The conference on 31 January of representatives of University and College Union (UCU) branches in “pre-92” (“redbrick”) institutions voted 66 to 41 in favour of suspending industrial action over the Universities Superannuation Scheme.
USS is the pensions scheme for academic workers in pre-92 institutions.
Michael MacNeil — the National Head of Higher Education — gave a lengthy background to the dispute, slanted towards the negotiators’ recommendations.
He told the conference that it would be difficult to escalate action because the employers are ready to make 100% deductions from pay in response to any strong action. MacNeil concluded that evidence from branches is that members are not willing to settle but equally not willing to escalate.
He favoured taking what is on "offer" with the ability to step up action if there is no progress, although he thought escalation looks “unlikely” from low attendance at branch meetings and “dangerous” without proposals to deal with the threat of 100% deductions from pay.
Upon discovering that there might have to be a re-ballot before the resumption of industrial action delegates became infuriated. One delegate from an institution from North London called the proposals a scandal, causing the 15 or so UCU employees present to leave until he apologised and withdrew the comment.
The conference voted on temporary suspension for talks with the employers. All other proposals fell. Amendment were then voted on. These included noting the "very limited progress made in negotiations"; preparing for early escalation if the employers are evasive or offer few concessions; urging negotiators not to accept an accrual rate for USS below that of TPS; and mandating negotiators not to compromise on the rejection of an inflation cap to revaluation.