Pay battle to resume in 2008, union says

July 21, 2006

Blow to employers as union declares third year of pay deal is up for negotiation despite ballot. Phil Baty reports

Lecturers could begin a new pay dispute in little over two years, union leaders said this week.

The news will come as a blow to employers. They had hoped that the explosive issue of pay had been buried until the end of the decade as a result of this week's vote by University and College Union members to accept a three-year deal worth 13.1 per cent.

The deal offers almost 10.4 per cent spread over 2006-07 and 2007-08, with a minimum of 2.5 per cent in 2008-09. It ends one of the sector's most bitter industrial disputes.

But UCU sources told The Times Higher that the union was gearing up to declare a fresh dispute as early as autumn 2008.

The UCU has in effect interpreted the three-year deal as a 10.4 per cent two-year agreement, insisting that the third year is open for renegotiation. It will submit a new pay claim for 2008-09 - likely to be the focus of a dispute.

The UCU's militancy over pay was signalled in the ballot, in which more than 10,000 academics (29 per cent of those voting) said they opposed the 13.1 per cent deal and wanted to fight for more money. Some 71 per cent (24,000 members) accepted the deal.

Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, said that it was clear from the text of the agreement endorsed by the union's ballot that the deal settled pay for three years.

The deal includes plans for an independent review of the money available for staff pay in future, which will report "by autumn 2008 to inform subsequent negotiations... for the academic year 2009-10 and later".

But the UCU said that the review allowed them to revisit the 2.5 per cent offered for 2008-09 and that they would press for an increase as soon as the review reported in autumn 2008.

Sally Hunt, the UCU's joint general secretary, said that there was "a long way to go" in restoring academic pay levels to those of comparable professions.

Ms Hunt said: "Studies have confirmed UCU's view that there is extra money available for pay in the future, and we expect this to be confirmed by the independent review. The employers can expect a further claim in 2008-09."

A UCU source added: "We will seek negotiations to improve on the 2.5 per cent in autumn 2008. We work to our own timetable rather than the employers'."

Sue Blackwell, a member of the steering committee for the left-wing alliance UCU Left, said: "If they do not put in a new claim for 2008, all hell will break loose in the union." She predicted peace for two years, then a redoubled battle.

Andy Pike, UCU national official for higher education, said: "The 30 per cent who did not vote for the deal includes thousands of activists who bind the union. We need to bring these disillusioned members who manned the picket lines back into the fold."

The deal is worth 4 per cent in 2006-07, with the first instalment due next month. There is a further 6 per cent in 2007-08 and a minimum of 2.5 per cent in 2008-09.

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