End to AUT pay dispute in sight

March 19, 2004

The Association of University Teachers looked poised to call off industrial action over pay as The Times Higher went to press.

The Trades Union Congress announced that "positive proposals" had been agreed in a move to end the bitter conflict.

In a brief statement on the progress of informal talks between the union and the employers that ended on Monday, the TUC says: "Following these talks, [TUC general secretary] Brendan Barber will be writing to the AUT and Ucea [Universities and Colleges Employers Association] setting out jointly agreed positive proposals that it is hoped will form the basis for a rapid resolution of the dispute."

Although the employers and the union would not set out the details, as neither party had received Mr Barber's letter this week, The Times Higher understands that significant progress has been made in resolving the AUT's two key concerns.

One concern is that the new pay spine would lower the career earnings of AUT members by adding more and shorter pay increments. It is understood that a "no detriment" clause could be built into the deal to prevent the more negative effects of this.

The second concern is that the AUT's academic-related staff, such as librarians and technicians, would be separated from their academic colleagues and forced into local pay deals.

Frantic negotiations are expected to take place before next week's AUT annual conference in Scarborough, where uncompromising motions could make a settlement almost impossible.

A motion from Newcastle's AUT would rule out any settlement that did not offer at least a 10 per cent pay rise.

But the AUT has not made the size of the pay rise on offer - a 6.44 per cent increase over two years - a specific issue of dispute, apparently accepting that, with a general increase in the teaching grant this year of less than 1 per cent, there is little prospect of an improvement.

A motion from Glasgow's AUT would rule out any deal that "builds local pay bargaining into future pay negotiations", which could also cause problems.

A degree of local flexibility is integral to the new pay framework, which has been accepted by all six other campus unions and has not been raised as a specific point of dispute by the AUT.

The AUT acknowledged the "positive" moves but said no more detail on the developments was available. It added that its assessment and exams boycott would continue until further notice.

Meanwhile, the AUT has advised students hit by its exams and assessment boycott to sue their universities.

In a move dismissed as "perverse" by employers, the lecturers' union has produced a pro forma letter for its members to distribute to students advising them to take legal action against the university if they have been adversely affected by AUT action.

This week it emerged that University College London may be forced to cancel final exams if the dispute drags on during March.

Similar problems have hit the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. Gareth Hind, a final-year biology degree student at Aberystwyth, said that the boycott had prevented him and many others from getting exam results from last term, "together with numerous other assessment disruptions".

He told The Times Higher that he was considering taking legal action as his degree and future career were "being compromised", but his complaint was with the AUT, not the university.

A spokeswoman for Ucea said: "It is not the universities that have chosen to harm students' education by not marking exams or setting assignments, it is the AUT. For the AUT to suggest to those very students that they should take legal action against universities, is perverse."

Matt Waddup, AUT assistant general secretary, said in a press statement:

"Our members are loath to take any action that affects students. But the employers have left them with no choice."

Sally Hunt, AUT general secretary, said: "Vice-chancellors are the people who are failing to ensure that [students] have the level of service that they would expect."



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