Notification of UCU industrial action from 6 November
The message below was sent to members of USS on 31 October 2014 following notification from University and College Union (UCU) of plans for continuous action short of a strike.
Notification of UCU industrial action from 6 November
The University and College Union (UCU) has given notice of plans for continuous action short of a strike, intended to halt all actions necessary for, or associated with, student learning outcomes. We have been advised that the industrial action will start on Thursday 6 November and will include a comprehensive boycott of all student work submitted for assessment, including coursework and assignments. Imperial is committed to providing our talented students with an outstanding education and any action having a detrimental impact on their experience is neither an appropriate nor effective route to resolve a dispute about staff pension benefits.
The industrial action follows a ballot over reforms being considered by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) to address the scheme’s significant deficit. As I noted in my message of 1 October, the College regarded the ballot as premature while proposals for potential USS benefit changes are not yet agreed.
Imperial’s position on pension reform
We recognise that pension provision is very important to our staff. Because we participate in a collective pension scheme we are actively contributing to discussions through the national Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC). The JNC consists of an equal number of employer and UCU representatives with an independent chair and is the forum for consideration of proposals and alternative options.
The College has submitted our views to the forum via the employers’ representatives. We believe that reform is necessary. We have made clear our priority is to maintain the best scheme possible for our staff on a financially sustainable basis. Our preference is for USS to maintain a defined benefit scheme, based on career average earnings (CARE). Compared to the hybrid option proposed, this would enhance recruitment and retention packages, but we recognise that our preference would not be sustainable within the current range of contributions. Any reform package must meet the requirements for funding sustainability set by the independent Pensions Regulator.
The CARE scheme carries a higher risk that the employer contribution will increase compared to the other options being considered. The College is willing to accept that risk in return for improved employee benefits but the UUK proposals are, understandably, based on the majority view of participating employers. We note that employers and employees will both incur increased contribution costs as a result of Government changes to the state pension and the impact this will have on the ‘contracted out’ status of occupational pension schemes – this, no doubt, has an impact on the ability of both employees and employers to increase their contributions. The College is willing to fund a further modest increase in employer contributions to maintain career average benefits for all but we recognise that not all HEIs are in a position to do this. We understand that employee contributions would also need to rise to maintain career average benefits for all. We are therefore interested in seeing a development of the proposals that might offer choice to members, for example making it optional for members to pay more for defined benefit top-up.
While these discussions are ongoing, and options still being explored, we are disappointed that UCU is advocating action which could disadvantage students.
For further information about the USS reforms, and to register for a pensions briefing even on 5 November covering all of the schemes (occupational and state), please visit the following link:
Information on the USS reform proposals and to register for the pensions briefing
Imperial’s response to the industrial action
The College cannot condone industrial action that will impact on the quality of our students’ education. If a member of staff decides to take part in the UCU action short of a strike, they will be undertaking some of their contractual duties but refusing to carry out all work associated with student learning outcomes and the setting and assessment of student work. This is partial performance of the member of staff’s employment contract. The College is legally entitled to reject partial performance and will do so for this industrial action. In these circumstances, the College is entitled to withhold pay, in full, for those who do not comply with their employment contract.
UCU has targeted actions related to student learning outcomes. It has also declared this action to be continuous i.e. without a stated end date. Imperial places students at the centre of the university and will do everything it can to reassure them that their experience and education will not be affected by any action.
On an ex-gratia basis, and for those staff who carry out all their other duties and responsibilities (including student support and teaching), the College will continue to make partial payment of salary during the period of industrial action. The refusal to set out and carry out assessments will result in the College withholding 25% of the member of staff’s contractual pay during the period of partial performance. The College will not reimburse pay that has been withheld once the dispute is concluded.
There would be no obligation on the member of staff to attend work for the 25% period of the contract that they are not being paid where this relates to time that would have been spent on assessment activities. The College’s discretionary payment of 75% of the contract is conditional on all other contractual responsibilities and attendance commitments being met in full.
The College values the wide-ranging contributions of staff to Imperial’s activities and our decision to withhold a proportion of pay for partial performance, rather than full pay as we are entitled to do, recognises that staff will continue to perform many of their other responsibilities if they take action short of a strike.
This is a voluntary action by the College and without prejudice to its legal rights. The College reserves its rights to review the impact of the action and to increase the level of pay being withheld, or to withhold pay in full, at any time during the industrial action.
Impact of industrial action on pension benefits
Industrial action automatically suspends a member of staff’s employment contract, impacting on the accrual of pension and other benefits including death in service/life cover. Where salary is withheld in full, pension benefits are suspended although a member of staff may apply to maintain life cover. USS rules require advance notification, before industrial action commences, if a member of staff wishes to maintain protection of life cover.
For partial performance the employer may withhold pay and withhold pension contributions or withhold pay but maintain pension contributions. The College is willing to maintain full pension contributions during the period of partial performance. In order to maintain full pensions contributions a member of staff must (a) notify the College three days in advance of the commencement of action short of a strike (b) be prepared to fund their own employee contributions at the level of full pay.
For those members of staff who do not wish to maintain their own employee contributions in full, or do not notify the College in advance of commencing action, then the pension contributions will accrue at 75% of service during the period of industrial action – as if their contract of employment were part-time.
Informing the College
If you are a member of staff taking industrial action, in order to maintain your pension benefits in full, you should notify the College of your intention by emailing me, Louise Lindsay, Director of HR, via email@example.com, copied to your Head of Department, at least three working days in advance of the first day of action.
– Your name, CID and department
– When you intend to commence action (from the first occasion when you do not set or mark coursework or fail to carry out any other assessment activity)
– Which courses will be affected by the industrial action
– If you wish to have your pension benefits maintained at full salary
Upon receipt of the notification, I will reply to confirm the impact on your pay and pension benefits during the industrial action.
We are an educational institution and our priority is to provide for our students. We are working with Heads of Department to minimise the impact on Imperial students of any action taken by UCU members. We hope that most staff will continue to work as normal. Where staff take on additional work as a result of the dispute then we will ensure this additional responsibility is recognised appropriately. Local HR teams will liaise with Heads of Department to advise on this further.
We are liaising with the Imperial Students’ Union and will be communicating directly with students about the situation once we understand the likely impact of the industrial action. We will assure them that the College does not condone the UCU action and is exploring all options to keep any disruption to student learning outcomes at a minimum.
This advice has been published to the College’s website and will be updated as required.
If you have any questions about any of the guidance please do not hesitate to contact me via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Director of Human Resources