CHAIR STATEMENT: ON THE BRUNEL VC/UUK PRESIDENT’S COMMENTS IN PROFESSIONAL PENSIONS (8 OCTOBER 2021)

ON THE BRUNEL VC/UUK PRESIDENT’S COMMENTS

IN PROFESSIONAL PENSIONS (8 OCTOBER 2021)

STANLEY O. GAINES, JR. (BRUNEL UCU BRANCH CHAIR)

13 OCTOBER 2021

Across the UK, pensions officers for UCU Branches learned about an online article (originally posted on the Professional Pensions Web site, 8 October 2021) that featured comments by the Brunel University London Vice Chancellor (and President of Universities UK) concerning the USS pension scheme. The Brunel VC/UUK President’s comments are extraordinary in explicitly tying (1) USS’s (and UCU)’s prospective failure to implement UUK’s flawed proposal for changing pension contributions with (2) Brunel University London’s (and, presumably, all UUK-affiliated employers’) prospective mass redundancies in the near future. Here are the Brunel VC/UUK President’s own words on the future of USS pensions (and the future of higher education employees’ jobs, whether those employees are USS members or not):

The spectre of higher contributions is causing a great deal of worry for university leaders. Staff have worked immensely hard through the extremely challenging conditions forced on us by the Covid-19 pandemic, and it would be an utter travesty if further pension contributions hikes led to more staff not joining the scheme because of the cost, a further exodus of current staff members from the scheme because they cannot afford to pay in more, and mass redundancies as employers have to cut back elsewhere to pay higher pension costs. With so much financial uncertainty currently engulfing universities, and the significant financial pressures last year brought due to loss of commercial income and additional spending to make campuses Covid-secure and move teaching and support online, now is the time to shore up USS by making changes that guarantee good pension benefits without significant additional costs.

I note that this is the same Brunel VC/UUK President who failed to support the 7-point plan than the national UCU headquarters had proposed for the UK government to invest in UK universities (released on 2 April 2020 — shortly after the first COVID-triggered lockdowns were imposed within the UK and around the world). Imagine what combined pressure UUK and UCU could have brought to bear upon the UK government to provide adequate COVID-era funding for higher education institutions, just as the global pandemic had begun to upend lives and livelihoods in a manner that had not been witnessed since another pandemic ravaged humanity a century ago. One must wonder why the Brunel VC/UUK President waited for so long to publicly acknowledge the scale of the financial difficulties that UCU had anticipated so soon after the lockdowns began, and why the USS pension scheme (rather than UUK’s own inadequate, piecemeal request to the UK government on 9 April 2020) has emerged as the Brunel VC/UUK President’s scapegoat for raising the spectre of widespread job losses at Brunel and across the UK.

Not only should Brunel UCU members be concerned; but UCU at all levels (Branches, Regional Offices, and National Headquarters) should be outraged. Let us regard the Brunel VC/UUK President’s comments as fighting words; and let us cast our ballots for industrial action against UUK employers, in Uxbridge and beyond.

COP26 Brunel UCU Motion 22 09 21

This branch notes the urgent need for action on the climate emergency, both in response to existing negative impacts such as extreme weather, fires, droughts, floods, and loss of habitat and species; and to avoid catastrophic and irreversible damage caused by global heating.

We note that big business, the military, and the rich are responsible for the vast majority of greenhouse gas emissions, while workers and the world’s poor are disproportionately at risk. A just transition to a decarbonised economy, one that protects the lives, livelihoods, and rights of workers and the poor, is the only way the movement against climate chaos will secure the mass support it needs to win, and to avoid a rich minority protecting themselves at the expense of the planet and the vast majority.

We note that the UN ‘COP’ climate change conferences have become a focus for campaigners, that COP26 will be taking place in Glasgow from 1-12 November 2021, and that many organisations are already making plans.

We resolve to:

Organise to make COP26 in Glasgow, 9-19 November 2021, a focus of campaigning for effective action on the climate emergency.

Work with local trade unions and environmental organisations to arrange discussions locally and within workplaces about practically how we can prepare for COP26.

Call on Brunel University to declare a climate emergency and to involve unions in planning, implementing, and monitoring to rapidly reduce carbon emissions to zero.

Call on Brunel University to recognise UCU environmental reps, give them work time for their activities, and act vigorously to reduce the reliance on fossil energy of Brunel University and its staff.

Create climate action groups at workplace level and within union structures.

Look for opportunities for unions, communities, and the climate movement to work together, for example for improved housing and public transport.

Call on the UCU to carry out a major exercise to understand the potential positive and negative impacts of the climate crisis and responses to it on employment.

Call on the UCU and universities to work rapidly toward removing all pressure on academics and managers to take flights, unless with battery-powered aircraft.

Discuss what climate-related demands to include in collective bargaining, including ones which could be the basis of a lawful ‘trade dispute’ under current legislation and to call on the UCU to develop guidance on this.

Campaign for a legal right to strike and to repeal all legislation that makes it harder to strike over climate and decarbonisation issues.

Ensure that the UCU is visible as a relevant and useful organisation within the climate movement.

Demand colossal public investment in the jobs required to address the climate emergency, including in renewable energy, housing, and public transport.

Demand support for people coping with or fleeing the consequences of climate breakdown, whether internally within Britain or from abroad.

Send this motion to our local trades union council, to Hillingdon Council, and to the UCU.

Summer Brunel UCU Newsletter 2021

Please find here our Summer Brunel UCU Newsletter 2021, where you will find articles and UCU action over the last few weeks on:
– The Search for a New Vice Chancellor at Brunel (S Gaines)
– The UCU HQ response to the Govt announcement regarding the lifting of restrictions in education
– Brunel UCU open letter re USS
– Response from Brunel to UCU open letter re USS
– Training opportunities

 

Thank you everyone!

 

Resolution on Palestine 26.05.21

This Branch Notes

  1. According to numerous reports from UN bodies, as well as Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, and the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, Israeli policies constitute crimes of apartheid.
  2. According to the International Court of Justice, Israel’s Apartheid Wall (a.k.a. “separation barrier”) contravenes international law.
  3. Palestinians living in Israel continue to suffer third-class citizenship, with extreme discrimination in the fields of healthcare, education, and land ownership. Ethnic cleansing continues, most recently in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
  4. Against this backdrop, on 18 May Palestinian trade unions organised a general strike, and called on trade unions elsewhere for support

This Branch Believes that:

  1. Unions have a responsibility to heed the calls of oppressed peoples, and should support the Palestinian people’s struggle against oppression. Palestinian lives matter.
  2. Much as an international movement that included calls to boycott, sanction and divest from South Africa contributed to the toppling of its apartheid regime, so today, the BDS campaign offers an effective way to raise awareness, mobilise solidarity, and pressure organisations to change their practices toward Israel.

This Branch Resolves:

  1. to support the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), issued by Palestinian academics as part of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Second Open letter from the Brunel UCU Committee regarding the USS Pension Scheme

25th May 2021

Dear Vice-Chancellor,

We thank Gemma Bailey for the institutional response that we received on the 7th May. However as a committee, we are disappointed not to have received a direct response from yourself, as the figure head of this institution, as well as the explicit intended recipient of our formal letter. Within your institutional response it was stated that:

As you will be aware, there are a number of different parties involved with USS, each with different roles and views. UUK represent USS employers and UCU act on behalf of USS members and, given these different consultation lines, it would be unusual to consider a joint response with our union colleagues.

We are indeed aware of the different parties involved with USS, we are also acutely aware of the consequences that current proposals have for our members (i.e. your staff members). We are also aware that:

– in April 2020, UUK signed an agreement with UCU to ‘encourage participating employers to seek local feedback, for example through the formation of local working groups, on developing USS issues’. As Vice-Chancellor of Brunel, as well as UUK President, it is surprising that you have not supported the establishment of such a working group as previously proposed by the Brunel UCU Branch Chair, in order to honour this agreement.

– where such joint employer/UCU working groups exist in other institutions, they often take the lead in drafting that employer’s consultation responses (e.g. at Sheffield). At present, UCU head office know of at least eleven institutions that have established such a working group.

– other employers have produced joint statements with their UCU Branch, please see the joint statement at Kent, and Dundee, as examples of local joint working.

The letter also confirms that Brunel will not be sharing its institutional response to the UUK consultation, however it does not state any reasons why Brunel is unable to do this. We are formally requesting clarification as to the reasons behind this refusal, as UCU head office is aware of at least seventeen institutions that have committed to sharing their consultation response, either publicly, with all staff, or with UCU representatives.

In addition, there are two crucial requests from our previous letter still outstanding:

– confirmation that Brunel senior management will stand in solidarity with the Brunel UCU Branch regarding defence of the current Defined Benefits scheme.

– answers to our seven specific questions regarding the institutional response to the current UUK consultation, especially as we have been given no justifications as to why these answers can not be provided. We would appreciate a response from yourself as soon as possible.

Thank you

Yours Sincerely

Brunel UCU Committee

Open letter from the Brunel UCU Committee regarding the USS Pension Scheme

4th May 2021

Dear Vice-Chancellor,

This letter is a follow-up to the request that Stan Gaines, Branch Chair, made (on behalf of the Brunel UCU Branch Committee) to Gemma Bailey in September 2020 regarding the formation of a working group at Brunel (to include senior management and UCU reps) concerning a potential joint position on the USS scheme. We did not receive a positive response. With no working group in place, and with only a few weeks left in terms of UUK consultation, we write to you directly (given your role as Vice Chancellor and President of Brunel), in order to seek answers to key questions about your plans for Brunel’s response.

We are aware that on 7th April, UUK launched a consultation of employers which closes on 24th May. UUK is asking employers whether they support proposals for benefit cuts, as a response to the extremely high contribution rates and other demands which USS is making in its 2020 valuation. We understand that both employers (UUK) and UCU agree that the 2020 valuation methodology that USS is using, is flawed, and UCU is urging UUK to join the union in robustly resisting the USS approach.

The UUK response so far, unfortunately, has been to largely ‘recycle’ the first proposal that was presented via the ACAS talks when UCU members took strike action in 2018/2019, a proposal which UCU branches decisively rejected: [https://www.ucu.org.uk/media/9300/Agreement/pdf/UCU_UUK_agreement_at_ACAS_12_March_Final.pdf]. We are aware that UUK is proposing to:

-lower the salary threshold where defined benefit (DB) accrual stops from £59,883.65 to £40,000
-reduce accrual (and therefore the size of payments in retirement) from 1/75 to 1/85
-impose a CPI indexation cap of 2.5% (removing the protection of benefits against any inflation above that level)
-keep the contribution rate as it is now (9.6% for members, 21.1% for employers).

We also note with concern that UUK is consulting individual employers on options for addressing the high rates of staff opting out of the scheme. We understand that UUK’s preference seems to be a defined contribution (DC) only option which would be aimed at low paid members of staff, provide no guaranteed retirement income, and almost certainly amount to a very poor pension compared with the defined benefit scheme (DB) which USS members have now.

Consequently, we are asking as part of the current consultation:

-Will Brunel commit to sharing its consultation response?

-In terms of addressing opt out rates, does Brunel endorse the DC option preferred by UUK or an alternative?

-Is Brunel willing to pay higher contributions than the current rate?

-Does Brunel endorse the benefits cuts proposed by UUK or not?

-Does Brunel want UUK to explore conditional indexation with UCU?

-Is Brunel willing to provide more covenant support, particularly in the form of a 30 year moratorium on employer exits?

-Would Brunel be willing to consider legal action against USS/TPR and/or express no confidence in USS?

We note that, although you have utilised a series of weekly Campus Communications e-mails to publicise your criticism (in your role as President of UUK) toward the UK government for deciding that students could not return to university campuses prior to 17th May, you have not used that same platform at Brunel to criticise USS for its highly flawed 2020 valuation and the subsequent proposal to shift from a Defined Benefits to a Defined Contributions scheme for lower wage earners. Hence, we seek explicit assurance that Brunel senior management will stand in solidarity with the Brunel UCU Branch regarding defence of the current Defined Benefits scheme. This is all the more important as Brunel’s USS related information-dispensing exercises (combined with rejection of our trade union branch efforts toward developing a working group with senior management concerning the USS pension scheme) do not represent genuine consultation, let alone negotiation, under the terms and conditions of our Recognition Agreement.

If you could respond to the letter within the next week (Monday 10th May), we would be most grateful. We shall be circulating any response to our members.

Sincerely,

Brunel UCU Branch Committee

Resolution: Defeat the police crackdown bill 24.03.21

This branch notes:

  1. A vigil was organised on Saturday 13 March 2021 on Clapham Common in memory of Sarah Everard who was allegedly murdered by an off-duty police officer.  Other vigils were also organised across London and across Britain.

  2. Despite the court ruling that the police could give permission for the vigil to go ahead the Metropolitan police banned the vigil citing Covid-19 regulations. 

  3. The vigil in Clapham Common went ahead with the aid of feminist group Sisters Uncut before being dispersed by the police. 

  4. On the 16 March 2021, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 passed its second reading in parliament. The bill contains new limits on the right to protest, sweeping new powers for the police, the criminalisation of Gypsy Roma Traveller communities and increased stop and search powers. Damage to memorials, such as the statue of slave trader Edward Colston that was toppled during last year’s Black Lives Matter protest, could carry a 10-year prison sentence. 

This branch believes: 

  1. The police response to the vigil in Clapham Common was a violent and outrageous abuse of power. Women standing up against gendered and state violence should be respected, not be arrested and physically manhandled. 

  2. The use of Covid-19 restrictions to limit free assembly is a prelude to a more general clampdown. Research indicates little or no risk of transmission in open air spaces when participants are socially distanced and masked. 

  3. Trade unions will be adversely affected by the criminalisation of basic forms of protest. These limitations only add to the existing punitive restrictions placed on trade unions by decades of anti-union legislation. These measures may diminish our ability to legally assemble, to protest against our employers and to picket our place of work. This would destroy the most basic forms of resistance available to trade unions. 

  4. Moreover, we have a responsibility to stand with oppressed groups who will face renewed gendered and racialised attacks on the basis of the new legislation. 

This branch resolves:

  1. Support Sisters Uncut, BLMUK, People’s Assembly, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller organisations and other forces mobilising and demonstrating against the bill by publishing a statement of support and encouraging members to attend protests where possible. 

  2. Commit funds (£100) and practical support to an arrest fund relating to the Police Bill.

  3. Call on the national union to commit to campaign against the Police Bill long term

17.02.21 Solidarity Statement

Brunel UCU is in solidarity with ongoing protests in and from higher education institutions across the world, including protests against the marketization of university, police presence within universities as well as the loss of academic freedoms.

We raise our voice in solidarity with our colleagues at Boğaziçi University in Turkey, who are currently resisting to uphold academic freedoms and democracy in the university. Boğaziçi University is a top public research institution with an international standing. Dating back to 1863, it has strong scientific, intellectual, and democratic traditions. In the past, vice-chancellors have been elected through free and fair elections by faculties at Boğaziçi University. In its history, these democratic processes were suspended only following the 1980 coup d’état. On 1 January 2021, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan appointed a vice-chancellor to Boğaziçi University in one night. The appointee, Professor Melih Bulu is not only from outside the Boğaziçi community but also has been parachuted in without any consultation with the university staff or students. Bulu has been a member of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government since its foundation in 2002 and had also run a campaign for nomination for the parliamentary elections in 2015. Bulu also faces allegations of plagiarism in his MSc and PhD theses. Bulu’s appointment is another symbol of and step in Erdoğan’s attempt to extend his influence over Turkey’s social, cultural and political life, including higher education.

Since the beginning of January 2021, Boğaziçi university students, staff, alumni and the broader civil society have organised peaceful protests on campus and online campaigns demanding the appointee’s resignation, a return to the democratic process, and an end to outside interference. These protests were met with escalating attacks by the president, the ministry of the interior, the AKP establishment, and the AKP-controlled media. This includes targeting LGBTI+ students and student clubs, which have been fundamental in the organisation of the peaceful protests as well as targeting professors embracing Marxist traditions in their research. The political attacks on the media have been accompanied by an excessive use of force by the riot police, supported with snipers located all around the campus. So far, the riot police have detained more than 200 students and arrested over 10 students. Student homes have been raided by SWAT teams in full gear. There are frequent reports of unlawful strip searches and abuse by the police of those in custody.

We condemn the police violence, targeting of academics and students by state actors and arrests towards students. We call Turkish authorities to respect Boğaziçi University’s academic freedom and its autonomy.