Letter to our students: why we rejected a bad deal

14 March 2018

Dear Students,

As you may already know, UCU, the union representing lecturers and professional services staff, has recently rejected an offer that was made to end the strike action in universities. It is unfortunate because we really regret the uncertainty and inconvenience industrial action is having on you, the students. We are desperate to get back to teaching but we really felt we had no other option which is why staff in the vast majority of universities that are in this pension scheme (the ‘pre-1992 universities’) overwhelmingly turned down the deal. Many student unions have already supported our decision on social media.

We are writing now to make sure that we are communicating fully with you on why we had to reject the offer. The deal that was proposed was that we, and also your universities, using student fees, should:

  • pay more into the pension fund for significantly reduced benefits to our pensions (especially for younger staff) for the next three years;
  • wait for the outcome of a three year long investigation into the value of the pension fund without any guarantee that the employers wouldn’t try once again to introduce their devastating cuts. We actually welcome an independent investigation into the alleged deficit, since it is widely considered by independent experts that the current assessors have underestimated its present and future value, but we can’t accept a temporary solution that offers us no assurances;
  • reschedule lectures that have been missed due to strike action, and for which we have already given up pay. This is effectively asking us to work free overtime and undermines our right to strike.

Such an offer was simply impossible to accept. It would have meant that the strike, which has been so disruptive to you and to us, would have all been for nothing, since it would have meant a much worse set of conditions (in terms of what we pay in and what we can expect to receive in retirement) than we were prepared to sanction. We haven’t been on strike for three weeks to end up only slightly less worse off than when we first started our action.

We hugely appreciate the continued support of our students especially as we know that our action is disrupting the education that we are committed to providing. We also hope that you understand the reasons both why we were forced to go on strike and why, in almost every university, we just couldn’t accept this deal.

We feel that defending our pensions is part of a broader battle to secure the future of universities as places with highly motivated staff and well resourced students – and as sites that are not determined simply by market logic. Pensions are essentially delayed payment for our work, and undermining pensions not only penalises those of us now working in universities, who have paid into the existing scheme, it also makes for worsening conditions for staff in the future, and therefore for future generations of students too.

We are always happy to answer your questions and encourage you to visit our picket lines and to attend our teach-outs.

With best wishes and thanks

Members of Goldsmiths UCU

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