More than a year after UCU members stood down from the picket lines, the prospect of another strike is again looming in the air over alleged mishandling by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the fund manager, and over employers acting in bad faith with regard to pensions. The main concession the striking union gained from employers back then, as avid subtext readers will no doubt recall, was the establishment of the so-called Joint Expert Panel, which would look closely at valuations past and future and make recommendations which both employers and staff representatives would stick by. Employers, however, have been rather selective in which elements of the panel’s recommendations they support. If this dispute were only between employers and staff, this position would clearly contravene the spirit and letter of the agreement gained during the last strikes. However, because USS is a separate legal entity, employers can throw up their hands and claim that they can’t do anything about USS’s refusal to implement the JEP valuation recommendations, and USS in turn claims that it is bound by the regulations around pensions.
There are a number of problems with these claims of helplessness: first, the board of USS consists of both employers and staff representatives, with employers holding the casting vote. They can set policy for USS. Second, it has been alleged, according to reports in the Financial Times and the Today Programme (links below) that USS has withheld information from its trustees and misrepresented The Pensions Regulator’s position on risk.
UCU is demanding that employers bear the additional costs of pensions (due to USS’s decisions on valuations) until the JEP recommendations are implemented in full. Watch this space – or possibly the space outside the Sports Centre, where strikers may in due course again put on picket discos and brandish signs with duck-related puns.