Local row threatens national pay talks

October 12, 2001

Two of the chief negotiators in forthcoming "friendly" discussions between lecturers' union Natfhe and university employers, are embroiled in a row over contracts.

Jill Jones, chair of Natfhe's higher education committee, and Geoffrey Copland, Universities and Colleges Employers' Association representative, will lead talks on modifications to the national lecturer's contract, alongside other union representatives.

Ms Jones is a Natfhe representative at the University of Westminster. Dr Copland is the university's vice-chancellor. Lecturers at Westminster have claimed that their contracts had been altered without consultation.

Ms Jones told The THES : "It is mind-boggling that (Dr Copland) can come to the national table while not implementing the national agreement locally."

But Dr Copland said he believed local issues should not be allowed to influence national discussions. He said: "If she is wishing to stand down from representing Natfhe in these discussions, she may do so. There is a matter of principle here, that each side is entitled to invite whomever it wishes to sit on panels."

UCEA chief executive Jocelyn Prudence said: "We are concerned that we get the discussions off to a good start. Nobody is there as an individual, everybody is there to represent the interests of the sector."

Tom Wilson, head of Natfhe's universities department, said: "I wouldn't have thought the local issue at Westminster would, at this stage, have any bearing on the national talks."

Natfhe's Westminster branch said the university had issued contracts to new members of staff that did not meet the criteria of the national agreement between the union and the UCEA.

Ms Jones said the discrepancies were discovered during routine casework. Some, she added, were "substantial and negative".

The branch cited changes that included: a clause that allowed the university to terminate lecturers' employment during periods of sick-pay entitlement, and removal of references to continuous service with other institutions for maternity and sickness entitlements.

Dr Copland said most changes had been discussed with Natfhe, while others were purely changes in wording. The university said it was not in dispute with Natfhe as the dispute procedure had not been invoked.

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