UK - The body negotiating changes to the £31.6bn (€36.7bn) Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS) has rejected trade union calls for arbitration, accusing the University and College Union (UCU) of failing to discharge its responsibility for governance of the scheme.

In a letter sent to UCU general secretary Sally Hunt, Brian Cantor, chairman of the Employers' Pensions Forum on Higher Education (EPF), accused the union of undermining a consultation process that had retained "an exceptionally good benefit in the present circumstances".

Proposed changes to the scheme include increasing the retirement rate age to 65 and upping members' share of any rise in the scheme's contribution rate from 23.5% to 35%.
Despite UCU's five days of strikes this month, EPF rejected its request to bring in arbitrators ACAS for further discussion.

Cantor said: "We are not persuaded it is appropriate to re-open formal negotiations, even with the involvement of ACAS, on changes that have been developed through discussions involving UCU over nearly three years."

He pointed out that a negotiating committee and the scheme's trustees had already approved the changes.

However, UCU spokesman Dan Ashley said a subsequent statutory consultation with scheme members had been "an absolute sham" involving only 5% of members.

In contrast, he said, a UCU-organised online ballot had returned 95% against the proposals.

Ashley described the EPF's rejection of arbitration as "worrying - especially when we have industrial action planned".

He said: "I've never known the dispute to be resolved without the two parties talking to each other. We're willing to clear out our diaries. We need a proper discussion."

UCU also confirmed Cantor's charge that it had boycotted recent negotiations, citing the EPF's refusal to guarantee that it would not use the casting vote to push the proposals through.

Ashley said: "The majority of the board are there to rubberstamp the proposals. Our members are not prepared for that to happen."