'Hurt' your students to escalate pay fight

May 16, 2003

Money and merger top the agenda at the AUT conference. Phil Baty reports

It is time to "hurt students" in the fight for better pay and conditions, members of the Association of University Teachers argued last week as the union's annual conference took a militant turn.

Delegates at Scarborough approved executive plans for a campaign of escalating industrial action if employers do not make a serious response to demands for a 28 per cent pay rise. This includes the unprecedented options of boycotting admissions and exams. The union warned that strikes alone were not effective enough.

Aiden O'Donnel of Glasgow Caledonian University won applause when he said:

"We have to start making trouble. You're all too nice. If you want to take effective industrial action, you have to hurt someone. The only person you can hurt is the student. It is better to fight on your legs than live on your knees."

Andrew Adams of Reading AUT said: "I'm as unwilling to do any damage to students as most of you, but by not harming them for the past 20 years we have caused more severe harm to them now - the further and further degradation of their conditions. We are harming students by our inaction on pay. It's a hard choice but it's well past the time we made it."

The delegates approved an executive paper revealing that although more than 84 per cent of members supported taking industrial action, they were divided over what sort of action to take. Ann Mair of Strathclyde University said: "The one-day strike is totally inefficient. The only people who benefit are the employers who do not have to pay you for that day."

One delegate suggested that lecturers should give every student a first-class grade until further notice. Others suggested causing maximum embarrassment to vice-chancellors at degree ceremonies and public events.

Delegates demonstrated their anger that pay had been allowed to fall 40 per cent behind that of other workers in the past 15 to 20 years by throwing out a motion by their elected executive to discuss with employers plans to pay "market supplements" to lecturers in shortage areas.

The executive had wanted approval for a plan to ensure that where universities sought local flexibility to pay differential salaries according to market forces, the AUT had a strong role in making sure the supplements were paid consistently and fairly, and were determined openly.

But delegates said that even discussing the issue with employers sent out the wrong message.

Dr Adams said: "The use of market supplements is a sticking plaster to cover up severe recruitment and retention problems. We should not collude in this measure, we should fight the thing."

Sandy Golbey of Nottingham University said: "Market supplements are a sop for poor pay. We only need them because our pay is so dire in the first place."

Speaking to The THES after the debate, Sally Hunt, the AUT's general secretary, said the defeat for the executive showed how angry lecturers were. "It was a real expression of anger and pain - people were just expressing real horror," she said. "It was shocking to listen to. It shows there is no trust over pay."

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