Natfhe candidate will set up two-horse race

April 7, 2006

An opponent has emerged to run head-to-head with Sally Hunt for leadership of 120,000-member 'super-union'

Sally Hunt, head of the Association of University Teachers, will face a top-level challenger from sister union Natfhe in the race to head the "super-union" that will be formed from the merger of the two organisations in the summer, writes Phil Baty.

The Times Higher has learnt that Roger Kline, head of the universities department at Natfhe, intends to stand for election as general secretary of the new 120,000-strong University and College Union, ensuring that Ms Hunt does not have a free run at the top job.

It is understood that Mr Kline has consulted widely among Natfhe colleagues to gain consensus over his leadership bid so that the union puts up just one candidate from senior ranks against Ms Hunt. Grassroots members can also stand.

It is expected that Mr Kline will confirm his candidacy later this month.

It is also thought that he will have the full backing of Paul Mackney, Natfhe's general secretary, who announced earlier this year that he would not stand on health grounds.

Mr Kline would not confirm or deny his intentions this week, saying that he was "thinking about it after being approached by a lot of people from both unions". But it is understood that he prefers not to be seen as the "stop Sally" candidate or the "Natfhe candidate", although that is how many will perceive the move.

It is understood that he will instead present his candidature as a way to ensure that there is a full debate among grassroots members about the future direction and tone of the merged union.

But his decision to stand will inevitably polarise to some degree the two unions during their merger.

It is no secret that Mr Kline and Ms Hunt do not enjoy the same level of friendship that was enjoyed by Mr Mackney and Ms Hunt. And, as The Times Higher has reported, there have been tensions between Natfhe and the AUT over the roles and responsibilities of senior staff during a transitional merger year from June 2006.

Traditionally, the two unions have also had differences in approach, with Natfhe, dominated by further education and new university members, seen as historically more militant than the old-university dominated AUT.

Mr Kline joined Natfhe in summer 2003 and is a highly experienced trade union official known for his no-nonsense approach to industrial relations.

He pioneered the fight for equal pay systems in the health service as a health section boss at Amicus. He has also led claims for union recognition at budget airlines as a key negotiator for the British Airline Pilots' Association.

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