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UCU Edinburgh represents academic and academic-related staff at the University of Edinburgh.  UoE grades 6-10 and postgraduates are eligible to join UCU Edinburgh.  We work with other unions on campus as part of the Joint Unions Liaison Committee

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General meeting 24 January, 5-6pm

UCU Edinburgh branch will hold a General Meeting focusing on pensions and anti-casualisation work, on Wednesday 24 January, 5-6pm, in 50 George Square, G.04.

We will discuss the results of the Pensions ballot and further action. We will also discuss the branch’s anti-casualisation work and the new policy on lecture capture. Full agenda below.

UCUE General Meeting 24 January, 5-6pm

Agenda

1. Pensions update and planning

UCUE committee will share information from a recent national Pensions meeting, and discuss strategies forward.

2. Lecture capture policy

UCUE committee will detail the branch’s work on the policy, and discuss the current policy consultation.

3. Anti-casualisation work

UCUE committee will detail recent meetings on anti-casualisation work in the branch, and plan further action.

4. UCU Scotland and UCU UK congresses

USS – USE YOUR VOTE: Management’s Response to Our Queries

We submitted some specific questions to management in December. We have now published their response (below).

This non-committal reply demonstrates how important it is to Vote YES, YES in the current ballot: please post your ballot paper now!

(If required, replacement ballot papers can be requested here)

SENT ON BEHALF OF SARAH SMITH, UNIVERSITY SECRETARY

Dear colleagues

Thank you for your email of 5th December in which you asked a number of questions about the current discussions on USS.

You asked questions about the Court Sub Group. The Court Sub Group is made up of Court lay members: Alan Johnston (chair), Robert Black and Doreen Davidson. The Court Sub Group acts under delegated powers from full Court. The Court Sub Group reported back the key items at the December Court meeting. Court noted the response and discussed the importance of ensuring good communications with staff. CMG were kept informed on this issue through the Finance Director’s report. It would not have been appropriate to seek CMG’s agreement as that decision rests with the Court Sub Group.

You asked a number of further questions about the points made in the Senior Vice-Principal’s communication to all staff on 13 November, in particular about the University’s view about the subsequent proposal that was tabled on behalf of the employers by UUK. We understand that no agreement was reached at today’s meeting between UCU and UUK at the Joint Negotiating Committee and that the JNC is now expected to come to a decision on 23rd January, with further discussion between UCU and UUK in the interim. When we have a final decision on a firm proposal, our Court Sub Group will reconvene to consider this and we would be very happy to meet to discuss the detail further with you.

You ask a number of specific questions about the assessment of the sustainability of the scheme, referring to your understanding that a best estimate valuation gives the fund an £8billion surplus and that it takes in more than it gives out. Our understanding from the most recent USS actuarial valuation is that the scheme is in deficit in the order of £7.5billion as the fund needs to be valued on forward funding requirements and costs of the scheme, not solely on today’s activity level. As a ‘last man standing scheme’ USS requires collective responsibility – however the range of employers across the 300+ member institutions is huge with large differences in affordability, assets which could be offered as security and variations in approach. In the UoE response we were mindful of the potential impact on other employers and their ability to continue to participate (and the knock-on effect that would have if they couldn’t). The Pensions Regulator has re-assessed its view of the Employer covenant and is less convinced of the covenant strength that at the 2014 valuation. The opinion of The Pensions Regulator is not one we can or would ignore. It is inappropriate to view the Pensions Protection Fund (PPF) as a backup in this context as it only applies when there is a qualifying insolvency event in relation to the Employer, and where there are insufficient assets in the pension scheme to cover the Pension Protection Fund level of compensation. We remain committed to our covenant commitments.

You ask a number of supplementary questions. We would be happy to come back to you on these but think that that would be most productive when we have seen the full detail of whatever final proposal emerges. In the interim we would like to reiterate the view of the Court Sub Group: that the outcome of the current discussion should be one which is seen by staff to be fair and in the best interests, and should also provide stability for the future.

Pensions: Our Response to Charlie Jeffery

USS_IconFollowing Professor Charlie Jeffery’s email to staff (13 Nov), UCU Edinburgh has through the Joint Unions Liaison Committee (JULC) requested answers to the following questions via the Combined Joint Consultative and Negotiating Committee (CJCNC).   

Our first set of questions arise from the email; these are followed by three supplementary questions. The italicised statements below are all taken from Professor Jeffery’s email, we would like answers to the ensuing questions.


“We, along with all other Universities that offer USS, were asked to respond to a number of questions on the USS Technical Assumptions, the method used to value the pension scheme.”

Can JULC have a copy of the University’s response to the USS Technical Assumptions, preferably ahead of our meeting (on the understanding that this would be kept confidential)?


“Our response was considered and agreed by a special Sub Committee of Court. “ 

JULC would like to know the following:

1) What was the membership of the sub-committee?

2) Has the full Court seen the response? Does it agree with it?

3) Has CMG seen the response? Does it agree with it?

4) Can we see the minutes of any meetings this sub-committee had?


“We said that we wanted the outcome to be something that is seen by staff to be fair and in their best interests.”  

Does University management believe the current UUK proposal is fair and in the best interests of staff?

If not, what steps have or will be taken to stress to UUK that their proposal does not meet this University’s criteria as communicated to staff?


“We confirmed that we would be willing to maintain the current level of employer contribution at 18%.

We also said that we were willing to consider alternative proposals for the amount of contribution if it would secure the long-term sustainability of the scheme.”

What consideration was given to increasing employer contributions in the line with the recommendations of the Trustees and why was this option rejected?

Do you acknowledge that the current proposal, while keeping the employers’ contribution at 18% results in an actual reduction in the amount going into fund future staff pensions from the employers as a higher amount is set aside for past deficit reduction, administration and costs? Is the implication that you would be prepared to pay more than 18%?


“We emphasised the importance of future pension arrangements being sustainable; attractive; valued; flexible; predictable and stable. 

We believe the current UUK proposal is none of these and especially it is not predictable, since Individual Defined Contribution schemes offer no guarantees. Again, what message will you send to UUK regarding their failure to meet your criteria?


“We recognised that there will be expectations from staff to maintain a defined benefit structure for USS.” 

Is the University committed in any way to supporting the expectations of staff?


” However, we expressed concern that changes to the threshold for defined benefit or a reduction in the accrual rate would be unlikely to solve the structural problem associated with USS, given the continuing issues around sustainability.” 

Do you recognise that any ‘structural problem’ with USS results purely from a ‘recklessly prudent’ approach to the valuation methodology? The fund takes in more than it pays out and on a best estimate valuation has an £8 billion surplus.


“We expressed particular concern about the impact of an unsustainable scheme on our staff, as well as on our institution. ”

 Why do you think the scheme is unsustainable, given that it brings in more than it pays out, is a last man standing scheme, backed by the employers’ covenant and ultimately the PPF?

Are you backing out of your covenant commitments?  If senior managements elsewhere are not committed to the covenant, what will you do to convince them to keep their promises?


“We recognised that maintaining the current structure would not address the recent trend of increasing deficits in the scheme (caused by liabilities growing faster than assets).” 

Again, do you recognise that the idea of liabilities growing faster than assets is

only true of the notional valuation and not of the actual performance of the Scheme as it is currently invested? If you do, then how can you communicate this to staff?


“This trend is driven by factors substantially out with our control or that of the Trustees. This could mean that the scheme might require regular review and possible further amendment.  We were concerned that constant revisions to the scheme benefits and structure might lead to mistrust and a lack of confidence in the scheme from the membership!”

 Do you realise that any lack of confidence in the scheme seems to rest solely with the pensions regulator, based on their lack of trust in the employers fulfilling their covenant?

Early discussion seemed to indicate that a majority of employers favoured some form of Defined Benefit.

What evidence do you have that the UUK negotiators are reflecting the majority position of employers, given e.g. the statement by the VC of Warwick that he is mystified by the proposals?


“We therefore stated that we thought it important to agree changes that would provide stability for the longer term. We proposed that detailed work should be done to develop options, including for a good quality, robust defined contribution scheme.

This work should clearly draw out the implications for employees of any move from a defined benefit to a defined contribution scheme, including the greater flexibility to access pension benefits in defined contribution schemes, resulting from recent changes in the law.

We were very clear in our response that we want to incentivise savings for retirement and do NOT want any changes to lead to any reduction in employers’ payment towards pension provision.  “

Again, do you acknowledge that keeping the employers’ contribution at 18% does result in a reduction of the amount being invested in future pension provision?


“We want the outcome to be a pension package that offers a high degree of certainty and is valued and supported by staff.” 

Given that the current proposal by UUK offers near zero certainty of anything, will you put to them that they need to come up with something better?


“We also recognised that this is an extremely complex area and suggested that robust yet simple models should be developed as the discussions progress so that staff can see clearly the implications of the final proposals. “

 Can we assume from this that you have so far seen no calculations as to what staff expectations might be? Can you please insist on this immediately?


Supplementary Questions

  1. Would you support an alternative to Individual Defined Contribution (IDC)such as Collective Defined Contribution (CDC) or a Wage in Retirement scheme (WinRS)?
  2. If the UUK proposals for IDC go ahead would you support opening to staff better alternatives to USS such as TPS?
  3. After a decade of reductions in benefits for increases in contributions, staff no longer trust USS. Similarly, given their reluctant acquiescence to such changes, employers no longer trust USS. If the UUK proposals go ahead would you agree to providing the same increases in salary in lieu of employer and employee pensions contributions, for staff wishing to quit USS, which you give to staff who have reached the Lifetime Allowance for pensions?

Statement Regarding the Working Limits on Postgraduate Tutors

The Working Conditions of Tutors are the Learning Conditions for Students

Undergraduate students at the University of Edinburgh may be unaware that a significant percentage of their tutors are employed on Guaranteed Hours contracts (GH contracts).

There are many issues with the approach adopted by many prestigious universities to the employment of post-graduate and other tutors on GH contracts.

The working conditions of staff are the learning conditions for students and we think that it is unacceptable for universities who market themselves to students on their reputation for high quality provision to employ large numbers of their staff on contracts that prevent them doing their jobs as effectively as possible.

The trade union representing academic and related staff, the University and College Union (UCU), are taking these issues up with the University of Edinburgh management.

However, we ask undergraduate students to be aware that we believe the current arrangements mean that there are too many insecure contracts which disrupt educational relationships, stifle the development of teaching staff and often put them under unbearable pressure to cut corners by employing them on poor hourly rates that fail to cover the work they really do.

If your tutor says that she or he has insufficient time to meet your needs, there is a good reason for it. We are clear that current arrangements mean that tutors are not always paid fully for:

  • All hours spent preparing for teaching (reading assigned texts, setting questions, identifying secondary readings, marking handouts, presentations, etc.)
  • All hours spent marking essays
  • Evaluating participation in tutorials
  • Administration
  • Professional development

Your tutors do their best to read your work thoroughly, provide you with detailed feedback and offer assistance outside of tutorials but please be aware that the current GH contract arrangements mean that this is not always possible.

We ask you to understand why your tutor may not be able to meet your wishes.

In 2018, the UCU will be reviewing the situation regarding GH contracts. We want a situation where tutors are paid properly for what they do and are treated fairly. Updates on developments will be posted but in the meantime, we hope for your support.

University and College Union

December 2017

General Meeting, 6th Dec 2017

As you might be aware, the UCU Edinburgh branch has been working hard for job security and for the rights of casualised staff for many years. In addition to local reps campaining for pay for hours worked in different areas of the university, in March 2017 the branch put in a local claim on casualisation, which has resulted in a number of meetings with HR and upcoming work scheduled in the schools LLC and ECA.

We have had a few wins which include pay for marking, moves to fractional contracts for a number of members, and a raised awareness of the problems that casualisation causes. Parallel to the anti-casualisation work, the branch has been campaigning on workload, raising this issue repeatedly with management as well as collecting material through surveys of members.

This meeting will update members on recent developments, and discuss with members ways to move forward in linking issues of workload with causalisation. We hope you can make it:

Wednesday 6 December, 5-6 pm

Room LG34, Paterson’s Land, Holyrood campus

USS Ballot – Use Your Voice

ucu_usspension_animated_crop_1

UCU’s higher education committee has agreed to launch an industrial action ballot in the dispute over the future of USS. They have said serious and sustained industrial action is required in the face of damaging proposals from the employers which would effectively destroy the pension scheme.

Your pension is under attack

  • The employers want to end guaranteed pension benefits.
  • They say your final pension should depend on how your ‘investments’ perform and not on your contributions.
  • We say it’s wrong to risk our members’ futures.
  • Vote Yes to strike action.
  • Vote Yes to action short of a strike.

The postal strike ballot opens on Wednesday 29 November

More details

GH Tutors and Demonstrators

Guaranteed hours tutors and demonstrators update
In response to employment issues raised by the UCU Edinburgh Postgrad/Postdoc Network (UCUE PG/PD network), a meeting took place Friday, October 13th between representatives from senior University management, UCUE officers, representatives of the UCUE PG/PD Network, and representatives from the other campus trade unions. 
 
After a productive discussion, agreement was reached in three areas: 1) a plan to advertise the publication of the new ‘Policy for the Recruitment, Support and Development of Tutors and Demonstrators’ (which can be found at the URL below); 2) an undertaking by management representatives to discuss our proposals on interim changes in practice to Charlie Jeffery, Senior Vice-Principal, and the Heads of College in CAHSS and CSE; and 3) a reaffirmed commitment to addressing UCUE’s local claim on Guaranteed Hours (GH) staff, with an initial pilot project working with LLC and ECA to explore alternatives to the GH model (first meeting on Monday 16th October).
 
In addition, it was noted that the topic of GH staffing will be discussed at a future meeting of Senate.
 
We will keep you updated with developments, and ask that you keep us informed about how the new Policy is being implemented via the PG/PD Network.
UoE Tutors and demonstrators policy
The recently launched policy for tutors and demonstrators states that tutors should be paid for all work deemed necessary by Schools to perform their duties: this include preparation time, marking and other forms of assessment. Mandatory training and meetings should also be paid for. The policy also reviews the ‘cap’ on working hours for PhD tutors.