Let's have pay peace 2

July 13, 2007

Successful bargaining depends on at least tacit agreement about the frame of reference. It isn't possible even to disagree with someone unless you know what they are talking about.

The 2006 industrial dispute was a set-piece theatrical confrontation, and as much effort was put into manipulating presentation as into trying to achieve a practical outcome. The process became dominated by those who wanted a battle more than a victory.

The outcome was a modest increase in pay and a short period of peace. The pay framework agreement processes were seriously disrupted in many institutions - frankly, there were wreckers on both sides of the dispute who welcomed this and exploited the excuse.

National pay scales no longer exist. The national pay spine - the common language of the framework agreement, and of the locally negotiated scales - does exist and has a lot to recommend it.

It is clear that confusion among academic staff is being exploited by those employers who welcome the collapse of this common language and the light it sheds on their reward practices. It is very hard to pretend you have high quality aspirations when everyone can see that you start your lecturing staff two points below your benchmark competitors.

It is also far from clear how we can have a single national spine for all staff but bargain separately over how it should be set.

Why is the University and College Union playing into the hands of those employers who favour collapse? Why do we hear so little from those employers who see transparent pay policies, founded on a national framework, as both efficient and rational?

Both sides have far more to lose than to gain from theatrical confrontations. Why, decades after other sectors have learnt better, is the learning profession still conducting industrial relations by pointing and shrieking?

Alex Arthur
Aberdeen University

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