The idea of ‘no detriment’ is such a basic defensive principle of trade unionism that it is surprising sometimes to hear a trade union leader arguing for her members to accept a detriment! Yet in two emails promoting the latest offer from the Universities UK in the USS pension dispute, UCU General Secretary Sally Hunt argues against the idea of obtaining a ‘no detriment’ clause in an agreement on the basis that it is unrealistic and the employers will not agree to it. She even points to a contribution sharing ratio to argue that members will need to accept a detriment if a deficit figure is decided upon.
I just want to point out that au contraire, obtaining this commitment is both necessary and feasible. Let us be clear first of all what is meant by the phrase.
Obtaining a “no detriment” commitment simply means that the UUK agree in advance not to make cuts in USS pension benefits for employees in the current valuation round.
There are obvious reasons why UCU members are seeking a no detriment position to be accepted. We went on strike for 14 days, and we may need to strike again, to protect our pension. If it were accepted, the dispute would be over – for the next three years at least.
I would like to suggest that it is worth considering three questions here.
- the feasibility of a ‘no detriment’ commitment,
- the relationship between a ‘no detriment’ commitment as a floor for the work of the Independent Expert Panel, and
- the benefits to USS and the sector of reaching such a position.
The threat of voluntary ‘de-risking’
First I would suggest colleagues consider a curious fact about the recent USS valuations. Both valuations are modelled on the premise of ‘de-risking’ (selling high-yield stocks and shares and buying low-yield government gilts and bonds). I wrote about this in the Made in Westminster post, and a month or so later found myself criticised for suggesting that it was sector bankruptcy that would compel USS to de-risk.