Archive for Universities Superannuation Scheme

Union Matters

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , , , on October 14, 2018 by telescoper

The above collection of goodies arrived last week in a Welcome Pack from the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT), my new trade union. I sent in an application to join some time ago, and was getting a bit worried that it might have been lost, but then confirmation arrived in the form of my membership card along with a pen, a badge, a lanyard, an application form for a Credit Union and various other bits and bobs. It’s only by standing together that academics in Irish universities have any hope of exerting enough pressure on the Government to get it to reverse the persistent underfunding of Higher Education in this country. Even then it won’t be easy – last week’s budget had nothing whatsoever in it for universities or students.

Incidentally, according to the online budget calculator, I’ll be a princely €28 per month better off next year as a result of small changes in taxation, but it seems to me that the priority should have been to help the less well off and it failed to do that. No doubt, however, the cautious approach to public finances shown by the Government is largely down to the uncertain effects of Brexit.

While I am on about unions, some of the readers of this blog will recall that I was participating in industrial action by UCU (the Universities and Colleges Union) in the UK earlier this year in relation to proposed cuts to pensions in the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). I have since left that scheme, deferring my benefits from it until I retire, but I couldn’t resist passing on a link to an article I read yesterday, which argues that USS’s valuation (which resulted in a deficit) rests on a large and demonstrable mistake and, when this is corrected there is no deficit as at 31 March 2018 and no need for detrimental changes to benefits or contributions.

Could it be that all that pain was caused by an accounting error? If so, then heads should roll!

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Why I’m taking part in the UCU Strike Action

Posted in Education, Politics with tags , , , , , , on February 21, 2018 by telescoper

In case you weren’t aware, from tomorrow (22nd February) the University and College Union (UCU) is taking industrial action over proposed drastic cuts to staff pensions funded by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS). You can find some background to the pensions dispute here (and in related articles). A clear explanation of why the employers’ justification for these cuts is little more than fraudulent is given here and here you can find an example of the effect of the proposed changes on a real person’s pension (ie a cut of almost 50%). I also blogged about this a few weeks ago. There’s no doubt whose side the Financial Times is on, either.

I am not a member of UCU – I left its forerunner organisation the Association of University Teachers (AUT) as a result of its behaviour when I was at the University of Nottingham – but I will be participating in the industrial action, which takes place over four weeks as follows:

  • Week one – Thursday 22 and Friday 23 February (two days)
  • Week two – Monday 26, Tuesday 27 and Wednesday 28 February (three days)
  • Week three – Monday 5, Tuesday 6, Wednesday 7 and Thursday 8 March (four days)
  • Week four – Monday 12, Tuesday 13, Wednesday 14, Thursday 15 and Friday 16 March (five days)

This is a bit complicated for me because I only work half-time at Cardiff University (usually Mondays, Tuesdays and half of Wednesdays) and at Maynooth University the rest of the time. The USS only covers UK universities, and the dispute does not apply in the Republic of Ireland (though it does affect higher education institutions in Northern Ireland) so I won’t be on strike when I’m working for Maynooth University, which includes the first two strike days (tomorrow and Friday). I will be participating in industrial action next week, however, and have today sent an announcement to my students they hear from me that the strike has been called off there will be no lectures on 27th February, 6th March or 13th March.

All staff will be docked pay for days not worked owing to strike action, of course, but that will be far less than the amount to be lost in these pension cuts. In my case I will be docked the equivalent of three weeks’ pay as 2.5 days a week I work are all strike days in Weeks 2-4. Moreover, I shall be leaving the UK for Ireland this summer and the pension cuts will not affect my pension anyway – any changes will not be made until after I’ve left the USS scheme. Nevertheless, this is an important issue and I feel it is right to take a stand.

One final comment. Last week Cardiff University sent an email to staff including a link to a website that stated:

If staff refuse to cross a picket line and they are not a member of UCU they will be in breach of their contract of employment with the University.

In fact, any strike action (even by a union member) is a breach of contract. The law however prevents employers dismissing staff who participate in industrial action, provided that it is lawful (i.e. following a ballot, and with due notice given to the employer, etc). The government website makes it clear that non-union members have exactly the same protection as union members in this regard. The Cardiff website has now been changed, but I’m very unhappy that this extremely misleading communication was sent out in the first place.

I sincerely hope that there is a negotiated settlement to this issue. Nobody wants to go on strike, especially when it has the potential to damage students’ learning. But there comes a point where you have to draw a line in the sand, and we have reached that point. I hope I’m proved wrong, but I think this could be a very prolonged and very unpleasant dispute.