Local deal divides staff

April 27, 2007

Bournemouth's move away from the national contract must be resisted, the UCU says. Melanie Newman reports

One in six of academic staff at Bournemouth University is now on a local contract, which union leaders say has created a two-tier workforce and is causing resentment between staff.

The local branch of the University and College Union said that 650 academics had signed local contracts, with inferior terms and conditions, since they were introduced by the university for new starters three years ago.

The local contracts have reduced holiday entitlement, removed a cap on teaching hours, retracted a right to autonomous study leave and have confiscated some intellectual property rights, the union said.

The branch warned that without firm national union action, the situation in Bournemouth could be the "harbinger" of a national move away from the terms and conditions set out in the national contract for all academics in post-1992 universities.

Kevin Moloney, chair of the UCU at Bournemouth, said that Bournemouth's actions were of national concern. Should they be accepted without protest at executive level, other universities might follow suit, he said. A motion from Bournemouth to the UCU congress at the end of May will ask the national leadership to "engage with the university management" on the issue.

Dr Moloney said the union feared that the university could induce staff on the national contract to change to the local deal. "We fear that if someone is in a grade and wants to progress, there could be a suggestion that the only way to get out of it will be to sign up to the new contract, and the university might give an extra pay point to persuade people to do that," he said.

He said the new contact had "definitely" created resentment between staff on different terms and conditions, although it was hard to tell how widespread such feelings were.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, said: "There is a genuine concern - as highlighted by The Times Higher recently - that some institutions see staff and staff conditions as an irritant. That staff achieve so much, often without the right support, demonstrates that they are determined to retain the spirit of what a university should be, even in this age of marketisation.

"The UCU will not allow universities to ride roughshod over staff terms and conditions."

A spokesman for Bournemouth said: "Over the past few months, we have had extremely positive discussions with the local UCU branch on the (National) Pay and Framework Agreement and other matters; discussions continue this term. We are both seeking to achieve agreement on a few outstanding issues."

The wording of the branch motion did not reflect the university's position on "several key issues", the spokesman added.

A union member at Bournemouth, who asked not to be named, said that the National Framework Agreement had made introducing the revised contract easier.

"Many people were opposed to the National Framework because they saw it as the harbinger of the end of national contractual terms. Our experience suggests that they were correct. The framework has weakened the ability of the national union to resist local deals," he said.

A composite agreement to the UCU congress from the universities of Greenwich and Brighton warns that the agreement threatens national bargaining on terms and conditions.

It says the agreement has "fractured common practices on pay throughout the higher education sector". "This 'flexibility' consequent on locally agreed variations threatens to become the precursor for local bargaining on pay and conditions, and a threat to national negotiations," the motion says.

melanie.newman@thes.co.uk

CONTRACTUAL DIFFERENCES

Bournemouth University's local contract differs from the 1992 national contract in four ways:

* It reduces staff leave from 35 to 30 days

* It removes an 18-hour cap on weekly teaching duties

* It removes a six-week period for self-directed study leave

* It removes academics' intellectual property rights over their personal lecture notes and study aids.

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