Month: October 2014

Notification of UCU industrial action from 6 November

Notification of UCU industrial action from 6 November

The message below was sent to members of USS on 31 October 2014 following notification from University and College Union (UCU) of plans for continuous action short of a strike.

Dear Colleagues,

Notification of UCU industrial action from 6 November

The University and College Union (UCU) has given notice of plans for continuous action short of a strike, intended to halt all actions necessary for, or associated with, student learning outcomes. We have been advised that the industrial action will start on Thursday 6 November and will include a comprehensive boycott of all student work submitted for assessment, including coursework and assignments.   Imperial is committed to providing our talented students with an outstanding education and any action having a detrimental impact on their experience is neither an appropriate nor effective route to resolve a dispute about staff pension benefits.

The industrial action follows a ballot over reforms being considered by the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) to address the scheme’s significant deficit.   As I noted in my message of 1 October, the College regarded the ballot as premature while proposals for potential USS benefit changes are not yet agreed.

Imperial’s position on pension reform

We recognise that pension provision is very important to our staff.  Because we participate in a collective pension scheme we are actively contributing to discussions through the national Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC).   The JNC consists of an equal number of employer and UCU representatives with an independent chair and is the forum for consideration of proposals and alternative options.

The College has submitted our views to the forum via the employers’ representatives.   We believe that reform is necessary.   We have made clear our priority is to maintain the best scheme possible for our staff on a financially sustainable basis.  Our preference is for USS to maintain a defined benefit scheme, based on career average earnings (CARE). Compared to the hybrid option proposed, this would enhance recruitment and retention packages, but we recognise that our preference would not be sustainable within the current range of contributions.  Any reform package must meet the requirements for funding sustainability set by the independent Pensions Regulator.

The CARE scheme carries a higher risk that the employer contribution will increase compared to the other options being considered.   The College is willing to accept that risk in return for improved employee benefits but the UUK proposals are, understandably, based on the majority view of participating employers.   We note that employers and employees will both incur increased contribution costs as a result of Government changes to the state pension and the impact this will have on the ‘contracted out’ status of occupational pension schemes – this, no doubt, has an impact on the ability of both employees and employers to increase their contributions.   The College is willing to fund a further modest increase in employer contributions to maintain career average benefits for all but we recognise that not all HEIs are in a position to do this.   We understand that employee contributions would also need to rise to maintain career average benefits for all.  We are therefore interested in seeing a development of the proposals that might offer choice to members, for example making it optional for members to pay more for defined benefit top-up.

While these discussions are ongoing, and options still being explored, we are disappointed that UCU is advocating action which could disadvantage students.

For further information about the USS reforms, and to register for a pensions briefing even on 5 November covering all of the schemes (occupational and state), please visit the following link:

Information on the USS reform proposals and to register for the pensions briefing

Imperial’s response to the industrial action

The College cannot condone industrial action that will impact on the quality of our students’ education.  If a member of staff decides to take part in the UCU action short of a strike, they will be undertaking some of their contractual duties but refusing to carry out all work associated with student learning outcomes and the setting and assessment of student work. This is partial performance of the member of staff’s employment contract.  The College is legally entitled to reject partial performance and will do so for this industrial action.   In these circumstances, the College is entitled to withhold pay, in full, for those who do not comply with their employment contract.

UCU has targeted actions related to student learning outcomes. It has also declared this action to be continuous i.e. without a stated end date.   Imperial places students at the centre of the university and will do everything it can to reassure them that their experience and education will not be affected by any action.

On an ex-gratia basis, and for those staff who carry out all their other duties and responsibilities (including student support and teaching), the College will continue to make partial payment of salary during the period of industrial action.    The refusal to set out and carry out assessments will result in the College withholding 25% of the member of staff’s contractual pay during the period of partial performance.    The College will not reimburse pay that has been withheld once the dispute is concluded.

There would be no obligation on the member of staff to attend work for the 25% period of the contract that they are not being paid where this relates to time that would have been spent on assessment activities.   The College’s discretionary payment of 75% of the contract is conditional on all other contractual responsibilities and attendance commitments being met in full.

The College values the wide-ranging contributions of staff to Imperial’s activities and our decision to withhold a proportion of pay for partial performance, rather than full pay as we are entitled to do, recognises that staff will continue to perform many of their other responsibilities if they take action short of a strike.

This is a voluntary action by the College and without prejudice to its legal rights.   The College reserves its rights to review the impact of the action and to increase the level of pay being withheld, or to withhold pay in full, at any time during the industrial action.

Impact of industrial action on pension benefits

Industrial action automatically suspends a member of staff’s employment contract, impacting on the accrual of pension and other benefits including death in service/life cover.  Where salary is withheld in full, pension benefits are suspended although a member of staff may apply to maintain life cover.    USS rules require advance notification, before industrial action commences, if a member of staff wishes to maintain protection of life cover.

For partial performance the employer may withhold pay and withhold pension contributions or withhold pay but maintain pension contributions.   The College is willing to maintain full pension contributions during the period of partial performance.   In order to maintain full pensions contributions a member of staff must (a) notify the College three days in advance of the commencement of action short of a strike (b) be prepared to fund their own employee contributions at the level of full pay.

For those members of staff who do not wish to maintain their own employee contributions in full, or do not notify the College in advance of commencing action, then the pension contributions will accrue at 75% of service during the period of industrial action – as if their contract of employment were part-time.

Informing the College

If you are a member of staff taking industrial action, in order to maintain your pension benefits in full, you should notify the College of your intention by emailing me, Louise Lindsay, Director of HR, via, copied to your Head of Department, at least three working days in advance of the first day of action.

Please state:

–       Your name, CID and department

–       When you intend to commence action (from the first occasion when you do not set or mark coursework or fail to carry out any other assessment activity)

–       Which courses will be affected by the industrial action

–       If you wish to have your pension benefits maintained at full salary

Upon receipt of the notification, I will reply to confirm the impact on your pay and pension benefits during the industrial action.

Minimising disruption
We are an educational institution and our priority is to provide for our students. We are working with Heads of Department to minimise the impact on Imperial students of any action taken by UCU members.  We hope that most staff will continue to work as normal.  Where staff take on additional work as a result of the dispute then we will ensure this additional responsibility is recognised appropriately.   Local HR teams will liaise with Heads of Department to advise on this further.

We are liaising with the Imperial Students’ Union and will be communicating directly with students about the situation once we understand the likely impact of the industrial action. We will assure them that the College does not condone the UCU action and is exploring all options to keep any disruption to student learning outcomes at a minimum.

This advice has been published to the College’s website and will be updated as required.

If you have any questions about any of the guidance please do not hesitate to contact me via

Kind regards,


Louise Lindsay

Director of Human Resources



Enterprise at Imperial

Corporate Partnerships has been renamed as Enterprise. It will be led by Dr Simon Hepworth as Director of Enterprise and will comprise the following four groups:

1. A Programme Management Office, which from 1 August combines the Project Management team from Imperial Consultants (ICON) and the Major Projects team from Corporate Partnerships. The new group is led by Dr Simon Philbin and provides programme, project and consortium management services for academic-led initiatives.

2. The Corporate Partnerships group, delivering research funds from industry, now led by Nik Pishavadia;

3. The Enterprise Ventures group, supporting delivery of complex projects and new College initiatives, including Imperial Business Partners and Tech Foresight;

4. The Enterprise Strategy group, supporting the growth of the College’s enterprise community.

ICON will remain a separate entity to continue to facilitate staff consultancy work.

Background to UCU ballot on dispute regarding USS

Important background to UCU ballot on dispute regarding USS

Members of the University and College Union (UCU) are being balloted between 1 October and 20 October on industrial action over reforms being considered to address the significant deficit in the scheme.

The Employers Pensions Forum for Higher Education has said that “UCU’s ballot material includes misinformation over employers’ proposals for reform that are not yet finalised”. The information below, provided by the Universities and College Employers Association, sets out the background to this statement and the current position with discussions about the future of the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

Key points

  • The USS has a sizeable and persistent yet volatile deficit. In March 2013, this deficit (the difference between the scheme’s assets and the value of the benefits for which it is liable) was £11.5 billion. In March 2014 the deficit is expected to be around £8billion. Reform of USS members’ future benefit structure is necessary to address the deficit and ensure that the USS remains viable.
  • The employers are working with the UCU and the USS Trustees to consider what approach is needed to address the deficit, including considering the necessary changes to the scheme’s future benefit structure. The employers’ objective is for the USS to remain affordable, attractive and sustainable for both employees and employers, while addressing the deficit and reducing the risk of future contribution increases.
  • The UCU modelling that is provided as supporting evidence for the ballot for industrial action is premature and ill-informed. By disregarding the modelling being considered jointly by UCU and UUK, UCU has provided misinformation to its members even though the employers’ proposals for reform have not yet been finalised and are the subject of continuing discussion between UUK and UCU.
  • UUK has just concluded consultations with USS employers on the possible options to address the deficit. The employers’ position will then be developed further in the coming weeks and USS will provide high quality modelling to enable understanding of any impact on future benefit accrual.
  • The benefits a member has built up before the date that any changes are implemented will be protected and will be calculated based on their service and pensionable salary at the date of change.
  • Institutions will receive a report on the outcome of the employer consultation following the EPF USS Group meeting and the employers’ proposals for reform will be publicly circulated once they are finalised later this autumn. UUK will also share modelling on the implications of the proposed reform for different categories of USS members in terms of their future benefit structure.
  • The employers’ proposals will be shared with UCU through the USS Joint Negotiating Committee (JNC) in October. The JNC consists of an equal number of employer and UCU representatives and an independent chair. We also expect the UCU to put forward their proposals for reform to the JNC.
  • Following the negotiations during the autumn and a decision by the JNC, a formal consultation with all affected employees and representative bodies on any proposed reforms to USS will take place in early 2015. Employees’ views must be taken into account by the JNC and USS Trustees before a decision to implement any changes is made.

Timeline of key forthcoming dates
7 October
Employers’ representatives in the Employers Pensions Forum (EPF) USS Group meet to discuss the responses received from scheme employers following the recent UUK employer consultation, and decide on the proposals for future scheme design and contributions which will then be taken forward to negotiation with UCU.

22 October
USS JNC meeting where member representatives (UCU) will meet employer representatives (UUK) to consider initial proposals from the employers – and if UCU wishes, from UCU – for future benefit reform.

13 November
Further USS JNC meeting aiming to conclude discussions between the parties on potential benefit reforms and decide on the proposed changes that will be the subject of the statutory consultation by employers with affected employees.

Early 2015
The USS Trustee Board considers the JNC decision and asks scheme employers to commence the statutory employee consultation with affected employees on proposed USS benefit reforms which will last for at least 60 days. All active members of USS as well as employees who have opted out of USS or other USS eligible non-members should by law be included in the consultation as well as certain representative bodies. This consultation must be undertaken by each scheme employer with their own employees. The JNC and USS Trustees will then receive feedback from the consultation before making final decisions by June 2015.

For more information, visit the HR webpages about this story.