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The Exeter UCU Committee will meet on Friday 14th of February to prepare for the forthcoming industrial action.

Get Involved on the EUCU strike committee:

Are you a seasoned UCU striker? Do you want to help with coordinating the pickets? Why not join our EUCU strike committee on Friday 14th at 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm Building:One Syndicate Room C (Streatham), TH Old Chapel Lecture (Penryn)? Please be in touch via the contact form to be involved as volunteers with pickets and strike teach-outs, and with the Communications Officer Claire Foullon to be involved as volunteers in making everything we do highly visible – image is all to our university management.

We also have scheduled an Emergency General Meeting for members as follows:

Special Strikes – Emergency General Meeting of the Branch – Confirmed guest speaker: Dr. Robyn Orfitelli (one of our national elected negotiators).

Monday 17th February, 3:30-4:30pm, Streatham: Laver LT6,
with links to Penryn: DDM Lecture A, St Luke’s: South Cloisters 1.21 and Truro: room F089 at ECEHH.

Robyn will be attending remotely and will help to answer questions you may have on the negotiation strategy etc.

Branch motion:

We can receive motions related to the strikes and we have received the following for members to discuss and take a vote at the EGM:

Friday 14th February Updates:

Declaring Strike Participation

EUCU members are under no obligation to declare our strike intention to students or management in advance of the action. Colleagues should make their own considered judgements about the appropriateness of making advanced declarations.  In the interest of student welfare, the branch advises colleagues to state your intention to strike when approached by individual students that cite mobility, mental health, or aligned concerns.  

UCU members with disabilities

The University has no concerns about UCU members with disabilities parking in accessible parking spaces and using disabled toilets on campus while picketing.

VC Response to EUCU Committee

Dear Sharon,

Thank you for your letter of 12 February.

We do understand colleagues’ concerns about the rising cost of USS pensions. As you will be aware, under the agreed cost sharing formula, universities have borne the majority of the increase with contributions rising by 17.2% from 18% to 21.1% and this University will have to find an additional £4M each year to fund these increases. Employers have already made an offer to UCU negotiators on the employee contribution rate. As I said to you at the Joint Committee for Consultation and Negotiation last week, I am disappointed that UCU rejected this offer without undertaking a full consultation with members. The offer made by UUK at the USS JNC meeting in August 2019 – to pay an additional 0.5% of the members’ contribution rate for two years (until October 2021) – would have set employee contributions at 9.1%. This is the contribution rate recommended in the JEP1 report, which was accepted by UCU. This settlement would have provided time for all stakeholders to consider the second report of the Joint Expert Panel and apply agreed changes to the 2020 valuation which would supersede the planned October 2021 increase with an alternative, more affordable and sustainable solution. It is not too late for UCU to suspend its industrial action while it consults members on this offer and the progress made in the JEP2 talks.

I have repeatedly given colleagues my assurance that Exeter will continue to work collectively with other employers in the sector to bring a resolution to the two disputes. Regrettably, I do not see that the steps taken by employers have been matched by movement from the UCU national leadership on either of the disputes. While I will continue to dialogue with fellow Vice-Chancellors and UUK, I would ask you to confirm that you will write to the UCU national leadership urging them to undertake a consultative ballot with members. I think it would also be appropriate for you to advise branch members of this so that they can decide whether they too would wish to contact the national leadership direct and urge a full consultation on the employers’ offers.

With best wishes

Steve

Professor Sir Steve Smith

Wed 12th February Updates:

Letter to the VC from EUCU Committee

The General Secretary, Jo Grady, wrote on Monday that ‘Universities UK has launched a fresh consultation of employers on whether to cover USS pension contribution increases that have been imposed on members.’ This shows that the credible threat of strike action has sharpened minds and that there is still a short window in which employers can take real steps towards resolving this dispute. We have written today to the Vice Chancellor to urge them to support UUK making a new offer to UCU.

Dear  Vice Chancellor,

As a USS employer, you are currently being consulted on the relative contribution rates paid into the scheme by members and employers. Since April 2019, members of USS have been forced into higher contributions to USS, rising in October 2019 to 9.6% of their salaries. This has hit the lowest-paid and casually employed university staff the hardest, and risks a potentially destabilising exodus from USS. On the eve of another fourteen days of strike action by the Union, we urge you to support UUK making a new offer to UCU on the employee pension contribution rate.

It is clear that staff at this University have huge concerns about the increases in pension contributions, especially coupled with a decade-long decline in real-term pay. What has angered our members is not just the rise in contribution rates, but the flawed valuation methodology by which USS has justified it. Last October, members of Exeter UCU showed their determination to take action over the failure of universities to resolve USS issues in the interests of their employees and voted for strike action on both pay and pensions. Members deeply regret the impact on students, especially given the support so many students have shown for our cause; but they feel they have no choice. Only a new offer from UUK may change their minds.

It is in your power to stop these strikes by taking action on pay and pensions. You now have a short window in which to take real steps towards resolving the pension aspects of this dispute. We urge you to respond to UUK’s consultation by supporting additional contributions for employers in the period prior to the implementation of the 2020 valuation, to ease the burden on staff. We ask further that you commit to a full exploration of the recommendations of the JEP2 report, published last December, regarding approaches to the 2020 valuation and reform of USS governance. If you act now to prevent this round of strikes, together we can pursue a long-term solution to this long-running dispute.

Yours sincerely,

Exeter UCU Committee


Pension officer update

UCU pension negotiator Sam March* and Jo Grady provided a skype update for branch pension officers on Wednesday Feb 12th. They suggested progress was being made on the pension dispute and they were cautiously optimistic. There are tripartite talks taking part that now include UCU, UUK, and USS; with more USS involvement than in the past and a more positive working relationship. They emphasized it was strike pressure that had brought people to this point, with the recent reballot strengthening institutional pressure and the proposed 14 day strike sharpening focus.

Your support has led directly to these developments, and there is hope something concrete will come out of the pension negotiations. They were clear that this dispute cannot be resolved without an improved offer from employers to address the impact of pension contribution increases on staff and that any final resolution will require an offer on both disputes (pay and pension).

A key demand in the USS pension dispute is that employee contributions need to come down. Members of USS have been forced into paying higher contributions to USS, rising in October 2019 to 9.6% of their salaries. These have risen as a consequence of USS employers not adopting the Joint Exert Panel (JEP) recommendations that followed the end of the first period of industrial action in 2018.

The first JEP reported in Sept 2018 and looked at the then current USS valuation. The second JEP, released in autumn 2019, looked at long-term scheme governance and the basis of future valuations. Both challenged assumptions in the USS valuation that led to the current increase in employee contributions. Both were supported by independent actuaries and welcomed by UCU. If full recommendations from the JEP had been accepted then employee contribution rises would not be needed. The UCU demand for USS employers to cover further employee contributions seeks to pressure them into changing their position, as well as mitigate the ongoing impact on your pay. There may be some encouraging signs about this.

We heard this week that UUK is now consulting with USS employers about making a new offer on the employee contribution rate. Exeter UCU have written a letter to the Vice Chancellor urging him to support additional contributions for employers in the period prior to the implementation of the 2020 valuation. Joint work on scheme valuation and governance is continuing with potentially promising developments for future valuations, including around dual discount approaches, which could address some valuation problems, and de-risking, which could address issues around low return investment.

There is a strong mandate on the strike action for the USS dispute and a clear plan for what continuing pressure from university staff planning for the next period of strike might achieve.

*Sam Marsh is a UCU negotiator for the USS dispute and a good communicator on complex pension issues. If you want more information on the USS dispute you might find his video a helpful introduction, or watch the recording of his talk at our October 2019 EGM.