Report from HEC meeting 27 April 2018

This report represents the personal views of Rachel Cohen, NEC member for HE, London and the East and member of CityUCU.

At the Higher Education Committee (HEC) on 27th April, members voted in favour of a report from officials which set out a series of recommendations. These will determine how the Joint Expert Panel (JEP) to investigate the USS valuation is constituted and reports. At the Joint Negotiating Committee (between UCU and UUK) later that day the January Defined Contribution proposal was taken off the table. This was a major victory, and the result of our collective action. But the preceding HEC meeting highlighted the need to democratise our union’s spaces or this is not going to be a sustainable victory.

HEC Meeting:

We received the official’s report and recommendations at the start of the meeting (11.05) and were given twenty minutes to read it. When the discussion on this began we were initially allocated 45 minutes. This was later extended to about 1.5 hours, which included a short break for lunch. It also included multiple disputes about how the discussion was structured. The Chair, Douglas Chalmers, ruled that:

  •  we could not amend *anything* in the official’s report, including recommendations, terms of reference, proposed timings, or proposed method of selecting UCU JEP members;
  • that most other motions would fall if we voted through the report even though there was no obvious reason why most were contrary to the report’s recommendations – or why there should be these ‘consequentials’;
  • that we would vote on the official’s report first. This needlessly put people in a bind. For instance, I thought most of the report and recommendations were good, but wanted to amend some parts and did not want to lose the other motions on the table. Therefore I ended up voting against it. This should not have happened.

I and other members of the HEC made formal ‘challenges to the chair’ to overturn these decisions. In all cases these challenges were lost, with a majority voting in favour of the Chair’s organisation of the meeting.

Because time was short the report was introduced by the official, everyone who had submitted a motion was given up to two minutes to propose their motion. We then went straight to vote on the report, with no opportunity to discuss or debate either the report or motions, which contained critical decisions about the JEP and UCU’s involvement in it.

Key points of contention/decision included:

1) The JEP Chair will be approved by the SWG (Superannuation Working Group) and UUK – there are already suggested names that our officials know about, but we were provided with no additional information about who they were or how these people might be selected.

2) The UCU JEP members will be selected by SWG on the basis of a person specification that was distributed. An amendment that would require that SWG shortlist candidates to ensure suitability but that UCU members (either at Congress or via e-ballot) are then given the opportunity to elect our representatives was not permitted as an amendment (based on the logic that we cannot amend reports). It was then submitted as a motion and was judged to have fallen when the report was passed. This means members will have no direct say in our JEP representatives.

3) JEP is expected to issue its first report on the 2017 valuation in Sept 2018. It will then work on more general issues around the valuation. It was not entirely clear how the first report will or will not be constrained in lieu of more general agreements on valuation.

4) A motion that I submitted that would have ensured UCU JEP members are accountable to members (see below) was ruled to have fallen. This would have required regular reports to members, provided a means by which members could contact UCU JEP members and engage with the process and would have scheduled a voting delegate meeting to review the report in September. I argued that transparency and accountability were critical and that there was nothing in this motion that was in conflict with the report, but the Chair insisted that it fell when the report passed. Other motions that called for a special meeting to discuss the ongoing dispute also fell.

5) The terms of reference for the JEP emphasise ‘Confidentiality’ – for ‘all panel meetings’ and ‘all material provided to the panel …whether from the evidence pack, expert witnesses or submitted evidence.’ This was challenged. I asked why transparency wasn’t the default with confidentiality only if and as when absolutely essential. We were told that this ‘would not work’.

6) Several motions that required negotiators or the JEP to take particular positions also fell, including one that required the HEC mandated UCU negotiators to vote in favour of the removal of DC (now achieved via the JNC), removing the proposal for cost sharing and extending the implementation deadline.

7) On equalities (an update because some people have asked about this). There was no mention of equality in the initial specification for JEP members. I submitted an amendment to correct this, but was not permitted to amend this in the meeting for the reasons discussed above. In this case, however, we were assured by the official that it would be included in the final version of the specifications. This is obviously a good thing. But the fact that this can informally be changed highlights that there was no need to prevent amendments to other aspects of the report and recommendations.

The second part of the meeting was spent discussing the pay claim and various other reports. These were less controversial. But time remained short and discussion abbreviated.

This was a thoroughly frustrating meeting. We had a rushed discussion of a critical issue in which key decisions were made without any discussion.

It is likely that the issues relating to UCU internal democracy will be central to discussions at the upcoming UCU Congress. City has submitted a motion on this (see end of previous blog post), as have other branches.

Additional Note:

My motion to HEC: ‘Holding the JEP Accountable’

HEC notes concerns about USS and UUK accountability and transparency and that similar concerns have been raised about the working processes of the JEP.

HEC resolves:
• To name and provide contact information for UCU members of the JEP;
• To provide regular (typically monthly) opportunities for branches and members to receive reports from and ask questions of UCU JEP members;
• To facilitate open calls to a wider group of interested parties, including members, inviting contributions to JEP deliberations around specific topics;
• To call on the JEP to provide an interim report by the start of September 2018, in which any agreed understandings and terms of reference are reported, key points of difference clarified and future reporting and meeting dates of JEP, JNC and USS are detailed;
• To hold a branch delegates meeting, with voting rights and HEC (or ‘National Strike Committee’) to discuss the interim report.

This motion fell because the Chair said it was incompatible with the official’s report and the latter was voted on first and agreed.

Emergency Branch Meeting – 5 April 2018

On Thursday 5 April about 60 members attended an Emergency General Meeting of City UCU. Most of the meeting was spent discussing the pensions dispute. There were a lot of questions and members raised concerns about the clarity – or lack of clarity – of the latest offer.

Members present were very clear that the unity that our branch has achieved should not be undermined. Our branch has grown in number, with about 190 new members since January. We have also grown in strength and confidence. Whatever the outcome of this vote, we will need to continue to work together to fight on pensions now and in the future, but also to fight on the issues that are impacting our everyday working lives at City: workload, casualisation, bullying, inequality and more.

A motion (copied in full below) in support of a ‘No’ vote was moved and was passed by a majority of those at the meeting. As such City UCU Branch Policy, as democratically decided is to RECOMMEND A NO VOTE in the current USS ballot for the reasons outlined in the motion. The vote on the motion was not, however, unanimous and a significant minority of members at the meeting either voted against or abstained. We recognise that this difference of opinion will persist and we strongly support ongoing comradely dialogue and discussion.

The branch vote to support a reject vote rested on the belief that UCU negotiators should return to UUK and seek improvements to the 23 March proposal taking into account the many concerns that branches have raised about its implementation and contents. And that industrial action must not be suspended while these negotiations are ongoing

For those looking for more detailed rationales on why our branch voted to recommend a No vote we recommend the collection of USSBriefs, to which our member, Claire Marris, has contributed. These include three briefs (ussbriefs6, ussbriefs11 and ussbriefs14) that detail the arguments in favour of a No vote as well as other material on the background to the dispute and that provide other perspectives.

In line with the motion we will also be calling on the national union to hold a special conference on USS before or after the May Congress. This is to enable the broader discussion and concerns of members to be voiced and to create the time and space to develop national pension policy in a democratic way.

We also very briefly discussed, and passed unanimously, a motion that we will submit to UCU Congress. This motion is an attempt to address the concerns of members about transparency in the way that our union operates nationally during a dispute.

Members have until 14:00 on Friday 13 April to vote in the ballot, and we would encourage all members to vote whatever their inclination is.

City UCU Committee

Motion in support of a NO vote – passed by a majority.

This UCU branch notes:

  1. the support and energy of our membership during the course of the fourteen days of strike action in defence of our pensions the branch delegates meeting (held on the 28th March at UCU HQ, London) on the USS dispute where last-minute evidence was tabled, on which delegates had no opportunity to consult their members;
  2. that at the conclusion of the branch delegates meeting no vote was taken on what was clearly the crucial issue the Higher Education Committee (HEC) were going to decide on afterwards – whether to send the UUK offer as it stands to a ballot or not;
  3. that according to branch delegates present at the meeting a majority of branches favoured a ‘revise and resubmit’ position rather than putting the current offer to ballot;
  4. the HEC meeting decided by a narrow majority of 10-8 to ballot members on a proposal from UUK whose wording was not the outcome of a formal negotiating process between the properly constituted UCU negotiating group on USS and UUK;
  5. that the UUK offer contains many areas of uncertainty that need to be clarified before an offer can be accepted, including:
  6. There have been no details provided by UUK about how it envisages any revised contributions and benefits will be shared between the employer and USS members.
  7. There have been no details provided by UUK about the valuation that will be used to inform the future pension scheme.  Our principle worry is shared by leading pensions experts who warn that unless this uncertainly is cleared up, the offer on the table will simply revert to the notorious ‘November valuation’ provided by USS.  If this happens, our pension would revert to being a defined contribution scheme by default and the UUK offer would be effectively nullified.
  8. We have no concrete assurances about the intent of USS and the Pensions Regulator that any mutually agreed settlement will be acceptable to them.  This is important, since any deal requires the final agreement of both.   However, since the offer was made public, USS has signaled its intention to revert to the November valuation.

This UCU branch believes:

  1. That UCU negotiators should return to UUK and seek improvements to the 23 March proposal taking into account the many concerns that branches have raised about its implementation and contents
  2. That industrial action must not be suspended while these negotiations are ongoing

This UCU branch resolves:

  1. To recommend to members to vote against the UUK proposal in the consultation
  2. To circulate this petition to members along with other materials urging a vote against the UUK proposal:
  3. To call for a Special Meeting of UCU Higher Education Sector Conference to discuss the USS dispute under Rule11.* If possible this Special Meeting would be held immediately prior to or following Congress.

Late Congress Motion: Union transparency and accountability during disputes – passed unanimously.

The USS dispute, branch delegate and HEC meetings and ballot have produced member anger around issues of transparency and accountability within UCU.

Congress resolves that:

  1. The role and purpose of Branch Delegate Meetings during a dispute should be clarified, including voting rights (per branch or weighted by membership and when and how votes can be called).
  2. During a dispute, any five HEC/FEC members may call for a reconvened meeting of HEC/FEC, within two weeks, to progress the dispute.
  3. HEC/FEC must agree contextual information accompanying national ballots of members. Ballot text will be circulated to branch officers at least 1 working day in advance of the ballot going live.
  4. A means for members/branches to contact HEC/FEC members is publicised.
  5. Information about upcoming HEC/FEC/NEC meetings and agenda items is publicised.
  6. Mechanisms for HEC/FEC to consider relevant branch motions is determined.