As the majority of National Executive Committee (NEC), representing members in post-92 and FE branches in England and Wales, we are writing to you to express our disappointment with, and concern over, the General Secretary’s report on the TPS negotiations (e-mail 10th January).
A download of this statement and the model motions for branches can be found here.
The Government’s ‘Heads of Agreement’ offer
In her e-mail to members, the General Secretary suggests that “(d)etailed analysis shows that the government’s final position is significantly improved”. We believe this to be a misleading way of describing the Heads of Agreement (HoA) offer. We agree with the NUT, the NAS/UWT (the two main teaching unions), the PCS and UNITE, which have all rejected the Heads of Agreement (HoA) offer on the grounds that the offer does not make any significant improvement to the Government’s ‘final’ offer made before the magnificent strike on 30th November.
The four main issues over which we are fighting the Government are still unresolved. They are:
- the increase in members’ contributions and decrease in employers contributions (which pave the way for further privatisation) at a cost to most members of between £28 and £100 per month off take-home pay (i.e. a pay cut);
- the cut in pensions from the shift from RPI to CPI adjustments;
- the increase in the normal pension age to 68 (and then its further rise in line with the state retirement age); and
- the abolition of the final salary scheme (in favour of one based on average earnings).
The Government has made slight adjustments to its position. These are:
- that lecturers with only 10 years, or less, left in service will be excluded from the change in the retirement age and from the shift from the final salary element (but not from the losses from increased contributions or the move from an RPI to a CPI inflator); and
- a change in the way in which the pension accrual rate is calculated (from 1/60th to 1/57th) for the Government’s Career Average as opposed to the existing final-salary scheme.
The first adjustment is a crude attempt to divide older lecturers from younger ones. The Government’s hope is that those of us within ten years of retirement will simply walk away, self-interestedly, from the dispute, leaving younger lecturers with a much worse pension. The second adjustment represents a marginal reduction of the pensions detriment that would have been caused by the original proposals but still represents a significant loss of benefits for the vast majority of members (see the figures provided by First Actuarial here.)
According to the report commissioned by UCU from First Actuarial, 65% of our current TPS membership, those who would not be exempt from any of the changes, would lose between 9% and 25% of their pension benefits. This is without even taking into consideration the rises in employee contribution rates due in April 2012, the change of indexation for pensions in payment of RPI to CPI, the further move of the retirement age in line with the State Retirement Age.
The UCU Response
We are also very concerned about the way our democratic structures in UCU have been by-passed by the GS.
FE members will recall how last year the full-time negotiators went over the heads of the elected Further Education Committee (FEC) members and the lay officers of the union, and emailed members implying that they should accept the deal over the forced membership of, and increased membership fee for, the Institute for Learning. FEC members then had to campaign against the negotiators’ view that the deal was acceptable and members subsequently strongly backed that position.
It is deeply regrettable that, once again, we are seeing this same approach. Despite attempts by your NEC members to get updates from the General Secretary, and from the other full-time negotiators, there has been no attempt to speak directly, or even to communicate through email, to keep us informed of what is happening in the negotiations, or to seek our opinion or advice about the Government’s response to our demands.
The last NEC voted to put any ‘final’ offer to a ballot of the full membership, ‘where possible alongside other unions’. We do not, however, put every ‘final’ offer from a government or an employer to a membership ballot. No union could or should do that. That would provide governments or employers with a mechanism for indefinitely delaying any and all industrial action. The offer that was made before the 30th November strike was, according to the Government, its ‘final’ offer but we rightly did not put this to a ballot but went ahead with the strike.
If there were significant changes being offered now, after the strike on 30th November, or a fresh mandate needed because of any doubts about membership support for this campaign in defence of pensions, then there would, of course, need to be a ballot of the whole TPS membership. That has always been the case in the UCU. Neither of these conditions is satisfied, however.
The NUT and the NAS/UWT both hold the same position as the UCU on balloting the membership on any ‘final offer’. They are not doing so now because they too believe that there is nothing new on the table over which a ballot would be needed, and because they know that there is far more that can be achieved from the Government on the back of further industrial action. In the UCU, we should join with them in rejecting this offer, and get on with coordinating the next step in the campaign, rather than delaying further action by launching an unnecessary ballot.
Future of the UCU
The General Secretary’s e-mail is disappointing for another reason. It expresses a sense of defeatism. She seems to think that we cannot win further concessions through negotiations, and seems pessimistic about further industrial action. We believe that she has seriously misjudged the situation.
The changes that the Government is pursuing would have the effect of deterring younger members from joining the TPS. That would constitute a medium-term threat to the future of the scheme, and hence to the security of the pensions even of those who have already retired. It would mean, that in failing effectively to protect members’ pension schemes, and allowing the division between younger and older members, the UCU would find it increasingly hard to justify membership and thus to recruit younger members. That would constitute a long-term threat to the very existence of the UCU.
This Government is indeed nasty but it is also weak. If we take more action alongside those other unions that have already rejected the Government offer then we can win. November 30th was not a day to let off steam. It was clear to everyone that it was just the start and not the end of the campaign over pensions.
This campaign does not need to be a long drawn-out affair. If we act on the motion that was passed unanimously at the last meeting of the NEC, which calls for a speedy escalation of the action alongside other unions, we can secure a quick victory.
The strike action on 30th November was centered on unity. Maintaining that unity now means rejecting this divisive and inadequate offer – and calling more action swiftly. The speed at which we react is important because the Government has declared that it will impose the terms of its ‘offer’ in April.
There is an emergency NEC meeting on the 20th January where we, the undersigned NEC members, will be putting a motion instructing the General Secretary to reject the deal, suspending the full ballot of TPS members until there is a significantly improved offer, and determining on immediate discussions with those other unions that have rejected the offer in order to name the day for the next coordinated strike action.
We are asking you to support your NEC members by passing a motion at your branch or branch committee in support of this position, and sending it to the NEC, and copying it to your regional NEC members.
Sean Vernell, Laura Miles, Ben Boydell, Alan Whitaker, Ron Mendel, Veronica Killen, Liz Lawrence, Mark Campbell, Maeve Landman, Richard McEwan, Tom Hickey, Darren Tolliday, James Eaden, Dave Gibson, Jane Hardy, Alan Barker, Christine Vie, Alison Lord, Craig Lewis, Guy Stoate, Loraine Monk, David Armstrong, Isabel Brotherston.