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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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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

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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.

Guaranteed Hours Contracts

This page used to host a template letter, written by GH tutors, but has been temporarily unpublished due to University management requests. If you are a GH tutor at the University of Edinburgh, and would like to know how other tutors explain their working conditions to students, please get in touch with the organisers of the UCU PG & PD Network and/or attend their next meeting at 15.00 – 16.00, Wednesday 24 October at the Union Offices.

Your USS Pension – What’s Going On?

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Meeting
Tuesday 26th September, 4.30-6.00
Appleton Tower Lecture Theatre 3

Colleagues,

UCU National Pensions Officer Christine Haswell will be visiting the University on Tuesday to discuss with us the current USS Pensions Consulations.

One of these (1) is between USS and the Universities (UUK) regarding the assumptions which will be used to calculate the current position. The USS Trustee is asking the universities to comment on its proposed assumptions for this calculation. The consultation closes on September 29th. You may have seen reports of huge deficits in the press and it does indeed look like there will be a stated deficit of somewhere around 5 billion Pounds should the current method of calculation be accepted.
However this has been controversial. The basis of the calculation is something called “Test1”. The maths is complicated but the essence of it is the requirement by the Pensions Regulator for these to be done with some regard for prudence. UCU doesn’t disagree with the need for such prudence but argue that USS are being so prudent that they will undermine the pension scheme.

USS are basically arguing for the derisking of the investments of the fund from equities and property into a portfolio consisting of the much safer bonds consisting of Treasuries and company bonds. UCU counter that this would mean a reduction in earnings by the fund of 2% per annum, which compounded out to the 30 year horizon which the fund looks at, is what produces the deficit. There’s a good explanation of this at (2).

USS’s position is that either contributions need to increase by 6.6% of our salaries to fund the consequences of this derisking, or further (as in on top of those in 2011 and 2016) cuts in benefits will be necessary. The employers have been very clear in saying that they will not increase contributions from their current 18% and I think it’s safe to say that we won’t be increasing our contributions from 8% of salary to 14.6% of salary.
UCU hired its own actuaries, First Actuarial, to analyse the position of the fund if this level of pessimism was avoided and look at where we’d be if we simply stayed in a mix of bonds, equities and bonds. They found that given a reasonable assumption (with margin for prudence included) of the extra growth this entails, this would be sufficient to pay the fund’s liabilities (our pensions) in the future. Arguably they are essentially predicting a current surplus. The to and fro of this debate is explained at (2).

It looked for a while as if the employers would be given only USS’s pessimistic assumptions to consider, but one of our colleagues, Sam Marsh, started an online petition at (3) to demand that USS show its workings and that the figures by our actuaries be considered. That’s been successful, but I’d strongly advise that you still sign the petition because it will demonstrate that USS members are not simply shrugging their shoulders, but are engaged in this crucial debate about their future incomes.

Finally, you’ll have recently received a message from Sally Hunt regarding our own consultation on industrial action to defend our pensions. Those of you who know me will understand that I’d absolutely say that we should take such action only as a very last resort. However, after years of our pensions funds being cut and chipped at, I think we’ve got there.

The more alarmist of our colleagues are saying that there may even be a plan to move us from a defined benefit scheme (shared pension fund and shared risk) to the defined contribution schemes now all too common elsewhere. Up to now I’d have been skeptical enough to ridicule this idea. Now I’d have to take an agnostic position because it no longer looks impossible. Certainly running down such a large fund in bonds would be easier than with one invested in equities.

For that reason I’d recommend a “Yes” in the industrial action ballot, to give our negotiators a stronger position; that you sign the petition for the same reason; and that you come along to the meeting on Tuesday.

Michael Holmes
Honorary Treasurer and Pensions Officer