Pension champions threatened with High Court as university pension row escalates

7 April 2011

Union says it’s outrageous that country’s second biggest private pension scheme is turning its fire on five individuals

Five members of UCU have been threatened with High Court action in a row over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) pension.

The individual UCU members sit on the USS joint negotiating committee as representatives for the 120,000 strong union. They have received a letter from DLA Piper, lawyers acting on behalf of the USS board, which says the board intends to hold them personally liable for costs.

UCU says its representatives took the decision not to attend a meeting where the employers had made it clear that they were not prepared to negotiate. The UCU representatives’ belief was that the independent chair would again vote with the employers and their attendance would ensure the meeting was quorate and in effect rubber-stamp the changes.

The union said it is not prepared to allow proposals for drastic changes to the scheme, that have been rejected by 96% of the scheme’s members in a wide-reaching consultation, to be forced through. UCU said that it would happily attend any meeting to discuss the current impasse and has invited the employers to talks through the arbitration service ACAS to try and break the stalemate.

UCU conducted an online consultation of USS members (not just UCU members in the scheme) at the end of last year. In a ballot of over 31,000 scheme members, 96% said they did not support the employers’ proposals.

Last month UCU members of the pension scheme took two days’ strike action at universities across the UK over plans to bring in changes that raise the retirement age, increase contributions from members and bring an end to the final salary element of the scheme.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: ‘It is absolutely outrageous that the second largest private pension scheme in the country is turning its full force on five individuals who are simply standing up for the pension rights of thousands of people in higher education. The lawyers should immediately withdraw the threat to go after the five individuals financially.

‘From the outset of this dispute we have made it clear that we want to negotiate a decent solution. We should be sat round the table, not watching the undignified spectacle of lawyers trying to intimidate five individuals.

‘We don’t claim to have all the answers, but we are not prepared to just accept these unnecessary and unfair changes. If the employer and union representatives cannot reach an agreement, then we must find a way out of the stalemate, not individual legal threats.’