The update… After three weeks of strikes, which had helped to bring about the hopeful prospect of talks between UCU (our Union) and Universities UK facilitated by ACAS (an impartial body), a “deal” was offered on the 13th of March. The rumour of a deal being reached was a relief and we started to plan our return to work, teaching and research, all the things we love doing.
However, 61 UCUs (including University of Liverpool UCU) rejected the offer made on the 12th of March. Here, we want to explain why…
1) The proposal stated that the valuation of our pensions that they released in November 2017 was wrong (a good start), but despite this it still estimated the numbers based on this valuation. The proposed deal required us to contribute more of our pay to the pension scheme than we currently do, while making cuts of 25-35% to our pension. This would leave many of us (your lecturers and other staff) below poverty level in their retirement years.
2) The offer was only valid for a 3 year transition period after which a new offer might be put in place, making it likely that in 3 years time we would be back where we are now – having to fight for our pensions again.
3) The proposal would hit people at the beginning of their careers the hardest. Our universities can only make the contribution – to research and to teaching – that they do if they can recruit talented young people. This attack on our pensions is only the latest in a number of developments that make careers in academia unattractive or even unthinkable for many people of your generation who would otherwise have so much to give. Universities can only suffer because of this.
4) The proposal asked us to reschedule the teaching lost during the strike. This is unprecedented and would basically invalidate the whole strike. It would also undermine any further strikes for the future. Since strikes are sadly the only route available to us in shaping the way the university is run this is very important to many of us.
The only genuinely good thing in the offered deal was the agreement to get an independent evaluation of the pension scheme (which we support, but we couldn’t accept the deal while it had everything else listed above in it!).
This is a fight that is bigger than just for our pensions. This is a fight for those in other pension schemes. Our colleagues at post-1992 universities like UCLan, where Luna had worked for four years, could face similar cuts to their pensions if this is marked as a precedent for the sector.
Student fees are increasing, yet we’ve seen real cuts to our pay of 14% or more. This at the same time that VCs have had their pay increase to levels higher than chief executives in the public sector; more information here. Don’t forget, our pensions are deferred pay. A letter from a chemistry professor explains how this pension scheme was championed by someone who came from meagre beginnings. This pension is about supporting people who believe in higher education as a public service. We take lower pay than we might expect in the private sector (for example) to put our hearts in education and research as a public good. It’s an insult to say that we should take this “gift” of 1/3 lower pension upon retirement. We are fighting against the expectation that our students should take massive debt, and that our lecturers and other people working on learning services should accept destitution or the inability to live comfortably after retirement.
Why you matter…
Your support, your occupation, your standing with us on picket lines and skipping lectures to show solidarity is what keeps us motivated to fight: to fight against marketization of education, to fight political, social, and structural injustices that have been creeping up on us for decades. This represents a slow death of public education that none of us can afford.
Can we afford to lose 14 days’ pay or more now? We don’t get paid on strike days – that’s true. But we could strike for 10 years, and still not lose as much pay as we’ll likely lose in retirement years. So we do this for our future and hopefully for yours. Our teaching conditions are your learning conditions, and we want them to be the best they can be. For all of us.
Contribution by: Prof Ben Ambridge, Dr Colin Bannard, Dr Luna Centifanti, Dr Suzi Gage, Dr Charlotte Hardman, Dr Andy Jones, and Dr Praveetha Patalay (University of Liverpool).