Deals aimed at ending inequality and cutting casualisation in universities have become the first breakthroughs for the new national joint negotiating committee.
The committee, which brings employers and all the trade unions together around a single bargaining table for the first time, has agreed that universities will conduct detailed equal-pay audits, with a commitment to act on findings. Plans to introduce a job-evaluation scheme, designed to ensure equal pay for work of equal value, were agreed by all the unions except the Association of University Teachers, which opposes job evaluation as crude and mechanistic.
A commitment was secured from employers to reduce the number of staff on fixed-term and casual contracts, although details are still to be agreed.
Mary Stacey, the independent chair of the JNC, said the landmarks were "extremely exciting". Detailed guidance on the equal-pay audits would ensure that universities analysed pay in the context of sex, race and disability, and that issues identified were addressed.
Lecturers' union Natfhe endorsed the deal at a conference last weekend. It warned that it "agrees to pay audits only if they are linked to practical measures to close the gender pay gap".
The price staff have paid is an agreement to allow employers to introduce job evaluation, likely to be the employer-developed scheme, Higher Education Role Analysis. This will provide a detailed description of the levels of responsibility, expertise and experience required for every job, from cleaner to professor.
Natfhe said it accepted job evaluation "only if it is an agreed, national, transparent and jointly implemented scheme operated with a 'light touch'
and is not used to lower pay". Natfhe said it had secured agreements that job evaluation would not be used to undermine national pay structures, and that a sample of jobs would be evaluated and applied across the sector.
The AUT, which rejected this part of the deal, is developing its own job grading scheme in conjunction with the Equal Opportunities Commission.
The parties agreed that "necessary revision of arrangements for fixed-term and casual employment in the sector", with a view to "reducing the number of such contracts", was an issue of joint concern.
There is much work to be completed by August, the date of the new common pay anniversary for all ten unions. The parties are developing a single pay spine, with linked pay and grading structures, which will end the discrepancies between old and new universities. Talks are continuing on the modernisation of the contract for lecturers in post-1992 universities and on the working hours of manual staff.