Pay plus gift vouchers scheme called 'insulting'

September 10, 2004

Nottingham University's plans for a controversial new pay structure for academic support staff came under renewed fire this week after industrial relations experts from other major universities described them as divisive and insulting.

In a letter drafted by Anne-Marie Greene of Warwick University's Business School and signed by academics from Oxford and Cardiff universities and the London School of Economics, Nottingham's proposals on performance-related pay for university technicians, librarians and other administrative staff were termed "divisive and unnecessarily bureaucratic".

Its proposals to reward teams in the form of gift vouchers were deemed "an insult to the professional autonomy of academic and academic-related staff".

Ian Kessler of Oxford University and one of the signatories, said: "There is a degree of consensus among specialists that individualised performance-related pay schemes are highly problematic and unjust." He added that the Nottingham scheme "insulted the complexity of academic jobs".

The letter concludes: "Our expert judgement is that the scheme that Nottingham is seeking to impose will be inequitable in outcomes and will fail to achieve the university's proclaimed aim of enhancing performance."

The dispute over the pay structure for academic-related staff is turning into a major showdown between the main lecturers' union, the Association of University Teachers, and the university's administrators.

The disagreement centres on how much flexibility should be allowed for local pay agreements under an overarching national deal on pay and conditions hammered out after lengthy industrial action earlier this year.

The AUT has threatened to greylist the university from September 20 unless it backs down on its proposals. Academics at other universities would be urged to refuse to collaborate on conferences and research involving the university.

The AUT has not resorted to such drastic action for more than five years.

Rachel Curley, AUT assistant general secretary, said: "The introduction of the performance-related pay scheme is against the terms of the (national) framework."

The union is also concerned about Nottingham's plans to limit access to the university pension scheme for some new staff. "This could be extended from academic-related staff to junior lecturers," Ms Curley said. "Other universities may follow suit."

A spokesman for Nottingham said that the new pay structure for academic-related staff had been fully consulted on and accepted by 99 per cent of staff.

He said that the university was now entering talks on a new structure for academic and research staff, but that it would not negotiate with the AUT while the threat of the greylist remained.

claire.sanders@thes.co.uk

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