Response to the Trades Unions' open letter
19 September 2014
We understand and respect the right of our employees to take industrial action. We note also, however, that of the approximately 1000 employees who are or are eligible to be members of the Aberystwyth University Pensions and Assurance Scheme, only around 100, or 10%, have voted to do so on this occasion.
Aberystwyth University Council’s decision to close the AUPAS scheme and procure an alternative is not unprecedented. Many universities, companies and other organisations have already had to amend or close their original direct benefit pension schemes. It is an unfortunate reflection of common financial conditions that none of us can expect pensions benefits to remain unchanged in future; and that goes equally for members of the Universities Superannuation Scheme, on which we anticipate a consultation to begin shortly.
The University takes no pleasure in changes that will lead to reductions in benefits for some individuals, but we have a duty to ensure a sustainable University for the future, thus protecting jobs and our student experience. That means taking difficult decisions and managing risks after a proper process of consultation with those affected. Throughout, we have worked on the basis that any future scheme must be affordable, sustainable, and as attractive as possible to staff. We are grateful to our recognised Trades Unions for the part you are playing in the procurement process for the new scheme, in which you are fully involved. This new scheme is intended to offer a range of additional benefits for staff. All eligible staff will benefit, unlike the partial membership of the AUPAS scheme, from a 10% employer contribution from the University regardless of whether they choose to make an employee contribution. This is not a cost-cutting exercise. We currently pay £3.1m per year in respect of AUPAS, and are predicting a spend of £3.3m in future years. The difference is that AUPAS is the kind of scheme where we cannot make accurate predictions for spend, and the new one will mean much less risk – so we can be sure of the amount of money the University will have to devote to other necessary work we have to do.
You note that colleagues can ill afford to lose pay. The service and experience we offer our visitors and students is vital to us, and we must ensure that continues at a high level. We will be withholding pay from those taking industrial action or not working normally during this Welcome Weekend (including the Friday and Monday). However, as is usual in such circumstances, half of this withheld salary will go to the student hardship fund, and half to our Students’ Union to use for hardship or student experience purposes.
Aberystwyth University is and intends to remain a great place to work. This is borne out by recent external indicators like our achievement of the Corporate Health Standard; the GEM chartermark for gender equality in the arts, humanities and social sciences for academic and professional support staff; our shortlisting for a CIPD award for employee relations initiative of the year; and also by our recent complete review of the academic promotions system and the Additional Increment and Contribution Point scheme, which have been welcomed by colleagues. Changing the pensions arrangements, as our Council voted to do in June, does not compromise our commitment to staff – it is a necessary action by a responsible employer.
Again, we welcome your involvement with procuring our new pensions scheme, and look forward to working with you as we take that forward.