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Pensions ballot starts tomorrow – vote YES and YES to action

Employers are divided over the future of the USS pension scheme, with Warwick VC today making public his concerns about proposals to end the current scheme and transfer all risks to members.  Bath VC Glynis Breakwell, who sits on the board of USS, has not revealed Bath University’s view.

UCU members are now being balloted for strike action to defeat the proposals.  The ballot opens tomorrow, but members at Bath may not get their ballot papers untial a week later after Bath’s HR raised objections to the ballot process.

For more information go to the national UCU website and see the latest Bath UCU newsletter

USS: UCU moves to a ballot for action to defend pensions

A well attended conference for delegates from UCU branches in pre-92 universities was held in Manchester on November 9th. The conference voted unanimously to move to a ballot of members for action to defend pensions. For a full report on the conference click here.

For more background to the dispute over USS see Post by Sam Marsh (Sheffield UCU) at HE Marketsation

Pay and pensions fights ahead

Over 40 members attended a branch meeting on July 20th to hear UCU National Executive Committee member Denis Nicole outline the current position on pay and pensions.


The employers have increased their offer to 1.7% but made no meaningful concessions on either the gender pay gap or casualisation. Members are now being consulted in an e-ballot on whether to accept the offer or not. The deadline for voting is July 28th. If you have not received an email containing your link to the ballot check your junk mail and if you still can’t find it contact UCU head office.


As predicted, the employers are coming back to make further detrimental changes to the USS pension scheme. In 2014 the employers introduced a new Defined Contribution element to the scheme for earnings over £55,000. Defined Contribution schemes provide no guarantee of pension benefits. UCU managed to mitigate some of the worst elements of the employers’ proposed changes, but now they say the scheme’s assets are insufficient to meet future payments, UCU disputes the method used to value the scheme’s assets. It is likely that members will be called on to take action to defend pensions at some point during 2017-18.

USS pensions: more cuts coming ?

The USS pension scheme is the main scheme for academic and academic related staff in pre-1992 universities.  Three of its 10 directors are appointed by UCU.   UCU opposed the closure of the final salary scheme earlier this year.   We did secure some important changes to the scheme to protect members from the worst effects of the closure of the final salary scheme, but it has now ended.

The closure of the final salary scheme was the result of warnings to the USS Board that the scheme faced a huge deficit.   UCU challenged the way the scheme’s assets were valued and members supported strike action to defend the benefits that would be cut for future scheme members.  University of Sheffield UCU have produced a useful account of the events that led up to the end of the final salary scheme.

Now the scheme’s assets are set to be valued again, (for one of the more accessible descriptions of the issues at stake in the valuation process see this post from Mike Otsuka of LSE UCU)  and it is possible – perhaps even likely – that another huge deficit will be discovered and members will have to take further cuts to their benefits and/or increases to contributions.

University of Bath VC Glynis Breakwell has ruled herself out of any discussions with the local branch about USS because she is a paid member of the USS Board.  We have therefore set out to the University’s Director of HR the points we want the University to consider in any representations it makes on the future of the scheme.

For those with the appetite, USS have released a video stream of the meeting of institutions, including Bath University, held on December 1st.

We will keep you informed of any proposals that come forward.

USS consultation – guidance on responding

Our employer has to consult us about proposed changes to the USS pension scheme, and they will do that over a 60-day period starting on Monday 16th March.  UCU has produced guidance on responding to the consultation questions.

Bath UCU branch committee endorses this guidance.  We reject the claim that there is a huge deficit which requires increases in contributions and cuts in benefits.  For a fuller explanation of this, see the helpful note provided by Prof Simon Wood.

If you are not a UCU member please note that UCU has won substantial improvements in this scheme: in particular raising the salary cap from 40K unindexed to 55K indexed. Please consider joining UCU to protect your pension and your pay.

Consultation closes on 22 May.

Further information

A letter from a group of leading authorities on statistics, financial mathematics and actuarial science to Sir Martin Harris, the chairman of the USS trustee board, criticising the assumptions on which the valuation is made

Imperial College London’s official response to USS’s proposals, arguing that USS’s figures ‘are as likely to be modelling artefacts as a reflection of the underlying economic reality’

Warwick University’s critique of the ‘over-pessimistic assumptions and inappropriate methodology’ in the calculation of the USS deficit. Summary available

UCU’s response (compiled by First Actuarial) to the USS Trustee Consultation, providing a detailed critique of the valuation method.

Note in particular:

  • the cashflow projections for the next 70 years show USS’s healthy financial position (p.26)
  • the inconsistency in the assumptions (section 5)
  • the discussion of long-term rates of return from equities and gilts (section 7)
  • the distorting effect of the choice of discount rate based on gilt rates (appendix B).

Recent article in ‘The Actuary’ by a former vice-chair of the Bank of England, critical of the thinking behind derisking:

Note in particular the section on ‘misreading of risk’, which is especially relevant to USS.





Act now to stop pension theft

Another well attended branch meeting (minutes of meeting) called on UCU negotiators to stand firm as employers try to steal the pensions they promised us when they hired us.   Members should vote NO in the current online ballot. (more…)

Members urged to vote NO to USS changes

UCU has suspended the assessment boycott for a further period to allow time for members to be consulted about changes to the employers’ proposals for the future of the USS pension scheme. You will receive a message from UCU head office inviting you to take part in an online ballot. Your branch committee has examined the changes to the employers’ proposals and is strongly recommending that we REJECT the current offer. (more…)

Bath re-affirms commitment to defend USS pension scheme

Another well attended branch meeting on 24th November heard a report from National HE Committee member Harriet Bradley, in which she said members were likely to be called on to take further action in January.  The Branch also agreed a resolution re-affirming the position adopted by UCU negotiators in September, and calling for a sector conference in January for all branches to discuss developments in the negotiations with employers currently underway. (more…)

Assessment boycott suspended until 16th January – but more action likely to follow

UCU HE Committee decided yesterday that as the employers are prepared to talk about their proposals to change the USS pension scheme, the assessment boycott will be suspended until January 16th.

Harriet Bradley, who attended yesterday’s HE  Committee meeting , will speak to a meeting of members in Bath on Monday 24th November 1.15 pm in 6E2.1.  Read Harriet’s report here.

Thanks to all members who have supported this action since 6th November.  It is only through your action that we have prevented the employers from forcing through the changes they want to make to the USS pension scheme.

Another report from yesterday’s meeting  suggests that while our negotiators may be prepared to hear what the employers have to say over the next six weeks, the employers have so far made no significant concessions on their proposals to change the USS pension scheme.

“The dispute is not over.    Indeed it was emphasised by everyone that we needed to be prepared to take hard-hitting action in January.  The employers have not retreated from their deficit estimates and ‘de-risking’ strategy.  We have a substantial political job to do in Senates, Academic Boards etc to put pressure on our own employers to challenge the proposals.”  (Sean Wallis UCL).

Monday’s branch meeting will consider a call for a special HE Sector Conference in January for delegates from ALL 69 pre-1992 universities involved in the USS dispute

Pay docking

HR have informed us that

“in accordance with the agreement reached nationally, we will not be withholding pay for breach of contract in respect of any individuals who participated in the action short of a strike between 6 and 19 November 2014 on the condition that those individuals make up all work missed in a reasonable period of time.”

The University has been informed of the suspension of the boycott so you do not need to contact HR.

Bath UCU calls for pressure to be maintained as employers move on pensions

Our action to defend pensions has already produced results.  Members received a message from UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt last Thursday with details of latest developments in the USS dispute.   She reports that

  • the employers have agreed not to press their proposals to a vote
  • there will be a series of formal and informal negotiating meetings  between now and the next joint negotiating committee meeting on 15 January 2015
  • actuaries representing UCU, UUK and USS will meet to discuss the funding position.

UCU HE Committee will meet on Wednesday to consider whether this movement is enough to suspend the assessment boycott.

Bath UCU met today and after a long discussion at a well attended meeting agreed a resolution calling on the HE Committee  to suspend the boycott only at those institutions that both publically question the need for the proposed changes to pensions being pushed by UUK’s negotiators and also announce that they will not be docking the pay of UCU members participating in the assessment boycott. The boycott would continue at all other institutions, including Bath.