Ask the panel

December 9, 2005

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

I have been employed as a support worker in various roles at two universities for the past ten years. Colleagues have been discussing a new national framework agreement and single pay spine. I am told this is a positive step but I am unsure of how it will change my pay and what it will do for me. Can you advise me?

* Our panellist from the Association of University Teachers answers: "The framework agreement provides for a national single pay spine across the sector and for a common grading structure across all staff groups. The grading structure in each institution will, however, be determined locally, in accordance with the provisions of the framework agreement and, in pre-92 institutions for academic and academic-related staff, in accordance with the memorandum of understanding agreed between employers and the AUT.

"As part of the framework agreement, your institution will implement a system of role analysis using a job evaluation scheme. This may mean your post is evaluated, or it may be compared with a similar role profile or benchmark to determine its grade in the new structure. It is expected that the majority of roles will be transferred to a grade in the new structure that is equivalent to current arrangements. However, a minority of roles may be shown to be overgraded or undergraded and may result in red-circling, where pay protection will apply, or green-circling, where the role will be upgraded.

"The framework agreement is underpinned by equal pay considerations and provides for staff development and review, and agreements on progression and promotion. To find out what is happening at your institution and to see if a new pay and grading structure has been agreed, contact your trade union. For details of deals to date see media/html/s/9/latestpayoffers.html."

* Our Natfhe panellist adds: "The framework agreement changes the grading of all staff in higher education, whatever job they do. In post-92 institutions, the evaluation will be used to determine the grades of staff. This may involve job evaluation for individual members of staff or a group system where typical jobs - for example, different types of librarian or specialist information technology jobs - are placed on the same grade as the role of a staff member who has been evaluated. Natfhe's preference is very much for the latter.

"If you do not agree with the grade you are given, there will be a local appeals procedure with the right to trade union representation.

The new agreement is supposed to ensure that you are graded in a way that allows for fair and equal pay proof comparisons with other staff, for example, academic staff or other academic-related or support staff doing jobs with similar demands and responsibilities. Most staff will end up with fairly similar pay to their existing pay but a significant number could get a higher grade and a smaller number may be red-circled and placed on a lower grade.

"A set of national profiles has been developed for academic-related jobs, though not all institutions are using them. These arrangements apply to all staff, whether temporary or part time, and the arrangements should have trade union involvement at all stages."

* The Universities and Colleges Employers' Association panellist says: "The new national framework is a welcome and significant step forward for your university and its employees. The single national pay spine is the vehicle for implementing this and for the first time it will include all academic and support staff on the same pay structure. It will introduce fair, equal and competitive pay and conditions of service for all employees based on the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. Its introduction will also provide clear career paths and opportunities underpinned by staff development and review. In addition, you and your colleagues will be paid more where you contribute more to your jobs. For more information on the framework agreement, go to 'Pay Modernisation' on the Ucea website, ."

This advice panel includes the Association of University Teachers, Natfhe, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, Research Councils UK, the Equality Challenge Unit and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party.

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