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Rayner tells UUK and UCU to resume ‘unconditional talks’

Image: Chris McAndrew [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Labour calls on both sides to keep talking in the USS pensions row

Angela Rayner has urged the University and College Union and Universities UK to take their dispute over pensions back to the arbitration service ACAS.

The shadow secretary for education made her comments as the UCU ballots members for industrial action over the Universities Superannuation Scheme. The ballot closes on 30 October.

The latest contribution increases for the contested pension scheme took effect on 1 October, rising from 28.3 per cent of salary to 30.7 per cent, split 21.1 per cent and 9.6 per cent between employers and staff respectively. The UCU is seeking a mandate for strike action, blaming employers for failing to implement the recommendations of the Joint Expert Panel convened by the union and UUK to review the valuation of the fund.

Rayner called on both sides to “urgently return to unconditional talks, assisted by ACAS as appropriate, and negotiate for as long as it takes to agree a way forward”. Both sides in the dispute last visited the arbitration service ACAS in March 2018. They brokered a deal, only to see it fall apart within days in the face of grassroots union objections.

The shadow secretary said: “All staff in our universities deserve fair pay, a secure contract, a sensible workload, opportunities for professional development and a decent, affordable pension. I fully support higher education staff in their fight to defend pay and pensions for the future, but I also know that students and parents will want to see the current disputes resolved as soon as possible and avoid unnecessary disruption.”

She added that a future Labour government would “put investment in education staff at the heart of our plans” and urged “the employers and USS to do the same by working with trade unions to find a sensible solution which addresses these important issues”. The comments will surprise some who may have expected a fuller endorsement of industrial action in universities.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said the union “welcomes the call by Angela Rayner for unconditional talks aimed at resolving these disputes. For our part, we are fully prepared to meet the employers in good faith for further negotiations on the two disputes now facing the sector.”

A spokesman for Universities UK told Research Professional News, “Employers have already offered to meet with UCU to continue talks on USS, and are committed to working together on a long-term sustainable solution.”