LECTURERS in the old universities have voted to escalate industrial action in the dispute over pay, potentially fracturing the unity forged by higher education unions.
The Association of University Teachers' ballot result, announced on Wednesday, gives the union the green light to continue the seven-month dispute. More than 75 per cent of those voting opted for disruption of the admissions and examinations processes.
The AUT's governing council, which met yesterday, was thought certain to approve a continuation of the dispute. The decision will place the AUT at odds with most of the other seven unions, whose members are set to settle the dispute by accepting the employers' much-improved offers.
Representatives of the eight unions will attend a meeting in London today to announce their intentions following final offers from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association. The UCEA is offering lecturers and academically related staff 2.9 per cent for 1996/97 and a further 2.9 for 1997/98. Manual staff were offered 3.9 per cent and 3.4 per cent respectively.
Trade unions representing the manual workers are pleased with the offer, which is the highest in this year's public sector pay round. The unions, which have consulted members unofficially, say that they intend to accept the offer.
Chris Kaufman, higher education campaign co-ordinator for the Transport and General Workers Union, said: "The time has come to settle. But we are determined not to lose the solidarity gains made through this united pay campaign."
The National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education said that members were also likely to accept the UCEA offer leading to its settling of the dispute. Natfhe, like all the unions, will accept the offers at their respective bargaining group meetings.
Only the AUT and the Association of University and College Lecturers, which are set to merge later this year, look set to continue the dispute at least in the short term. Both are anxious to secure support from the employers for an independent pay review body.
David Triesman, AUT general secretary, said: "I do not want the dispute to continue longer than is necessary and would like the unions to conclude the dispute together. I am sure that it should be possible to get an agreement from employers but if not the dispute will go on." The AUT is hoping that it can resolve the problems and so move towards settlement when it meets the UCEA at a meeting on January 30. The other unions are also likely to meet employers next week.