Changes to the USS Pension Scheme and proposed strike action

Memorandum to staff from Director of HR - March 2011

The purpose of this memo is to inform members of staff about recent developments relating to the USS pension scheme and the prospect of strike action over:

  1. The pension scheme and
  2. Pay and job security.
  1. USS is a private pension scheme benefiting academic and related employees in the pre-1992 universities in the UK. The entre funding for the scheme comes from the employees and the universities – there is no government funding or protection for the scheme.

  2. Changes to the scheme are necessary to ensure its long-term financial viability in the light of increased longevity and other factors such as increasing salary costs and uncertain investment returns. At March 2010, the scheme had a deficit of £17bn in historic funding levels. If the deficit is not reduced before the next valuation in mid-2011, there is a risk that the Government's Pensions Regulator will impose changes on the scheme.

  3. The USS is governed by a Trustee Board chaired by Sir Martin Harris. The Board includes employer and member representation as well as independent members. One trustee is appointed by the UK Funding Councils.

  4. Under the rules of the scheme, there is a Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) comprising five individuals appointed by Universities UK, five appointed by the University & College Union (UCU) and an independent chair (Sir Andrew Cubie). The main functions of the JNC are to approve amendments to the scheme proposed by the Trustees, and to initiate or consider alterations to the rules.

  5. In 2010, the JNC considered proposed amendments to the scheme put forward by the employers and the UCU. The JNC decided to accept the proposals put forward by the employers and recommended these to the USS Trustee Board. On 22 July 2010, the Trustee Board decided to accept the proposed changes subject to consultation with the scheme members.

  6. The overall effects of the proposed changes to the scheme are to:

    1. preserve a final salary pension scheme for all existing members
    2. introduce a Career Average Revalued Earnings (CARE) scheme for future employees based on 1/80th pension and 3/80th lump sum
    3. establish age 65 as the normal pension age for all new entrants and for the future service of existing members. The pension age will increase in line with any future increases in the state pension age.
    4. introduce a flexible retirement scheme for members from age 55.
    5. increase the employee contribution rate for final salary section members to 7.5%, and establish a 6.5% contribution rate for CARE members.
    6. introduce cost sharing for any future increases in the contribution rate based on 35%/65% employees/employers respectively.
    7. inflation proof pensions in payment and CARE benefits in line with increases in the Consumer Price Index, subject to a cap.
    8. inflation proof pensions in deferment on the same basis.
  7. The Trustee Board then asked the employers to consult members of the scheme and to feed back their views. The consultation period ended on 22 December 2010.

  8. On 20 January 2011, the Trustee Board considered the responses of the scheme members and after taking into account the results of the consultation exercise, decided to put forward some modifications to the proposed amendments to the scheme. These amendments would have the effect of improving the terms of the scheme for members in relation to the rejoining period for members who leave the scheme and the proposed caps on inflationary increases.

  9. The amendments were put to the JNC, which met on 1 February 2011. The JNC was unable to conclude its discussions on this occasion or at two subsequent meetings on 2 and 9 March as the UCU nominees absented themselves, thus rendering the meetings inquorate. The Trustee Board is due to meet again and consider what to do next on 17 March 2011.

    Possibility of industrial action

  10. The Universities and College Union (UCU), who are a part of the JNC, argue that the proposed changes to the pension scheme are not acceptable. In a letter of 25 January to the University from UCU nationally giving notice of the Ballot, UCU stated “You (the University) have not provided the necessary assurance that you are willing to amend contracts of employment entitling our members to… …a USS loss of Pension Benefits Compensation Scheme… we consider a trade dispute to exist between you and your employees”. At the University of York, 206 out of 615 UCU members took part in the ballot. Of those 206, 57% (118 members of staff) voted for strike action and 78% (159 members of staff) voted for action short of a strike.

  11. The UCU made a national announcement about strike action in relation to the pension changes. This will begin in Scotland on 17 March and affect England on 22 March. Strike action is scheduled for the whole of the UK on 24 March. This means strike action may occur at the University on both 22 and 24 March 2011.

  12. The UCU is also calling for strike action on 24 March (the same day as one of the proposed strike days for pension changes) in relation to pay and job security, following a nationwide ballot on these issues. 52.62% of those voting favoured strike action, and 73.53% favoured action short of a strike. 34% of members polled took part. We do not know the proportion of UCU members at York who voted in this ballot.

  13. The University of York already has in place a policy on the management of industrial action, and contingency plans for mitigating the impact of industrial action on students. We will be writing directly to every member of staff who may potentially be a member of UCU requesting them to inform us whether or not they intend to take strike action. A further, more detailed memorandum will be issued shortly.

  14. We will continue to provide updates to staff and students via the University website. In the meantime, any queries may be directed to hr-enquiries@york.ac.uk.

Pat Lofthouse
Director of Human Resources

Other useful links

What is a CARE scheme?
See: http://www.pensionsadvisoryservice.org.uk/workplace-pension-schemes/career-average-revalued-earnings-(care)-schemes

Employers pension forum: http://www.employerspensionsforum.co.uk/

Trade Union UCU: http://www.ucu.org.uk/

USS pension scheme: http://www.uss.co.uk/Pages/default.aspx

Proposed changes to USS: latest position: http://www.york.ac.uk/admin/hr/about_hr/news/2011/uss-pension/

 Policy on the management of industrial action: http://www.york.ac.uk/admin/hr/resources/policy/er_managing_industrial_action.htm