Potential for disruption from industrial action
You may be aware that the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) - representing a number of colleagues at Warwick - is balloting for industrial action this week. This is in response to long-running negotiations on the future of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) that have now concluded, and to highlight demands on pay, casualisation and working conditions. Strike action is being threatened for the end of term one and into the New Year.
I want to write directly to outline the University’s position on USS in the first instance, and to set out the consequences for our students and wider community before you decide your own position about these important matters. I will write with more detail on our position on pay at a later point.
To be clear, this is not a simple dispute about our own University pension arrangements or finances. USS covers over 340 higher education institutions. Negotiations have taken place, and can only take place, at a national level, despite the ballot for industrial action being organised on a local level.
As I have written about previously, it is widely recognised that the current scheme is unsustainable in its present format. Changes are required to ensure that benefits built up in the future are provided at an affordable cost to both employers and members.
Reiterating this: if we continue under the existing scheme, rising contribution levels will become unaffordable for staff. They will also undermine the financial viability of some employers and - as USS is backed by the sector as a whole - we risk being left with other employers’ pension debts if they can’t meet the rising costs themselves. This scenario is unthinkable for all of us who care about the mission of higher education.
To avoid this, we are supporting the sector-wide UUK proposals for USS reform – these proposals will protect existing contributions and only impact on future benefits. While we understand the concerns about these changes, we believe the new pension arrangements form part of a reward scheme which retains defined benefits and reflects the critical role our colleagues play in delivering a world-class education for our students.
Despite a long period of negotiation on USS with the trade unions at a national level, there is no alternative option on the table. We regret that UCU is now balloting for industrial action at Warwick as a result of this situation.
The impact of any strike action will fall on our students – classes cancelled, removal of uploaded teaching materials, exams disrupted, scripts and assessments unmarked and more months of uncertainty. Of course, we will do everything we can to minimise the impact, and to make up for lost teaching and learning. But this is particularly unwelcome after the impact that Covid has already had on their education. Every vote in this ballot risks untold damage, not least as there is still no alternative proposal on the table.
We believe it is time for universities to pull together to ensure students receive the education they deserve, to protect the future of the pension scheme for all of our colleagues and new entrants, and to place the higher education sector on a sound financial footing.
In order to help colleagues make informed decisions about USS, we will be holding independent staff briefing sessions in the next few weeks. All USS members and eligible members will also be able to participate in the national consultation on the proposals later in the year.
We will also give information on the University’s policy and procedures for individuals taking industrial action, and we will run briefing sessions for Heads of Department on managing the potential impact of industrial action.
Please take time to review the information we have put together in Q&A's to give more detail on this situation, and look out for the briefing sessions when we confirm these shortly.
18 October 2021