Thursday, 22 February 2018

Striking to save our pension

Today is day one of a strike by members of the UCU trade union, of which I am a member, and therefore a striker. 

I don't think anyone much wants to undertake strike action, and the reasons behind it have to be pretty strong before they take this step.  

The collective group of our employers, Universities UK (UUK), have proposed to stop the defined benefit pension scheme, in which we will work towards a pension which is a guaranteed amount based on our salaries and length of service, and in which all the money paid in by all members is lumped together and used to pay out pensions of those retired.  They propose to change it to one in which we each build up our own individual pension pot, which we then treat like a private personal pension when we retire.   It may not sound utterly outrageous, but all estimates suggest that it will results in significantly decreased pensions for all staff -- particularly younger staff.  What's more, the modelling on which it is based is extreme and unrealistically pessimistic.  In fact, this modelling showed that even in the most extreme worst-case, that all universities were to close immediately, and all the current investments were immediately de-risked into low-yield gilts, then the scheme would still be in surplus with a high probability, but because of the uncertainties in modelling, there is a possibility that the pot would be in deficit, that we should right now slash all future benefits.

Perhaps unusually for a strike, many University Vice-Chancellors are calling for UUK to accept UCU's call to come back to the negotiating table and I can only hope that they do so.  I don't enjoy being on strike, and I'm sorry for the negative effect it has on students.  I also appreciate the support of many students for the action, and hope as much for their sake that it is successful in keeping academia as a (reasonably) attractive place to work.