A challenge to the Hera antagonists

June 20, 1997

Temperate criticism is not usually the hallmark of Association of University Teachers and Natfhe, the college lecturers' union. When Jill Jones and Alan Carr (THES letters, June 13) argue that "existing salary structures for academic and academic-related staff are seriously flawed, fail to meet elementary equal opportunities criteria and are open to challenge on the basis of equal pay for work of equal value", I am astonished at their moderation.

They could have pointed out that this might be true of all the pay structures in higher education, including those for clinical academics, technicians and clerical and manual staff. They missed the opportunity to remind your readers that, following the brave, 11-year campaign by Susan Enderby and her union, MSF, it is established case law that pay structures must meet the equal value criteria across the whole range of staff employed by any one organisation. They also forgot to say that an industrial tribunal called upon to adjudicate on an equal pay claim will appoint an independent job evaluation expert to advise it.

Universities and colleges are doubtful that the existing pay structures meet the equal value requirement. That is why 110 of them have joined a consortium to find a way of comparing jobs from porter to professor.

The product of this work, Higher Education Role Analysis (Hera) is not a "mechanistic analysis of tasks" as Jones and Carr claim but a tool for analysing the factors and behavioural competencies (skills, knowledge, aptitudes and work strategies) which people bring to their jobs. It was developed with the help of more than 2,000 staff in more than 60 institutions and of Towers Perrin, a leading-edge management consultancy. So far, 300 staff, including many academics, have helped to analyse their own jobs using the Hera questionnaire and every single one felt that Hera covered all aspects of their jobs.

The development was also greatly influenced by more than 15 consultative meetings with AUT and Natfhe representatives as well as representatives of the other eight recognised unions. The unions have played a major part. All of them have adopted a cautious wait-and-see approach until now. They have wanted to see Hera in action before giving it their support. What has changed?

There is certainly no plan to impose the use of Hera in every university and college. No one has or wishes to have such power and, if they did, institutions would take no notice. Rather, the consortium has invited all the trade unions to join it in conducting a large-scale pilot test of Hera in six volunteer institutions.

Only when that is complete will it be possible to see whether the existing pay structures, which are the product of history and not planning, are fair, just and equitable. If they seem to be none of these then reform would be essential if universities and colleges are to avoid a spate of equal value claims. The reform would have to be brought about by negotiation with the trade unions.

I make them a fair offer. The consortium will organise a seminar for AUT and Natfhe branch officers at which the whole Hera scheme will be demonstrated and questions can be put and answered. Surely that is better, and academically more respectable, than the "verdict first, trial later" approach which seems to be their present attitude.

Stephen Rouse Chief executive Universities and Colleges Employers' Association

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