Cambridge finally set to recognise University and College Union

University had been last public institution in UK not to formally recognise main sector union

April 19, 2022
University of Cambridge
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The University of Cambridge is on the cusp of recognising the University and College Union for the first time after years of being an outlier among British universities.

Both sides have reached an agreement on recognition that now needs to be ratified by various bodies in what is being hailed as a major step forward in a long-running campaign.

Cambridge had been the only one of the UK’s more than 150 public universities to hold out against recognition, claiming staff had democratic representation via internal committees. This meant UCU had no formal right to be consulted and negotiate over pay and working conditions.

It is understood that pressure from above and personnel changes among senior management led to a change in attitude which opened to door for the union.

Although Unison and Unite were both already recognised by the university, the lack of official status for UCU was seen as curtailing the ability of academic staff to organise and improve their working conditions.

UCU had previously claimed that this meant staff were subjected to lower rates of pay and more precarious working conditions than colleagues at similar institutions.

Michael Abberton, the president of the Cambridge branch of the union, said that although UCU was often informally consulted in the past, official recognition will “open a lot more doors”.

A major change will mean that caseworkers and officers will be given facility time, allowing them to work on union business as part of their working day, rather than having to use their free time.

“We’re still not there; the recognition agreement has to jump through all the hoops in order to get there,” Mr Abberton said.

But he added that what had been achieved so far was “outstanding” on both sides and he now felt there was a recognition within the university that it will be “a step forward for the university and will benefit all of the staff and the institution itself”.

He said he hoped any recognition agreement would approve relations between the two sides, despite the current disputes over pay and pensions. The Cambridge branch backed strike action in the union’s most recent ballots but did not get the required 50 per cent turnout needed to achieve a mandate to take industrial action.

A university spokesman said: “Talks between the University of Cambridge and the University and College Union on recognition have been constructive, made good progress and are now at an advanced stage.”

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