Universities and colleges attempting to avert an all-out strike over pay are offering staff enhanced local settlements, sparking claims that the national bargaining structure is finished.
Cracks in the structure emerged as ballot papers were issued to some 120,000 higher education sector employees this week. Eight unions, representing everyone from porters to professors, are recommending that their members reject this year's offers by the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association. The offers are 1.5 per cent for academic, professional, clerical and administrative staff and 2.5 per cent for manual employees.
All ballots are expected to close on, or around, November 6. The favoured date for the first all-out one-day strike is November 19. The unions say they are considering follow-up action and have not ruled out further one-day strikes and exam boycotts.
The University of Central England, which has never followed the UCEA pay recommendations, has already awarded increases of 3.1 per cent for all teaching, administrative and technical staff and spokesmen say that other institutions will follow suit in breaking with the UCEA over the coming weeks.
Vice chancellor Peter Knight said: "I think we are seeing the end of national bargaining. A lot of universities are not sympathetic to the UCEA and are able to pay more while others cannot pay any increases at all."
Lecturers union Natfhe said that members at Kingston, Hertfordshire and Derby universities had received enhanced offers of 2.5 per cent, 3 per cent and 2.2 per cent respectively. A spokeswoman said that in each case these had been rejected by local branch members. She said that other institutions were rumoured to be considering pay award supplements.
Spokeswoman Brenda Kirsch said: "What we want to know is whether these institutions want to move away from national pay bargaining or are these one-off attempts to avoid industrial action. Once you move outside that structure you are at the whim and mercy of local conditions fluctuating."
The Committee of Vice Chancellor and Principals has confirmed that a number of institutions have made, or are considering, enhanced local offers. A CVCP spokesman said that local pay supplements are likely only at the wealthier institutions.
The UCEA's chief executive Steve Rouse said this week that, in the absence of a nationally agreed settlement, potentially long-term and damaging industrial action could force some institutions to break with the national pay bargaining mechanism to implement local pay settlements.
Mr Rouse said: "There is a danger that strikes could force a limited number of institutions to implement local pay supplements."
Tom Wilson, assistant general secretary for the Association of University Teachers, said that none of the union's 31,500 members had received enhanced local offers and he warned that instutions making such offers had "everything to lose and nothing to gain".
The eight unions currently balloting staff:
* Unison (50,000 clerical, administrative and manual staff in universities and colleges) *The Association of University Teachers (31,500 academic and academic-related staff in the "old" universities) *The National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (16,000 members in the fomer polytechnic and colleges) *The Manufacturing Science and Finance Union (10,000 technicians in the sector) *The Transport and General Workers Union (5,000 members in the sector, mainly in manual occupations) *The Association of University and College Lecturers (3,000 members, mainly in the former polytechnics and colleges) *The General and Municipal Boilermakers Union (2,000 members in the sector, in manual occupations) *The Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (1,000 members in the sector, mainly in manual occupations)Unions' offers and claims are: *The Universities and Colleges Employers' Association has offered 1.5 per cent to academic and academic-related staff such as administrators, clerical and technical staff.uLecturers' unions have not specified an increase but say they would call off strike action if employers agreed to binding arbitration and an independent pay review body. They say that their members' pay has fallen behind public and private sector equivalents by between 20 and 40 per cent.
*Unions representing administrative and clerical staff calculate that the 1.5 per cent increase would mean an average increase of 10p on the current average hourly rate of Pounds 6.65 (average annual pay is Pounds 12,655). There was no specific pay claim but unions wanted a flat-rate increase tied to equivalent external earnings.
*The UCEA has offered 2.5 per cent to manual and other ancillary staff such as maintenance, portering, cleaning and security staff. This would mean an extra 9p on the average hourly rate of Pounds 3.80 (average annual pay is Pounds 7,504). The unions want a minimum hourly rate of Pounds 4.26, an increase of some 12 per cent.