Local zero

January 31, 2013

Regarding your piece “Broad-minded unions reject local pay talks at Exeter” (News, 24 January). The statements made by the University of Exeter’s departing registrar, David Allen, indicate that the three unions involved in the discussions (Unite, Unison and the University and College Union) did not secure a representative vote on local pay bargaining. In fact, the unions engaged in detailed and positive negotiations with the university, which resulted in a modest pay offer to local staff to leave national bargaining. While Allen claims that “no other conditions were attached”, it is fair to note that we persuaded Exeter to improve its original offer and to omit conditions that would have made the proposal even less attractive to our members.

The university also insisted that the offer was binding for three years and could not be accepted for one or two years, even though the future of national and local bargaining is dependent on uncertain financial considerations over the next three years.

Exeter also tied the offer to national pay settlements in which our members could not take part, leaving us in the unenviable moral position of riding on pay claims made by colleagues elsewhere without being involved in decisions on those claims. We urged the university to make an offer linked to price inflation to demonstrate that it was serious about rewarding hard-pressed Exeter staff for the enormous efforts they have made to increase output and quality in recent years.

Finally, we called for local pay bargaining to be linked to more transparent procedures for deciding pay, particularly that of top earners at the university, thereby increasing confidence in the process.

In short, each of the unions emphasised that the university could, and does, make additional pay awards above national settlements and already pays staff at the same grade (for example, professors) very different salaries based on non-negotiated criteria. A very modest pay increase could have been made under national bargaining: so what did the university really want from local negotiations in return for its (limited) cash offer?

The terms of the offer were placed fairly and squarely, and without prejudice, before our members. At no time did the university complain about the representative nature of our unions before the ballot: had the result favoured Exeter’s offer, little would have been said to THE or anyone else about the number of union members or voters. The truth is that the proposal to offer only 1 per above national pay awards did not provide a powerful incentive for members to sever links with colleagues in other universities. The offer was decisively rejected, without strong direction from the local unions.

We trust that this helps to provide a balanced view of the recent ballot. There is no real puzzle as to why local members continued to take a “broad-minded” view of pay bargaining: the offer was simply not good enough.

Brett Crane, Unite; Andrew Holcombe, Unison; Joseph Melling, University and College Union.

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