The University and College Union appears to tie itself in knots unnecessarily over the proposed national pay structures ("UCU fears employer bid to block action over pay", October 12).
First, this is not just a Universities and Colleges Employers Association document but one accepted as "a common position" by the employers and the support staff unions. The support staff unions have tried to broker a position to suit all - for example, we suggested the "concession by Ucea" to bring forward the pay meeting dates to try to meet the UCU position.
We join the UCU in opposing "any agreement that in any way restricts our freedom to ballot members on pay settlements and industrial action". However, the disputes procedure would only potentially delay (not stop) a ballot for a short period to allow for final talks - a time that Unison would also use to ensure our records and processes meet legal requirements. Single-table bargaining has not inhibited the UCU from balloting for industrial action in further education.
The UCU suggests the document lacks clarity, a charge that could also be levelled at its suggested amendment. With a national single pay spine based on equal pay, it is difficult to see what matters of pay and/or terms and conditions only affect "particular staff" and the unions representing them. If the UCU demands a specific increase for academics or a change to the grading structure, then support staff on the same grades will be affected and Unison will have to be involved - and not as "observers".
The danger of playing with words this late in the day is that our common goal of national bargaining slips through our fingers. Some employers seem attracted to a move to local pay but are playing a waiting game until after the UCU conference. Let us hope that the UCU does not give them the excuse to fulfil their ambitions.
Jon Richards, Head of higher education, Unison