National strike looms as union says signals on talks with employers are ‘not good’

Higher education’s first national industrial action since 2006 is “very likely” and plans are being drawn up for a September ballot, the University and College Union has said.

July 24, 2010

The UCU is unhappy with the employers’ refusal to discuss a national deal on job security, and with their 0.4 per cent pay offer for next year. This figure falls far short of the higher education unions’ initial joint claim of 4 per cent.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) says it has no mandate from its member organisations for a deal on avoiding redundancies, and maintains that 0.4 per cent is the “maximum affordable increase in the current climate”.

A final meeting between unions and employers is scheduled for 28 July.

However, the UCU tells members in the latest issue of its HE News publication that the “signals as regards the employers’ willingness to talk about our key issues are not good”.

The union adds: “It seems very likely, therefore, that to make progress members must be prepared to take industrial action. It is a disgrace that at a time of crisis, the employers expect our members to take a pay cut year after year and continue to refuse to talk about developing a national set of procedures to deal with the huge anxiety in the sector in relation to job losses.”

The UCU’s higher education conference agreed in May to ballot for national industrial action if there was no “acceptable” offer from Ucea on either jobs or pay.

According to HE News: “A special meeting of the union’s Higher Education Committee will be held on 3 September to agree the final details for the ballot. Branches should be organizing meetings from 6 September onwards.”

The five higher education unions – GMB, the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), Unison, Unite and the UCU – this year entered a joint claim to Ucea for the first time.

The unions are dismissive of Ucea’s pay offer. They argue that next year’s award must keep pace with inflation and make up for the gap between inflation and this year’s 0.5 per cent settlement.

The UCU and the EIS have entered into official disputes with Ucea.

A Ucea spokesman said: “Clearly any threats of industrial action are premature when a third dispute-resolution procedure meeting (with the EIS and the UCU) is taking place on July, followed by a further formal New Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff meeting on 28 July.”

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