Information for staff
For further information on UCU strike action planned to take place in February and March 2018, please find below copies of messages sent to staff:
- Message from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff, 13th April 2018
- Message from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff, 10th April 2018
- Message from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff, 14th March 2018
- Message from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff, 22nd February 2018
- Message from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff, 15th February 2018
- Message from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff, 23rd January 2018
- Message from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff, 11th January 2018
You may already be aware that UCU members have voted to accept a proposed resolution to the USS pension dispute.
The University Executive is very pleased that a resolution to the dispute has been reached. The decision by UCU members to support the creation of a Joint Expert Panel means that strike action is immediately suspended.
This has been a very difficult time for the whole University community. We do understand the depth of feeling on this issue across the University, and appreciate the thoughtfulness of all members of the community.
UCU and UUK will appoint a jointly agreed chair for the panel as soon as possible before developing its terms of reference, order of work and timescales. Current pension benefits are guaranteed until 1 April 2019, so the panel will need to conclude its work in time to put in place a sustainable way forward for USS from that date.
I will continue to provide further updates as information becomes available.
Vice-Chancellor and Warden
On Friday, 23 March, ACAS proposed a resolution to the current USS pension dispute which is now the subject of consultation by both UCU and UUK. The four key points of the ACAS proposal are as follows:
- Maintenance of the status quo in respect of both contributions into USS and current pension benefits, until at least April 2019.
- The commissioning of a formally agreed Joint Expert Panel, comprised of actuarial and academic experts nominated in equal numbers from both sides, to deliver a report. The Panel’s task will be to agree key principles to underpin the future joint approach of UUK and UCU to the valuation of the USS fund.
- The appointment of a jointly agreed chair to the Joint Expert Panel, whose first step will be to oversee the agreement of the terms of reference, the order of work and timescales with the parties. Any recommendations must be based on a majority view of the Panel without the use of a casting vote. A secretariat, jointly agreed by the parties, will be appointed.
- The Panel will focus in particular on reviewing the basis of the scheme valuation, assumptions and associated tests. It will take into account the unique nature of the HE sector, inter-generational fairness and equality considerations, the need to strike a fair balance between ensuring stability and risk. Recognising that staff highly value Defined Benefit provision, the work of the Panel will reflect the clear wish of staff to have a guaranteed pension comparable with current provision whilst meeting the affordability challenges for all parties, within the current regulatory framework.
On Wednesday, 28 March, at the recommendation of the University Executive Committee (UEC), University Council endorsed the ACAS proposal on behalf of Durham University, a UUK member. UCU is consulting its members on the proposal up to Friday, 13 April. If UCU members vote to accept the proposal, all industrial action plans will be suspended.
While the Executive fully recognises and respects the concerns of UCU members in regard to USS pension matters, we naturally hope for an early agreed settlement to this dispute.
We will provide an update on progress early next week. For further information on the dispute, visit our website: www.durham.ac.uk/about/strikeaction
All the best,
At its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday 13 March the University Council endorsed a proposal from UEC expressing support for the position hammered out on Monday in talks between UCU and UUK. Later in the day we learned that the proposal had been rejected by UCU and that industrial action would continue.
We are naturally disappointed that the talks were not finally successful and urge both sides to return to the bargaining table. We believe that a mutually acceptable resolution is possible and hope this difficult dispute can be ended quickly.
Updates and additional information are available on the University’s website.
Vice-Chancellor and Warden
Today is a difficult day for all our staff members and for our students. The University Executive and I fully understand why all members of the University want an early end to the damaging national dispute around USS pensions.
When the University was consulted on the USS pension issue by UUK - the employers association - in September 2017, the Executive took the view that the University would be prepared to make further employer pension contributions (up to 20% in total) if this could be shown to be part of an effective and collective response to ensuring the sustainability of the USS pension scheme. We want to support and invest in our staff as best we can. Our response, however, which we have published, was not shared by a majority of institutions replying to the employer consultation and we are unable to act on our own in a national dispute.
As regards the dispute, I am of the view that a further independent valuation of the Scheme’s assets is now required and I continue to advocate for further discussions between UCU and UUK.
Until these discussions are concluded the University needs also to ensure that we address the needs and anxieties of our students, which I know is a common concern for all of us. Alan Houston is handling communications with the student body and will also join me in communicating regularly with our members of staff.
For further information please visit the University website at www.durham.ac.uk/about/strikeaction
Vice-Chancellor and Warden
Message from the Vice-Chancellor to all staff, 22nd February 2018
Further to the update sent on 1 February 2018 I am emailing to:
- highlight the University’s policy on how to deliver our duty to help our students progress their studies ;
- remind you of the University’s approach to strike action and action short of a strike;
- call your attention to an important new requirement in relation to maintaining USS contributions during strike action.
Delivering our duty to help our students progress their studies
The University fully recognises the right of staff to take part in industrial action over the proposed changes to the USS Pension Scheme (with their potential impacts on contributions and retirement income), an action for which UCU has a mandate. All members of the Executive understand the depth of feeling across the University about the proposed changes to the USS Pension Scheme and we continue to advocate for further and constructive discussions at national level. There remain concerns about the valuation of Scheme assets and – regretfully and understandably - there is now anxiety across the University within our own major asset, our people.
The Executive further recognises that it is not the intent of staff to cause damage to the learning prospects of our students. Nevertheless, as you will appreciate, many of our current students are very concerned about the impact of strike action on their education experience. Students make a significant financial commitment to their studies at Durham and they have a statutory expectation that we will fulfil our duty to help them to progress their studies and complete their awards.
It is with these factors in mind that the University has developed a policy which sets out how we will use our best endeavours to respect the right of staff to strike whilst also seeking to minimise the impact of the strike action on our students. Durham Students’ Union has been consulted in the drafting of this policy. The Students’ Union officers also respect the position of UCU but their priority is to ensure that the negative impact on students is as limited as possible.
The full policy can be viewed here. It is important that all academic staff take some time to read the policy.
We have asked Heads of Department to liaise with academic colleagues in the coming weeks to discuss the most appropriate ways of mitigating the impact on students in their department. Further updates will be provided as the situation develops.
Approach to Strike Action
We have previously outlined our approach to strike action. In summary:
- We note that any industrial action which has an impact on the education of our students goes to the heart of the contract of employment;
- Where strike action is taken the University will deduct pay on the basis of 1/365 for each day of strike action;
- Withheld pay will be donated to the Student Hardship Fund and used to support students who need financial support to complete their programmes of study. No withheld pay will be used by the University for any other purpose;
- Arrangements for strike reporting have been put in place in Departments and I would remind you that you must confirm, when asked by your departmental contact, if you have taken part in the strike action;
- Pay deductions for the imminent strike action will be made in March and April salaries.
Approach to Action Short of a Strike (ASOS)
The University has been notified that the ASOS will commence on an on-going basis from 22 February 2018. We understand that the ASOS will take the form of working to contract, refusing to undertake voluntary duties, refusing to cover for absent colleagues and refusing to reschedule lectures that are cancelled due to strike action.
In relation to ASOS, we do not accept partial performance of duties by any member of staff, as this would represent a breach of the contract of employment. The University has reserved the right to determine the exact timing and proportion of pay deduction for an ASOS - one that is deemed serious enough to constitute a breach of contract - when the impact of the action is clearer. Our intention is always to be sensible and proportionate.
We are asking staff involved in industrial action to prioritise certain forms of work on non-strike days to ensure that we deliver student educational needs. We expect that staff will prioritise student education needs ahead of other activities that they might otherwise be involved in. Refusal to do so may constitute a breach of contract and result in a proportionate deduction to contractual pay. This is the same approach adopted in previous periods of industrial action.
We therefore ask staff to work with their Head of Department in accordance with the policy we have developed to deliver on our duty to help our students progress their studies during this period of strike action.
The University will issue a further communication should it assess at a future date that the impact of the ASOS is causing significant problems. This will include confirmation of the level of any pay deductions for ASOS.
USS Contributions – Important Update – Action Required by Staff Taking Strike Action
The University’s position to date has been to maintain full employer pension contributions (on days when strike deductions are being made) on the understanding that the employee maintains their full contributions. In previous years this has been essential to maintain life and incapacity cover and has therefore been applied as a default position to all staff taking strike action.
For this period of strike action USS have recently notified us that they have put in place an alternative arrangement for life and incapacity cover to remain in place even where staff opt not to maintain full pension contributions.
Given the potential financial impact on members of staff of strike deductions it is important that we bring this alternative option to your attention.
As there are now two options available for staff to consider the University is not able to continue with the default position adopted in the past.
Option One - if you wish to maintain full employee pension contributions
Regretfully, we have been advised that if you wish to maintain full contributions during strike action we must know in advance if you are taking part in industrial action. This is to ensure we have your permission to continue to pay your full USS employee contributions for each day of action (the University will also maintain full employer contributions).
If you wish to maintain full contributions please email firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 4pm on Wednesday 21 February 2018 to inform the University, in advance, that you will be taking strike action, along with confirmation that you wish to maintain full USS contributions during strike action.
I am sorry to ask this of members of staff – it is a stressful time already and the University has no wish to be (or to appear to be) overly intrusive in respect of personal decisions, but this is the new position we are in. However, the Executive has taken a decision that the information gathered as part of this exercise will not be used for any other purpose other than applying the correct pension contributions. The emails received will be held confidentially within HR and will not be used for the purposes of gathering advance information about strike action.
Option two – if you do not wish to maintain your employee contributions
If you do not wish to maintain your employee contributions on days you are taking strike action you do not have to take any action in relation to pension contributions. If we do not receive an email from you by 21 February 2018 as outlined above, we will not deduct your employee contributions for days you are taking strike action (please note in these circumstances the University is also unable to maintain the employer contributions). Under this option members of staff taking strike action will continue to have cover for death in service and incapacity benefit only.
I apologise for having to email all staff in relation to this matter as I know many of you will not be involved in the strike action. However, the University does not know which members of staff are UCU members, and it is important that we communicate our position in advance and also keep other non-union members informed of latest developments.
Finally, I would reiterate that the University appreciates that members of staff will not take a decision to take strike action lightly, especially given the impact on our students. I am sure we all hope a solution to this national dispute is found as soon as possible. We shall continue to press for this.
We will continue to provide further updates as the situation develops. In the meantime you may find the FAQs on the HR web site helpful.
If you have any queries that are not covered by this advice please contact your Head of Department, or your HR Business Partner in the first instance.
Vice-Chancellor and Warden
You may be aware that on Wednesday 29 November 2017 the University College Union (UCU) opened a ballot of its members for industrial action. The ballot closed on Friday 19 January 2018. The UCU’s dispute relates to changes to USS, for details please see www.durham.ac.uk/hr/paypensionsreward/pensions/usschanges.
The purpose of this email is to inform you of the outcome of the UCU ballot and to set out the University’s position on industrial action.
At Durham 489 votes were returned (out of a possible 853). UCU members have voted in favour of taking industrial action, with 429 votes in support of strike action, and 455 votes in support of action short of a strike (ASOS.)
The University’s approach to industrial action
I fully understand that the proposed changes to USS are a source of concern and anxiety to our staff, and I outlined my views on this matter in my email dated Thursday 11 January 2018. Please see here for details:
I am aware that the decision to vote in favour of industrial action will not have been taken lightly by many of our staff. Durham University respects the right of staff to take part in industrial action and we understand the strength of feeling in relation to the proposed changes to USS.
However I am required to set out, in advance, the University’s position on pay deductions in relation to strike action, and action short of a strike (ASOS), which is as follows:
- The University regards that any industrial action that has an impact on the education of our students goes to the heart of the contract of employment;
- Where strike action is taken the University will deduct pay on the basis of 1/365 for each day of strike action;
- The University does not accept partial performance of duties by any member of staff. This means that if you take part in strike action, or refuse to carry out any part of your normal contractual duties, you will be in breach of your contract of employment, and the University is entitled as a consequence to make a deduction to contractual pay of up to 100%;
- The University reserves the right to determine the exact timing and proportion of pay deduction for ASOS (that is deemed serious enough to constitute a breach of contract) when the impact of the action is clearer. We retain the right (without prejudice to the right to deduct 100% at a later time) to vary the amount of pay deducted for each instance of ASOS.
Further information on the University’s approach to industrial action, including potential deductions to salary, will be provided when we have a clearer idea of the nature and type of industrial action proposed at Durham.
The final proposals resulting from the national JNC discussions should be known on or shortly after Tuesday 23 January 2018. Further updates will be provided as soon as information becomes available.
Thank you for your attention in this important matter. As outlined in my email of Thursday 11 January, the University will continue to make our views known to the employers’ representatives as the consultation continues.
Potential Changes to USS
Many of you will be aware that there are proposed changes to the USS pension scheme to address the scheme's deficit and the projected significant rise in the cost of future pensions. I am aware this will be a cause for anxiety and concern for many of our staff and I wanted to outline my position on this very important issue. I have also discussed the matter with local UCU officers.
To ensure the sustainability of the scheme, employers are proposing changes to pension benefits. Although not yet finalised, the current proposals are to offer defined contribution saving to all employees on all salaries from 1 April 2019 (in place of the current defined benefit scheme up to a salary cap of £55,000). Any changes implemented to the USS benefit structure would only apply to the build-up of future benefits as members' accrued pensions are protected under law. Further information on the proposals can be found:
My views are as follows:
- We are a human capital organisation and we rely on talented and motivated members of staff. As such it is imperative that we recruit and retain the very best people. Investing in our people is a high priority.
- To do this we need to offer a competitive package of benefits and access to an attractive pension scheme which allows people to plan their finances with a high degree of certainty.
- While accepting that a sustainable solution to the funding challenges facing USS needs to be found, I have been keen for the JNC nationally to take time to consider different options.
We discussed this matter at UEC in September, before the government decided that tuition fees for Home and EU students would remain at £9250 in 2018-19. In our response to the UUK as part of the consultation exercise we indicated that we would be open to a small increase in employer contributions if this could be shown to form part of a sustainable plan for a viable scheme.
All universities find themselves in a difficult position. As members of a national scheme with c.350 institutional members Durham University is bound by the outcome of the national collective bargaining process. We will continue to make our views known to the employers’ representatives as the negotiations continue and ensure we communicate the potential impact of any changes to our staff when proposals are finalised.
Formal negotiations between employer and member representatives are expected to proceed until 23 January 2018. Any agreed changes to member benefits or contributions will then be subject to a full consultation with scheme members and other affected employees in spring 2018.
We will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available.