By Milan Perera, News Writer
A breakthrough development in University and College Union (UCU) strike was marked when UCU and Universities UK (UUK) issued a joint statement confirming a full restoration of pension benefits to pre-April 2022 level.
The dispute over pensions began more than a decade ago, but was reignited by the revaluation of the pension scheme used by academic staff - the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) in April, 2022.
Protecting pensions has been a central issue in the ongoing UCU industrial actions along with a pay rise in line with inflation and an end to casualised contracts and a 35 hour working week.
The joint statement confirmed, subject to the 2023 valuation, that the pension accrual rate will return to 1/75 (up from 1/85) and the salary threshold at which defined benefits build up will return to its pre-April 2022 level.
The statement also confirmed that the pre-April 2022 inflation protection will continue unchanged, rather than being reduced at the next valuation, as originally intended.
As a result of the changes brought in for pensions in April 2022, UCU members expressed their displeasure and disappointment on the imposed pension cuts which they indicated, ‘see the average scheme member lose 35 per cent' from their guaranteed future retirement income.
They were also critical of the employers, led by Universities UK (UUK) for bringing in an inflation protection cap from the next valuation where benefits would only be protected against inflation up to 2.5 per cent.
With the changes reversed, UCU says an average scheme member, aged 37, could see extra hundreds of thousands of pounds returned to their retirement fund over the course of their career.
The joint statement further indicated that it is exploring options to improve benefits to a level which makes up for benefits lost since April 2022.
In this latest chapter of the ongoing stand off between UCU and University authorities represented by UUK, UCU General Secretary Jo Grady said:
'When university staff demanded their pensions back, they were scoffed at, ridiculed and told to 'move on'. But, today, they have taken another big step towards seeing their retirement benefits restored, in full. This would be an incredible victory which will see our members become history makers of the trade union movement.’
While welcoming the breakthrough in the longstanding dispute over pension, she reiterated that:
‘We will not take our eye off the ball for one moment and ensure every penny is returned to our members' pensions.'
Speaking exclusively to Epigram, Jamie Melrose, UCU Branch President welcomed the latest developments:
'I'm sure Bristol UCU members feel vindicated by the restoration of their pensions. Disappointed, yes, that they have been consistently let down by USS and Universities UK, but delighted that we have restored USS pensions through our strike action.'
Epigram approached University of Bristol for comment.