Natfhe threatens to ditch pay talks

December 24, 2004

The festive spirit was tested this week after lecturers' union Natfhe threatened to pull out of negotiations with employers on the implementation of the national pay framework hammered out in April.

In a statement, the union says: "Unless satisfactory action is taken to ensure that individual institutions comply with the agreement by January 21 2005, all discussions on local implementation will cease."

The union met the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association last week to set out their concerns.

Andy Pike, Natfhe higher education national official, said: "The new framework agreement took three years to negotiate. Our members accepted the final deal on the basis that it would offer real improvements for the pay of academic staff. It is a great pity that the actions of a minority of institutions are undermining the prospects of successful national implementation."

In particular, Natfhe says that Bournemouth University, whose vice-chancellor Gillian Slater represented employers when the framework was negotiated, is breaking the agreement.

The union is alarmed that the university is pushing ahead with a new pay structure without its involvement, something that Natfhe says is in breach of the agreement.

The union is also concerned that to meet equal pay requirements, the university is harmonising holiday entitlement downwards rather than upwards.

Bournemouth insists that it is complying with the framework.

Natfhe's preferred model for implementation of the agreement is set out in Appendix C. The union signed up to the agreement long before the Association of University Teachers.

The AUT held out for a memorandum of understanding before committing to the deal. It is crucial for Natfhe to ensure that Appendix C becomes the preferred model.

Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of Ucea, said: "We are surprised at Natfhe's ultimatum. This had not been communicated to us. We would be very worried if Natfhe concerns about a tiny number of universities jeopardised the implementation of the agreement across the country."

In a more hopeful sign for the future of the troubled agreement, members of the AUT at Nottingham University voted by 96 per cent to end the greylisting - or boycotting - of the university.

In a lengthy confrontation, once again focusing on interpretation of the agreement, the union opposed Nottingham's performance-related pay proposals and what it saw as attempts to restrict entry to the pension scheme.

Di Birch, pro vice-chancellor responsible for staff and students who this term was brought onto the university's negotiating team, said: "The university has agreed to review our pay scheme in the light of implementation elsewhere. This helped get negotiations going again."

Malcolm Keight, AUT deputy general secretary, said: "Professor Birch is someone we can do business with. We still have a number of concerns, particularly over the performance-related pay scheme and pensions."

A joint university-union statement is expected shortly.

A Ucea survey on implementation of the framework shows slow progress. Only 11 per cent of institutions that responded to the association said that they would implement the agreement this year, with a further 20 per cent aiming for August 2005, and nearly half leaving it until the last possible date, August 2006.

claire.sanders@thes.co.uk

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