Several University and College Union branches are urging their members to reject a 2 per cent pay offer, claiming the deal would represent a “severely damaging defeat” to the union.
Branch committees at a handful of universities, including University College London and the University of Bath, have voted to call on staff to turn down the deal for 2014-15 in a ballot of UCU members, while others look likely to follow suit.
The UCU has agreed to suspend its planned marking boycott, due to start on 28 April, until 6 May, pending the result of the vote.
However, Tom Hickey, chair of the University of Brighton’s UCU branch, is urging members to reject the offer, claiming “every activist knows” that accepting it “would constitute a severely damaging defeat for the UCU”.
“A defeat of this magnitude…will constitute an existential threat to the UCU, at least as a serious national force in the sector,” he said.
“There is simply no way, this side of self-delusion, that this could be considered a win for the unions, or even a goalless draw.”
Mark Campbell, chair of London Metropolitan University’s UCU branch, agreed, saying that the proposed deal “in no way addresses our members’ concerns and is less than the anticipated real rate of inflation…for the coming year”.
“Now is the time to strengthen our resolve to see this fight through, not abandon it for crumbs from the employers’ table,” he said.
Sean Wallis, president at UCL’s UCU branch, also criticised the union’s higher education committee, which met on 16 April, for failing to make a recommendation before putting it to members.
“Members deserve to be told what their leaders think of the offer,” said Mr Wallis.
The lack of a recommendation was “quite extraordinary” given that the current offer “falls far short of our pay demand, and that members are being asked to take very difficult action as an alternative”, he added.
But Jimmy Donaghey, higher education committee vice-chair and former branch secretary at University of Warwick UCU, believed it was right for members to decide.
“Union democracy is not about a hard core of activists telling members what to do: it must be an iterative process of leaders listening to members and developing a strategy in line with the views of members,” he said.
While admitting the offer was “disappointing”, unions had nonetheless “achieved what no other sector has achieved to date – breaking the public sector pay freeze”.
Pat Hornby-Atkinson, chair of the Edge Hill University branch, also believed that “what has been achieved so far is not insignificant”, even if the offer was “miserly”.
“I believe that it is appropriate, at this point, to allow the membership to decide if they are willing to accept what is being offered or whether they wish to fight on.”
Gregor Gall, professor of industrial relations at the University of Bradford, believed the offer would be accepted.
“It’s a 100 per cent increase on last year’s offer and this has been a long and relatively costly campaign for members,” he said.