Pay review or a strike?

February 21, 1997

THE UNIVERSITIES and Colleges Employers' Forum has become irrelevant to academic salary determination.

Steve Rouse, chief executive, says that the UCEA board "does not have a position on a pay review body" (THES, February 14). Having made a broad agreement on the principle of a PRB he says "it does not follow that there is a profound belief in the importance of a PRB".

Let us be charitable and assume that Mr Rouse does have a profound belief that university staff are seriously underpaid. He has said so often enough. The Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals, in its public expenditure survey submission, confirmed this. Mr Rouse must accept that the combined efforts of the CVCP, the UCEA board and himself to obtain sufficient funding from the Government to redress this injustice, within the bargaining arrangements, have been a repeated and miserable failure.

Let him accept that the staff that I represent in the Association of University Teachers see the UCEA as a costly and failed experiment. We know that many vice chancellors share our view. We have had enough.

By "we", I mean the people who actually do the work in universities; who teach the students, carry out the research and administer the crumbling system. The UCEA does no useful work which is apparent to us. Its latest performance, consisting of months of inactivity interspersed with showers of "final" (not quite) "offers" would have been comical, had they not caused so much damage.

The university system cannot afford a repeat performance which is why I, as an elected AUT negotiator, signed (in good faith) an agreement with the UCEA. My (elected) executive recommended that agreement to our members in a secret ballot, and they accepted by 92 per cent.

In a further ballot, AUT members re-affirmed their support for a PRB by 99.2 per cent. Members of the Association of University and College Lecturers gave 99.9 per cent support for a PRB.

Mr Rouse should not hide behind the supposed views of our fellow trade unionists in Natfhe. I am confident that they are not a different species from AUT and AUCL members, and I invite my colleagues in Natfhe, in a spirit of friendship, to allow their members to express their views on PRB in a secret ballot.

A PRB offers the hope of a real and permanent solution to the problem of underpaid university staff. Mr Rouse (unelected) has never been able to suggest any solution.

No one can accuse me of mindless enthusiasm for industrial action per se. I asked my members to take action this year in order to end an intolerable situation and find a permanent solution. They responded with overwhelming support in secret ballots. Unless we get that solution, then I will, albeit with a heavy heart, call for further and more drastic action. I know that call will be answered.

The CVCP can regain the confidence of university staff by fulfilling the terms of its agreement and helping us to secure a just and permanent solution to the problem which it recognises. If it fails to do so, it knows what the consequences will be. I have never known the profession so united or so determined.

P. K. Burgess

President, AUT

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