever demonstrating – collegiality as a value, we found a way to make it work in the snow and the rain.

The Dinosaur of Solidarity is our gift to our colleagues, local and national; she may have been (contrary to reports) a serendipitous creation, but she is also a symbol of what is best about our branch: a collective expression of a positive will for change, fairness, courage, and good humour when faced with management’s baffling and sometimes surreal vision for our community. By tapping into our enhanced collegiality we not only keep ourselves ready, should need arise, to get back out on the pickets, but we also will be able to be a proactive force for good in the university, like never before. It’s wonderful to see our membership so dramatically increased, but it’s even more wonderful to have so many colleagues energised in the pursuit of a better, more democratic workplace.

 

 

 

UCU consultation on UUK proposals – information for Southampton UCU members, 5 April 2018

As you will know from UCU emails and, if you are following the debate on Twitter, from numerous blogs and Twitter threads, members now must take part in an e-ballot on the choice whether or not to accept UUK’s proposal for a Joint Expert Panel. The consultation opened Wednesday 4 April at 12 midday and closes at 2pm on Friday 13 April.

You should receive a personalised link to the e-ballot. Do not delete this email: it has your unique voting link in it. If you have not received an e-ballot email, the quickest way to resolve this is to request a new ballot using the form below. Will help to have your membership number ready (can be found via the MyUCU portal on the UCU webpage).

We will have an informal Branch Meeting on Friday 6 April (4pm, 02 / 1089 [L/T D], Highfield) and an EEGM Wednesday 11 April (3.30pm, LT/B, Avenue). MEMBERS ARE ENCOURAGED TO ATTEND BOTH MEETINGS IF POSSIBLE. Friday’s meeting will be a chance to let us know your views prior to the formal meeting on Wednesday.

The e-ballot consultation is on the UUK proposal made on 23 March 2018: whether to accept the proposal and suspend our action, or to reject it and continue the strike. The proposal outlines a new forum for reaching consensus; it does not constitute a definitive offer regarding our pension:

  • UUK have proposed a joint expert panel (JEP), nominated in equal numbers from both sides, to agree key principles to underpin the joint approach of UUK and UCU to the valuation of the USS fund. The JEP “will make an assessment of the valuation” and make a recommendation to the JNC aimed at providing a guaranteed [e.g. Defined Benefit] pension.
  • Future negotiations will “reflect the clear wish of staff to have a guaranteed pension comparable with current provision” and include discussions on “comparability between USS and TPS.”

Plus

  • The 100% Defined Contribution (January 2018) proposal is “off the table.”
  • The Pensions Regulator (tPR) has indicated in a letter to USS that they will engage with the JEP.

The branch executive are not yet recommending a position in this important vote – we will meet on Monday to see if we have a consensus based on current information; however, the USS Board meet on 11 April, and they will also need to endorse the proposal if it is to be workable. Above all, this is your pension and we respect the right of members to reach their own decisions. We will support the majority decision of our union following this democratic process. Your branch executive have a range of views regarding the vote and the proposals and we are happy to discuss these with you as personal opinions (with the caveat that we are none of us actuarial or pension experts).

We urge you to read the email from Sally Hunt about the consultation, sent 4/4/18, and consider the various briefing materials from UCU and colleagues in other branches:

Below we summarise the UUK proposal and the different sides of the argument, to the best of our understanding:

VOTE YES: 

If the majority vote YES then UCU will suspend the industrial action but keep our legal strike mandate live until the proposal is formally noted at the USS Board .

Reasons you might consider voting yes (to accept the proposals)

  • The offer of JEP and willingness to negotiate was a key demand – now met.
  • To suspend the industrial action – in the interests of students and colleagues, or in light of hardship/detriment. Accept that we can restart action if needed.
  • In the opinion of several lead negotiators, we have negotiated the best offer possible (the impact of strike was limited – we have not shut down the Universities and timing means less impact due to exam period etc. Note that some Universities are planning to strip out content from exams so students are not disadvantaged and this could reduce impact.)
  • The DB deal we were offered and rejected in March (1/85 DB accrual up to £42k, but with inflation revaluation only up to 2.5% CPI) represents some movement by UUK, notably in retaining commitment to DB in short term, and the offer to put in more money into our pension than they have before. This is a sign of willingness to move in the right direction.
  • This will take the 23 January JNC 100% DC option off the table.
  • Useful blog/information: Mike Otsuka

VOTE NO:

If the majority vote NO then UCU will continue with currently planned strike action (16 April onwards) and have a fresh ballot to escalate the action further in the Autumn. UCU will ask the employers to further improve their proposal so that it contains a ‘no detriment’ clause (to commit the employers to paying more into our pension to preserve current DB – their unwillingness to do this was a factor in bringing about the current dispute).

Reasons you might consider voting no (to reject the proposals)

  • More strike action could provide more leverage and stopping now may lose momentum and support.
  • The proposal is not a long term DB deal which many UCU members want.  (Reference in Jarvis’s letter to “meaningful” defined benefits is the language used to describe the DB deal rejected in March)
  • The JEP and valuation requires us to trust UUK and our employers.  The JEP may have little authority, no time-scale, and no way of reaching a decision. USS may not be able to delay submission of the 2017 valuation for the JEP so this may only influence the next valuation. This does not return us to the September valuation so the scheme may still be considered to be at risk of future deficit.
  • USS leadership may not accept JEP or JNC recommendations. USS might accept a move to Collective Defined Contribution (CDC) but this is not possible under current regulatory framework. CDC is not as good as DB. Accepting the proposal may open up CDC possibility.
  • Useful blog/information: Sam Marsh

 

 

Our working conditions are your children’s learning conditions

Hello to all parents of University of Southampton students:

We wanted, as a branch, to talk to the parents of the students affected by the recent industrial action, and potentially by its continuation in the summer term. Some of us are also parents of students who are at university, or who will soon be, and we are acutely aware that the strike has an impact well beyond the campus.

We are striking because of changes that are threatened to our pensions, which are held by USS (the Universities Superannuation Scheme), one of the largest private pension schemes in the UK.

No employee wants to go on strike, and in particular members of UCU (the trades union for academic and related staff) do not want to go on strike, because we know that our actions affect our students. Whilst not all members of UCU are lecturing staff, it’s clear that our actions do have an impact – whether we are helping your students in the library, providing them with technical support, or providing the services that support their lives at university.

We know that students who are at the University of Southampton are capable, intelligent and socially aware adults. We have seen that from the support from the Student Union, from individual students on the picket line, and especially from the spontaneous and welcome gifts of hot drinks and food given to members standing on picket lines.

However, we know that parents, as their children return home for the Easter break, will be keen to understand how our actions may impact on their future. We would all feel the same for our own children (and do).

The reasons for our action are clear: the promises made by Universities UK (the employers’ representatives) in previous changes to our pensions have not been kept. The changes can be summed up simply: the USS and UUK position is that extra risk for the employer is intolerable, even when shared by 350 institutions, but that high risk is fine when borne by us as individuals.

UUK now say they are appointing an independent group to examine the valuation of the scheme, which sets out a hypothetical deficit they have insisted needs to be addressed, but it’s not clear how the independent nature of the panel will be assured if UUK alone is involved in its appointment.

Finally, we as a union are not alone in questioning how UUK have brought us all to this state of affairs. Even the vice-chancellors of some of our most eminent universities – including Warwick and Cambridge – are joining in with challenging UUK’s methodology and actions.

We ask you please, to support us in our action. UUK can end this industrial dispute at any time. We know our withdrawal of labour has a cost – not just to us, but also to the students. Please, if you feel you can, write to the President and Vice-Chancellor, Sir Christopher Snowden (vice-chancellor@soton.ac.uk) and make your views heard; as an influential VC he can act to help end this dispute.

Southampton UCU

Vice-Chancellor’s Response to letter of 16 March 2018

We have received a response to the letter sent on behalf of members to Sir Christopher on 16 March 2018.

“Dear Professor Pope and UCU Branch members,

“Thank you for  your letter of 16th March 2018.

“As you know, I have listened very carefully to the views expressed to me during the recent period of industrial action. I have talked to and been in dialogue with dozens of members of staff, in person, in groups, by email, and on the picket line, and I have had similar contacts with hundreds of students.

“I fundamentally understand the importance of pensions and the need to have the best possible and affordable schemes for all our colleagues at the University . My belief that as a sector we need to responsibly address the current situation and also ensure the long-term financial sustainability for future generations of the USS pension scheme has not changed. This needs to be balanced with the recognition of the acute financial challenges currently faced by all universities.

“I have, of course, heard and understood the strength of feeling of many members of staff on the issue of pension reform and that is why I directly and repeatedly urged Universities UK, and the Board of the Russell Group to return urgently to negotiations to try to find a more acceptable and still affordable,  proposal.

“Like many, I had hoped the alternative proposal which had been agreed between national UCU and UUK negotiators at ACAS, and which retained a substantial defined benefits component, could provide the pragmatic resolution required to end this dispute. Like many,  I was disappointed that this agreement was so quickly rejected nationally by UCU branches, although I appreciate the more considered reaction at Southampton.

“I can assure you that every day since that decision I have continued to try to use my influence within UUK, and within the Russell Group, to ensure that the momentum of those good-faith talks is not lost. I have strongly urged that talks resume at the earliest opportunity to find a workable and reasonable way forward as soon as possible. I will continue to press for that this week.

“I accept that the issue of the 2017 pension valuation is a source of considerable dispute, and will be key to any resolution. That is why I support the suggestion of setting up a panel of independent expert s to review the process and methodology of the most recent valuation, which was a part of the ACAS-mediated agreement.

“I also accept that universities as well as employees may need to contribute more into USS as part of an acceptable resolution, which is why, after much reflection, I did support the negotiated proposal developed at ACAS. But we do all need to understand the potential implications of what could be substantial additional contributions by universities – it would inevitably mean very significant additional savings have to be found elsewhere in order to fund any such additional contributions. In respect of deductions of strike pay, in common with most other universities, deductions for strike action to date will be spread across the March and April payrolls.

“Finally, I would like to express my sincere thanks to those UCU members who took industrial action for the collegial way in which they did so, and I am particularly grateful to all those members of staff who have clearly taken steps to minimise the impact of the industrial action on our students. They have been caught up in a dispute through no fault of their own, and that is why we need to find an acceptable way forward, and as soon as possible.

“Yours sincerely,

Professor Sir Christopher Snowden

President and Vice -Chancellor

cc: Dr Rider, Chair of Council”

 

 

Members’ update – 19 March 2018

Dear members

Welcome back to work. And a warm welcome to the 200+ new members that have joined the branch.

Many thanks to all our members who participated in the first 14 days of strike action – on the picket lines, by staying at home and not working, by writing to the VC, and by donating to the hardship fund.

We also thank our colleagues and friends in sister trades unions for refusing to engage in strike breaking activities and for their support of our picket lines and striking staff.

Thanks, too, are due to our students, individually and collectively (as SUSU and a myriad of student societies and groups including Southampton Students Against University Cuts and Socialist Students) who have engaged with the Vice-Chancellor, sent messages of support, and kept the picket lines supplied with cakes and good cheer.

Make no mistake, our action to defend our pensions is working.

Before the strike began, UUK said there was no possibility of any movement on their position.

  • UUK refused to go to ACAS  – then they did;
  • UUK said that they could not consider preserving defined benefits – then they did;
  • The statutory consultation on full defined contribution had to start on 19/3 – it is on hold;
  • We were told that independent valuation was impossible – now it is planned.

Locally, our senior management told us that they would deduct pay for action short of a strike (ASOS) or working to contract – we remonstrated, and they backed down.

When the offer of a deal was made last week, this branch felt that we needed more information and we were minded to support suspension of the action to allow the deal to go to a vote by all members.  In the end, there was a strength of feeling across country in favour of rejecting the deal – we listened, debated, and heard concerns that

  • while the proposal retained defined benefit it did so with too great a reduction in the maximum pensionable salary;
  • the proposed reduction in accrual rate was unacceptable;
  • the proposed CPI cap, given volatility associated with continuing uncertainty over Brexit, was unacceptable;
  • the proposal still weighted risk disproportionately on scheme member rather than the employer collective;
  • the proposal included a commitment to encourage staff to reschedule missed lectures and classes. Although in practice, this would have been logistically very difficult, many members believed this was an unacceptable condition.

The deal was rejected and the dispute continues. National UCU is currently consulting with branches about further strike dates in the summer term.

UUK appear willing to talk and a number of astonishing concessions have been made, which offer us hope that we will be offered a better deal. We have written again to our VC, and to the Chair of Council asking them to put pressure on UUK to offer us a better deal.

We are asking ALL members to participate in ASOS.  This means working your contracted hours.  This will undoubtedly impact on what gets done – even our senior managers have conceded that our workloads regularly extend beyond the work hours we are actually paid for. This will be painful – like taking strike action – but it is vital that we keep up the pressure on our senior managers and on UUK.

UCU has asked all members to resign from external examining roles for those HEIs affected by the action. As a result, we have lost a number of external examiners for programmes and doctoral examinations here, and many of us have resigned from these duties elsewhere.

Members here have prepared a helpful guide to the ways in which you can support the strike and ASOS. We expect this to be added to over the coming days and weeks – please keep your suggestions coming for how we can ensure this part of the action has maximum impact.  

The dispute here has thrown a spotlight on a number of local concerns that extend beyond the pension dispute. Conversations here have highlighted staff dissatisfaction with

  1. the governance of the University of Southampton – the lack of academic and ARPS staff voices in decisions; the dominance of external influencers who have no background in higher education on our strategy and practice; the lack of transparency;
  2. the restructuring and cuts – we are concerned that this is yet another top down, ill-managed organisational change that is damaging education and research;  
  3. the ever-increasing size and remuneration packages of the senior management – when front line staff are being cut do we really need to expand the number of managerial roles, including both academic and administrative leadership, earning over £150,000?
  4. gender and other inequalities – the publication of the Equal Pay Review in the middle of the strike did little to reassure staff here that senior managers take inequalities seriously – the 21.5% gender pay gap is indefensible;
  5. workloads – the requests from senior managers to prioritise work that comprises some 60% of workload cements the view that our workloads are excessive – we simply cannot do the job in our contracted hours (which is why we work weekends and evenings to the detriment of our health and wellbeing);
  6. attacks on our lower paid colleagues in levels 1-3 who are also threatened with the removal of their defined benefit pension (we are working closely with our sister trades unions UNITE and UNISON to support these staff).

Given the scale of these concerns it is little wonder that senior management have booted the proposed annual staff survey to October – they are undoubtedly too scared to find out what we think. But they are also apparently using the busy-ness of our return to work to hit us with another wave of job losses: this morning the Exec were made aware of four new consultations comprising 28 new redundancies, 24 of which are in UCU’s bargaining group, ERE staff and MSA/TAO staff appointed at Level 4 and above. We cannot afford to reduce the pressure on our employers with regards to either our pensions or these local issues.

If all this seems overwhelming, please do remember that the strike has brought out the best in us as a community – our strength and our common values. It has reminded us of many of the things that we thought we had lost at this University. We have rediscovered collegiality – we have talked to each other unfettered by the silos of academic units or impossible schedules. We have laughed together and supported each other. We have debated and learned alongside students and members of our community (especial thanks to our wonderful colleagues who led daily teach-out sessions during the strike). We have harnessed an inflatable dinosaur and social media to spread our messages – much more successfully than Universities UK or our own corporate comms.

Above all we have rediscovered that ‘We Are the University’. As of today we are asking you to join us to reclaim your University and higher education. Whatever your role here, you are part of our team and together we can do this.

If you are reading this you are also a member of UCU – the largest post-16 education union in the UK. We are asking you to help us fight for you.

Here’s what you can do – starting today

  1. stick to ASOS – work  your hours
  2. come to the EGM on Friday 23 March 11 am Building 29
  3. ask a colleague to join UCU
  4. donate to the local hardship fund – we will be distributing payments soon
  5. volunteer for our new working groups, or as a caseworker supporting members in difficulty
  6. defend USS – strike and ASOS planning group (Wave 2 of the strikes will commence after Easter)
  7. restructuring and cuts  
  8. misuse of appraisal  
  9. protecting the statutes and ordinances  

You can volunteer today by contacting Amanda ucu@soton.ac.uk

We do not want to lose the momentum and well-being created by the strike.  We urge you to grow your networks and establish regular contacts with each other to engage in everyday small acts of resistance and to reclaim the University.  We will use our social media, other online and offline networks to publicise these acts – and please suggest ideas of your own. Thus far we are aware of

  • reclaim your lunch break clubs – to meet in the observatory B85, the Arlott Bar, Avenue Canteen or off site;
  • ‘go home on time’ email cascades around work groups to remind people to work their hours;
  • plans for teach-outs to meet colleagues and students outside the constraints of the formal curriculum.

Thank you for reading this far.  We have come a long way since the strike action began on 22 February. We have further to go but We Are the University. We will fight together.

Cathy, Mark, Roger, Marianne, Dave, Sarah, John, Mary, Huw, Maureen, Tim, Amanda, and Laurie (in absentia)