Fresh pay talks agreed as UK university strikes continue

Acas to mediate between unions and employers in an attempt to resolve deadlock on pay

February 9, 2023
UCU picket banner placard
Source: Tom Williams

Unions are set to meet with employers again on 13 February in an attempt to resolve a long-running dispute that has led to 18 days of strikes at UK universities.

The University and College Union (UCU) alongside the four other higher education unions – GMB, Union, Unite and the Educational Institute of Scotland – will enter into fresh negotiations with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) in a fresh attempt to agree a pay rise deal that will satisfy all sides.

The Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas) will mediate the talks, with both sides deadlocked.

Ucea has offered a pay rise worth between 5 and 8 per cent, which UCU has said is “not enough”. Eighty per cent of union members rejected the deal in an indicative online vote.

Strikes are continuing ahead of the new talks. Universities were disrupted for the second week in a row on 9 February, with more walkouts planned for 10 February.

Another three consecutive days of strikes are planned from 14 February, the day after the first round of talks, with more to follow in February and March. 

Ucea has signalled it can go no further on pay, saying the current offer on the table is at the limit of what the sector can afford.

Other elements of the claim – including workload and casualisation – have not yet been discussed as part of the formal negotiations.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady welcomed the fresh talks. “The union has been clear, we need an offer that addresses the key issues affecting our members – specifically on casualisation and workloads,” she said.

“We haven’t had that yet. The sector has more than enough money to pay and treat people fairly, and employers have the power to do so. I am incredibly proud of UCU members whose dedication to improving their working standards and education has gotten us this far.”

Raj Jethwa, Ucea’s chief executive, said the offer presented to the unions at the last meeting was the highest the sector has seen in nearly 20 years.  

“Many higher education institutions’ finances are severely stretched in the face of falling income and rising costs but are trying to commit to implementing a proportion of this award six months early, as a direct response to current cost of living concerns,” he added.

“Ucea has agreed to accept Acas’ services as the right thing to do to try reach a settlement and to meet our original objective of getting an affordable uplift to staff sooner. These discussions to try and resolve dispute over the 2023-24 pay round are separate to UCU’s ongoing industrial action which followed a ballot outcome over last year’s (2022-23) pay uplift.”

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