Trade union bosses have jointly written to Universities Minister Richard Lochead urging for an intervention on fair work grounds to stop both Dundee universities “attacking” pension rights.
The University of Dundee is proposing to change its defined benefit pension scheme for professional and support services staff, library workers, cleaners and security staff.
The unions have accused the university of taking away thousands of pounds in pension cash from low paid and mostly female workers, claiming that it has not proposed to reduce pension benefits for senior management.
Abertay University meanwhile, is proposing to close access for new starters to the Scottish Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS) to research, professional and support staff.
Unions argued that this would create a two-tier workforce and mean more people would lose out on retirement cash.
The letter suggested that Lochead should use his influence to force a fair resolution that respects the contribution of all staff, in order to avoid industrial action over the imminent pension closures.
Unison has previously said that the proposed University of Dundee changes mean those on the lowest wages could see retirement funds slashed by up to 40%. Staff which are higher-paid, and are enrolled in the national Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), will be unaffected.
The University of Dundee has said it is conducting a consultation, with nothing being finalised until it is complete.
Senior management would remain part of the USS, while lower paid workers could only join a local defined contribution scheme from 1 August.
The proposed replacement scheme would be privately administered, with no guaranteed benefits in retirement and subject to the performance of investments its providers select.
Lorcan Mullen, Unison Scotland’s higher education lead officer, said: “It is particularly shameful that the lowest paid-staff are facing this attack, while the senior management pushing this proposal retain their defined benefit pension scheme – we are calling for these proposals to be withdrawn and for serious talks to begin with unions on a fair long-term solution.”
UCU Scotland official Mary Senior said: “Pensions are deferred pay, and we are deeply alarmed that both employers are trying to attack staff pensions in this way.
“Dundee is one of the most deprived areas in Scotland, with lower life expectancy levels – now the university employers are attempting to reduce pensions benefits so staff will be worse off in retirement.”
A University of Dundee spokesman responded: “The university is proposing to make changes to the current University of Dundee Superannuation and Life Assurance Scheme pension arrangements and we have started a formal consultation process with staff who are in the scheme.
“The consultation period runs until 14 May, and nothing will be finalised until after the consultation period ends – all representations from current and eligible members and the campus trade unions will be considered before any decisions are made.”
The university explained: “If this proposal goes ahead, from 1 August 2021 a new defined contribution arrangement will be put in place and current members and those staff eligible to join the scheme will be offered this new arrangement.
“The benefits members have already built up are protected and are not affected by the proposed changes.
“In relation to the unions’ claim that other staff such as senior management are not facing pensions uncertainty, it should be noted that the national pension scheme, USS, is also currently the subject of proposed changes.”
A spokesperson for Abertay University said: “It is essential that the university’s exposure to future pension costs is prudently managed to ensure the long term sustainability of the institution in these challenging times.
“If the proposals go ahead, the new scheme will be among the very best defined-contribution schemes available and the university’s contributions to this would continue at the same level as currently paid into the LGPS.
“Because the proposed new scheme has a non-contributory element, it would provide a pension to those Abertay staff who may not feel they can afford to contribute to the current pension scheme,” they added.
“Existing staff members will be able to choose to voluntarily join the proposed new scheme if they wish to.”
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— to www.insider.co.uk