Key Points on the Pay and Pensions disputes (video)

UCU Sheffield organised a briefing this week for both members and non-members on the disputes and were lucky enough to have a member film the talks so they could be shared more widely. In the first video, Sheffield UCU President and USS negotiator, Sam Marsh, explains what’s going on with USS, while in the second video, Sheffield UCU VP and pay negotiator, Robyn Orfitelli, explains what’s going on with the pay & equalities dispute.

Pensions (USS)

Pay & Equalities


Staff Survey – Our Initial Response

University staff will by now have seen the summary results of the survey. Like you, we received the results via the Principal’s email and links on Monday morning, so we haven’t had much time to digest the findings. We will be asking university management for more information, particularly a breakdown of results by gender, and a breakdown by academic/professional staff.

Management have already told us that they’re going to be wary about circulating free text comments because of confidentiality concerns, but we’ll ask for some analysis of them (e.g. words/phrases commonly used). If you think there is anything else we should ask for, please let us know.

First Impressions

When we looked at the results on Monday it soon became clear that in most categories we’re at or near the bottom of the Russell Group (and indeed most other) universities. This is particularly so in the category of leadership and change management, with (for example) just 36% of participants agreeing that they have confidence in the leadership of the university, and a dismal 24% agreeing that the university manages change effectively.


This is, or should be, an embarrassment for senior leaders. The Principal’s covering email made no acknowledgement of this fact: we are glad he was ‘pleased to see some very positive results’ but we are puzzled at his interpretation. He mentions ‘pride’ where we managed to score at the Russell Group average, ‘respect’ where we were 13 percentage points below with just 66% of respondents agreeing that the University treats them with respect, and ‘relationships’ where we scored at the UUK average (only three Russell Group universities included this question).

Are those ‘very positive results’? We don’t think so. The only acknowledgement of the very poor results in most other questions was a bland admission that ‘as expected, there are also areas which we could improve on’.

Inconsistent Message

Why the weasel words when we know the Principal is capable of tough talking? Whilst we don’t endorse the National Student Survey as a valid measure of student ‘satisfaction’, we can’t help contrasting the Principal’s communications about the NSS results with these ones.

When the university’s NSS results turned out to be towards the bottom of the Russell Group, the Principal did not pull any punches in telling staff to get our act together. We were all responsible, he told us, and we needed to shape up and do better. Where, then, is the ‘clarion call’ to culture change amongst senior leaders in relation to this survey?

Change at the Top Needed

We’ll ask him. We’ll also be looking out for any indications that responsibility for what looks like systemic failure is going to be passed down the chain to heads of schools, subject areas and service units, rather than being shouldered by senior leadership where it belongs. Whilst we agree that everyone has their part to play, we’ve long believed that structural and cultural change is needed at the very top and the survey results appear to confirm that.

Moving Forward

It is clear from the results that the disconnect between staff and senior management is greater than ever. We believe that only by engaging with the entire staff/student community can the problems with staff engagement be addressed. As such UCU, in discussion with the other campus unions, will be asking senior management to include representatives from all staff; such as casualised staff, postgraduate students, early career academics, professional services staff, technical staff, disabled staff, the staff pride network etc., in a wider consultation and in any responses to the issues this survey has raised.



The Final Word is No

First of all ………….

Remember to Vote

The ballot closes Friday 13th April at 2 p.m


The final message we offer before the close of the ballot comes from one of our negotiators and two local members.

Video: #RejectUUKDeal

This video has been produced by Carlo Morelli, University of Dundee, making the case for why you should vote ‘No’.

USS Brief Preview

Just received, an upcoming USS Brief, written by our very own Charlotte Kemp and Joan Cutting.  Linguistic and tactical analysis of the UUK ‘proposal’ of 23 March 2018: Vague language (PDF) unpicks the language used by UUK in their ‘offer’.  As the authors say:

The UUK ‘proposal’ is a carefully constructed rhetorical text whose purpose is to sound as if there is an offer, when on analysis, there is no offer. Others have explored the non-offer. Here, we analyse how the language of the text is carefully constructed to say… very little.

Useful Links

  • USS Briefs – a set of papers by academics on the many dimensions of the USS pensions dispute, written in response to the UUK proposal of 23rd March 2018
  • USS Materials – a comprehensive list of links to articles about the dispute, arranged chronologically and categorised by type.
  • Follow the latest discussion on Twitter via hashtags #USSStrike and #RejectUUKDeal

Yes vs No


As you know, the USS trustees met yesterday. We haven’t heard anything yet about any relevant outcomes or decisions from that meeting, but we’ll update you if and when we hear, especially if it’s in time to potentially inform your voting intentions. 

With just one more day to go until the ballot closes, we thought a ‘virtual head-to-head’ based again on the excellent USS Briefs, might be helpful for those of you who have still to decide.

no1The USS dispute and the dynamics of industrial action

Jo Grady, a pensions expert from the University of Sheffield, argues that:

Voting to accept comes with very few guarantees, but more worryingly, essentially hands UUK everything they want. We have leverage now, we have momentum now, and that should not be forfeited for this deal. Don’t accept a deal just because it’s what’s been put on the table and it looks ok-ish. You didn’t strike for this. Demand better. Demand fairness… Rejecting now, with a threat of more industrial action in order to get a commitment to DB, is the only real option if we want to keep our DB pension. The objective of the next phase of action would be to get the commitment from UUK. This might take the form of written commitments in less woolly language than that currently used, accompanied by an agreement to work with UCU in USS discussions.

yes1Why I have voted Yes to accept the UUK proposal

HEC member Amanda Williams from the University of East Anglia argues that:

I’ve voted yes to accepting the UUK proposal because I think that is the route that is most likely to protect our pension. That doesn’t mean that I trust UUK. It means that I believe that the valuation panel provides the best mechanism for resolving both the current dispute and avoiding future attacks on our pension. If UUK lets us down I trust my friends and colleagues in UCU to be ready to take effective industrial action in future.


If you’re looking for more technical information before deciding which way to vote, you may be interested in: Protecting Defined Benefit; managers, trustees, regulators, and the possibility of a pension scheme that works for usby John Murray, formerly of Zurich Insurance.

Remember to Vote

The ballot closes Friday 13th April at 2 p.m.

Useful Links

  • Ballot email not received or lost – request a replacement (closes at 2.00 p.m. today, Thurs 12th)
  • USS Briefs – a set of papers by academics on the many dimensions of the USS pensions dispute, written in response to the UUK proposal of 23rd March 2018
  • USS Materials – a comprehensive list of links to articles about the dispute, arranged chronologically and categorised by type.
  • Follow the latest discussion on Twitter via hashtags #USSStrike and #RejectUUKDeal

UCU Members on Visas

Communication from UCU HQ

Dear all

As you know, the union took legal advice prior to the USS strike based on the fourteen days period of action. Our advice to members is at question 32, in the frequently asked questions (FAQs) here.

We also wrote to the home secretary on 15 March to express our disquiet at the effect that the management of unauthorised absence had on the fundamental right to strike.

Our parliamentary team have been strongly pressing the minister for a response but despite assurances none has yet been forthcoming.

Once we have that response we will be able to consider whether a legal challenge to this would be effective.

In order to protect members in the meantime we are asking branches to adopt the following position until further notice in any further strike action:

‘The support for strike action from staff on visas has been substantial despite the threatening and intimidatory atmosphere created by the government’s immigration and visa policy. We recognise that further strike action beyond the first fourteen days of action may heighten the risk of staff being reported for periods of unauthorised absence. Staff in this position should therefore be granted a local exemption to future USS strike action and – where it attracts a punitive penalty – the action short of a strike (ASOS). Our expectation is that staff exempted in this way will make an appropriate donation to the strike fund in lieu of any future action. We welcome national UCU’s campaign to exempt the taking of industrial action from the definition of unauthorised absences in order to protect the fundamental right to withdraw one’s labour.’

Please note that our understanding is that there is currently a statutory obligation on employers to report strike action as an unauthorised absence. Our advice is that employers – even those who are sympathetic on the issue – have little room for manoeuvre, hence the importance of the political campaign. If reassurances are received from the home office we will amend our advice accordingly.

Please email me with any queries. Also please note that we will be closing the online form for replacement e-ballot requests at 2pm today in order to give the team sufficient time to check and process requests.

Best wishes

Matt Waddup
UCU national head of policy and campaigns

Vote No in Brief(s)

ussbriefsIn today’s piece on why we recommend a ‘No’ vote in the ballot, we highlight three essential pieces of reading from the USS Briefs site.

The UUK offer: context and analysis

uukoIn this article, Deepa Govindarajan Driver, University of Reading and Kurt Mills, University of Dundee deconstruct the offer, summarise the case against it under four main headings. This article is also well-linked to a number of other USS Briefs for those who want to explore the arguments in more details.

Debunking Sally Hunt’s email

dsheThis article sees Jo Grady, University of Sheffield, Claire Marris, City, University of London, and Jess Meacham, University of Sheffield examine the context of the text of the email that accompanied the ballot link. They present the case for it containing both misrepresentations and factual inaccuracies.

Why which way to vote on the latest UUK proposal should be an easy decision

wwtvSam Marsh, University of Sheffield, argues that the current wording offers no guarantees, and explains the thought processes that has led him to come to an easy decision.


Useful Links

  • Ballot email not received or lost – request a replacement
  • USS Briefs – a set of papers by academics on the many dimensions of the USS pensions dispute, written in response to the UUK proposal of 23rd March 2018
  • USS Materials – a comprehensive list of links to articles about the dispute, arranged chronologically and categorised by type.
  • Follow the latest discussion on Twitter via hashtags #USSStrike and #RejectUUKDeal

Why Vote No?


Five Points in Support of a ‘No’ Vote

  1.  The UUK proposal is a big step forward from the 23rd January decision. Our industrial action stopped the employers imposing a Defined Contributions scheme and they have begun talking about a potential solution. But this deeply ambiguous proposal commits them to nothing – it is effectively an agenda for a series of meetings, not an offer.
  2.  UUK pledge “a pension broadly comparable with current arrangements”. The letter of clarification from UUK’s chief executive says it “does not intend to return to the January JNC proposal to consult on moving to a DC scheme”. But these vague statements, which UCU negotiators had no opportunity to question, carry no guarantees. Indeed, they are the same phrases that we’ve heard before, in relation to the January proposal and the March proposal.
  3. UUK are on the defensive and can be forced to concede more. To accept the current proposal as it stands would concede our advantage, allowing them to regroup and return to attack us again at a later date.
  4.  We have seen two substantial degradations of our pension scheme in the last decade. There are many in the union who want to demand a commitment of no further detrimental change (a ’no detriment clause’) for the current valuation round (i.e. until 2022). This would enable a period of stability that would benefit employers, staff and students. Other commitments short of such a clause are also potentially achievable. So if you favour a ‘revise and resubmit’ position, you should also vote no.
  5.  We need clear timescales for the expert panel. The panel should report by a specified date, early enough to influence the outcome of the current valuation. It should then discuss the underlying methodology and form recommendations on how it sees the future of valuing USS, in time to influence the 2020 valuation at the latest.

‘Revise and Resubmit’ and ‘No Detriment’

With so much information flying about, we’ve been asked to further clarify the difference between the ‘no detriment’ position and the ‘revise and resubmit’ position.
  • Both positions hold that the UUK proposal is a good start, but not enough.
  • Both positions hold that the UCU negotiators should be involved in producing a revised, clarified offer.
  • Those who support the ‘no detriment’ position want to see the inclusion of a clause that says there would be no detrimental changes to our pensions (either increases to member contributions or reductions to benefits) before 2022 when the next valuation would take effect.  It’s important to realise that it is not a ‘no detriment forever’ position.
  • Some of those who favour a ‘revise and resubmit’ position want clarification of terms such as “broadly comparable” and “meaningful element of DB” effective until 2022, and would not rule out small but limited increases in member contributions or reductions in benefits.
  • Both positions require a no vote.

Further information on the “no detriment” position

Flowchart of Potential Outcomes

This is a graphic map posted by Adam Errington on Twtter, illustrating some of the possible outcomes of both a yes and no vote.
Click on image for larger one

View original Twitter post

Useful Links

  • Ballot email not received or lost – request a replacement
  • USS Briefs – a set of papers by academics on the many dimensions of the USS pensions dispute, written in response to the UUK proposal of 23rd March 2018
  • Follow the latest discussion on Twitter via hashtags #USSStrike and #RejectUUKDeal