'Managers gain at staff's cost'

September 21, 2001

Not everyone welcomes the unification of new and old universities under one negotiating body, says Elaine Carlton

This year's punishing pay dispute in the university sector ended in June with a groundbreaking agreement that for the first time brought together negotiations for pre and post-1992 universities.

The June 21 agreement between unions and the Universities and Colleges Employers Association also made history by consolidating the ten bargaining groups for academics and for non-teaching staff - from manual staff and technicians to administrative and library staff - into one body with an independent chair.

The agreement came into effect on August 1 with transitional arrangements up to August 2002, by when a single pay spine for university employees (except clinical academics) will be fully implemented.

An outsider might be surprised that the process has taken so long. Insiders reflecting on the realities are less so, and some are downright pessimistic.

Tony Pointon, who led the fight to separate polytechnic teachers' pay negotiations from that of their further education colleagues, says the new machinery is likely to result in academics abandoning their posts and heading for industry or overseas universities.

Professor Pointon, a Portsmouth University academic who established the Association of Polytechnic Teachers to combat the bias towards college staff, says: "We will now be trying to negotiate with one system for two different types of staff, manual and academic, and there will be no coherence, because these two sets of people do not have the same interests.

"When you are dealing with academics, these are people who are mobile both nationally and internationally, so you cannot negotiate at a local level.

"Technical and clerical staff, however, work at the university because that is where they live and if they were made redundant they could get another job in the locality, whereas academic staff displace for their work.

"So if you have a local institution that says that labour in its area is cheap and it tries to operate that with academics, those academics will just up and leave."

He believes the only people to benefit from the arrangement will be the management.

"The big advantage for management is that this is a system that can be looked at post by post. The theory is that quantifying every post will help employers to escape from being taken to court over equal value cases," he said.

"Management may not, however, be able to recruit and retain the staff they need, which is the main objective of a negotiating system."

Professor Pointon's old adversary, Peter Dawson, former general secretary of lecturers' union Natfhe and leader of the trade union side of the Burnham further education committee, regrets that the machinery does not include the college sector.

Mr Dawson, now London consultant of Education International, was instrumental in securing a national joint council (NJC) with negotiated conditions of service direct with the local authority employers.

"The wording of the constitution was left deliberately open, in the hope that one day this body would negotiate pay as wellI We had always wanted these two things to be merged, and now we were increasingly discussing both together in NJC meetings although the pay elements had to be properly agreed by the Burnham further education committee."

The incorporation of the polytechnics meant that the unions had to negotiate with the polytechnic directors to secure conditions for their teachers. Mr Dawson said: "The further education sector was totally broken up and it was a tragedy, an appalling waste of a stable negotiating system."

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