University bosses insist they are open to talks in pensions row
Universities UK says it has ‘never refused’ to try and find a solution to the dispute
University employers have insisted that they are open to talks in an ongoing bitter row over pensions, saying they have “never refused” to try and find a solution.
As strike action over the dispute entered a second day, Universities UK said it was “open to the possibility” that they have not considered every angle in looking at pension scheme changes.
The comments come as university bosses faced pressure to get back round the table and work with union officials to find a solution to the increasingly fraught problem.
University workers at campuses around the UK are taking to picket lines again today in protest at proposals put forward by UUK for changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme.
Sally Hunt: "@UniversitiesUK needs to stop sending out mixed messages on whether it wants talks. We hope sensible voices at the UUK strike summit will give their negotiators a clear mandate to go back to the table to sort his mess out."https://t.co/LWREJZZgQ0 #USS #USSstrikes— UCU (@ucu) February 23, 2018
In an open letter to USS members, UUK said: “With the prospect of further industrial action in the coming weeks, we wanted to take the opportunity to let you know what the Universities UK position is in this dispute over pensions, and also the basis on which we are asking UCU to engage in further talks.
“We wanted to make it clear that we have never refused to continue to try to find an affordable, mutually acceptable solution.”
It has appealed for members to put forward their views on the current proposals in a consultation that starts at the end of March, adding: “We have sought independent expert advice at each stage of this process, but we are open to the possibility that we have not considered every possible angle.
“In the meantime, we wish to continue to discuss any credible, affordable proposal; and even at this late stage, we are confident that employers would want to consider whether such a proposal could form the basis of a way forward.”
University vice-chancellors are meeting in London today for their regular quarterly meeting to discuss higher education issues, and it is likely pensions will be raised.
In response to UUK’s letter, Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: “Universities UK needs to stop sending out mixed messages on whether it wants to talk or not. We hope the sensible voices at this morning’s strike summit will give their negotiators a clear mandate to go back to the table and get this mess sorted out.
“If they want to talk to us without preconditions, as the universities minister has suggested, then let’s do it today. The sector is suffering from a serious image problem at the moment and staff and students deserve much better from their leaders than spin and subterfuge.”
The dispute centres on proposals that would mean the USS is no longer a “defined benefit” scheme, which gives workers a guaranteed income in their retirement, and would become a “defined contribution” scheme, in which pensions are subject to fluctuations in the stock market.
UUK maintains that the pension scheme has a deficit of more than £6 billion that cannot be ignored and that it has met union officials more than 35 times to discuss reforms.
UCU argues that the current proposals would leave a typical lecturer almost £10,000 a year worse off in retirement.
Workers began walkouts at 57 institutions on Thursday, in the first wave of action that will continue in the coming weeks if there is no resolution, building up to a five-day walkout in the week beginning March 12, by which time 64 universities will be affected.
Universities Minister Sam Gyimah has called on both parties to resume talks, saying he was “deeply concerned” about the impact strikes would have on students, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sent “solidarity and thanks” to university workers and urged employers to commit to negotiations.
A number of vice-chancellors have shown their support for the industrial action, including Professor Chris Day of Newcastle University, who tweeted: “I absolutely support staff’s decision to strike”.
Please see my response to today’s strike pic.twitter.com/ZzCYkMOUbQ— Chris Day (@prof_chrisday) February 22, 2018
Students have joined university staff on picket lines, while there have been reports that tens of thousands of students have signed petitions demanding compensation for lost classes.
UUK later called on UCU to attend talks on the pension scheme on Tuesday next week.
In a statement, it said: “It is of paramount importance that both sides make every effort to meet – despite the ongoing industrial action – to stop any impact and disruption to students.”