The national academic pay system edged closer to collapse this week as it emerged that Bolton Institute is planning to set pay locally and to ignore the national lecturers' contract, writes Phil Baty.
If the plans are implemented, Bolton would be the third higher education institution to pull out of national bargaining, following Imperial College London and the University of Central England. The threat of such a move has heightened union fears of a snowball effect.
The institute plans to "produce a locally based remuneration system including performance-based differential awards and market supplements" and to "produce a system of local contracts", according to an internal human resources strategy document.
This week, lecturers' union Natfhe threatened a national academic boycott of Bolton. Union officials fear others could join the "rogue" institutions as the sector is opened up to market forces following the higher education white paper.
Natfhe sees the move as particularly damaging to the national pay negotiating system at a time when employers and unions are engaged in sensitive national talks on pay and fundamental changes to job structures.
Adrian Jones, Natfhe's northern region official, said: "A rogue move like this would be bound to damage the national climate, and it is doing no favours for the managers of those institutions who want harmony.
"JNCHES [the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff] is very sensibly taking the time needed to produce a lasting national agreement. Through impatience, Bolton is going off half cocked."
Bolton's human resources strategy document warns that the institute, which recently failed in its bid for university status, lacks any sense of identity and confidence. It says the institute is attached to hierarchical structures and has a perceived problem with "excessive workloads". It adds:
"We have been a follower rather than a leader, content to shelter under the protection of national agreements."
Bolton declined to comment to The THES.