Hunt: 'proud to lead' pay fight

May 12, 2006

Despite the stalled pay talks, union head Sally Hunt is upbeat at the AUT conference. Phil Baty reports

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, is to tell members that whatever the outcome of the pay dispute the union was right to fight.

In a rallying cry to members at the union's last annual council meeting before its merger with fellow lecturers' union Natfhe in June, Ms Hunt will say she was proud to be leading the dispute, and that she and the national executive would not let members down.

In an address to council in Scarborough after The Times Higher went to press, Ms Hunt will say: "Council, whatever the outcome of the national negotiations, we will move forward together.

"Whatever we achieve this year, it will be more than would have been achieved if we had chosen not to fight."

Ms Hunt will pay tribute to members' strength and determination in the face of the widespread pay docking being implemented by university employers against those taking part in the marking and assessment boycott.

Stung by claims by employers that the action was unprofessional, Ms Hunt will say that the dispute has reached crisis point because employers are adamant that they will not increase the 12.6 per cent offer already rejected by the unions.

"The professionals are in Scarborough this week trying to resolve the crisis," she will say.

"The employers are in London using soundbites as a substitute for negotiations."

Ms Hunt is planning to tell the AUT council delegates that the new 120,000-member Universities and Colleges Union will be prepared to flex its muscles with "a new sense of increased confidence".

"Beyond sound finances and growing membership, there is a new sense within our union of increased confidence: of what it is possible to achieve; of what it means to be a trade union; and of our hopes for a new union that embodies the best principles of democratic participation," Ms Hunt intends to say.

In an address that will clearly launch her year-long campaign to be voted in as head of the UCU next spring, she will tell delegates that the AUT's membership, at more than 49,000, is at its highest point in its history, with more than 2,000 new members joining since the current pay dispute.

But she will say: "In a world where twice as many people are members of slimming clubs than trade unions, we cannot pretend that we do not have work to do."


Differences of policy over Israel could spark row in merged union

The Association of University Teachers is set to in effect rule out any future boycott of Israeli universities at its annual conference this week.

But the position could be undermined by sister union Natfhe, whose conference this month is set to consider a fresh bid to boycott Israel's academic community in protest at the state's treatment of Palestinians.

The AUT and Natfhe are due to merge in June to form the Universities and Colleges Union. If the two adopt different policies on Israel, this could prove awkward.

Activists at the AUT council in Scarborough are expected to endorse a strict set of rules on boycotting international institutions. This follows the debacle last year when when a boycott of three Israeli institutions was agreed, but overturned at an emergency meeting weeks later.

The new rules will mean that the AUT will agree to impose sanctions against institutions only if it is asked to do so by unions or staff associations at those institutions.

Another motion expected to be endorsed makes "the protection and extension of academic freedom to teach, research and otherwise collaborate with fellow academics" the foundation of AUT international policy.

Jon Pike, who was involved in opposing last year's boycott, said: "It means that the idea that we can punish people at, for example, Haifa University just because they have not been sufficiently critical of their Government goes out of the window." He added that a motion to be debated at Natfhe's conference this month was "the big problem". This attacks the "apartheid policies" of Israel and "invites members to consider... the appropriateness of a boycott of those that do not publicly dissociate themselves from such policies".

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