Poll predicts close pay vote

June 16, 2006

An exclusive survey finds a majority of union members may reject the 13.1 per cent offer, writes Phil Baty

The 13.1 per cent pay deal agreed between union leaders and employers last week is hanging in the balance, as an exclusive poll for The Times Higher suggests that most union members are likely to reject it.

A poll of academic staff by ICM shows that 47 per cent of union members said they would not accept the award of 13.1 per cent over three years. Some 42 per cent said they would accept it.

When non-union academics are included in the figures, 39 per cent still reject it as too low, compared with 51 per cent who accept it.

Leaders of the University and College Union shocked activists last week when they agreed to call off the exam and marking boycott after three months and to put the offer to their 70,000 members in higher education. The offer is well below the original 23 per cent demanded by the union.

The ICM poll also reveals high levels of academic militancy, with 81 per cent of respondents backing the 23 per cent claim and 57 per cent in favour of an exams and assessment boycott in its pursuit.

Although senior union officers believe that members will accept the deal, opponents were gaining confidence this week.

As The Times Higher went to press, some 18 union branches had already passed motions condemning the deal or had indicated that they would campaign for a "no" vote in the ballot.

The marking boycott, which threatened graduations this summer, has been suspended, but some activists want to resume industrial action in the autumn. A rally of left-wing groupings in the UCU is being held in London next week to discuss tactics.

UCU leaders suffered a further blow when it emerged this week that the union's most senior policymaking body, the transitional arrangements committee, had decided against recommending the offer to members.

But Sally Hunt, UCU joint general secretary, said that the ICM poll did not cover the fact that the deal, worth 10.37 per cent in the first two years with a 2.5 per cent or rate of inflation rise in 2008-09, included a review of university finances, which could mean a further pay hike for 2008-09.

Ms Hunt said: "The ballot to UCU members will ask if they wish to accept a pay deal that offers them a rise in excess of 10 per cent over two years with a full independent review into the cash available for staff pay in the third year, a slightly different question from what was asked in this survey."

The ballot, which will go out next week, will close on July 17.

A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association said:

"Employers hope this will be viewed as a very good offer. A rise of 13.1 per cent over three years is the best in the public services and at the limits of affordability for institutions. Any more could lead to job losses."

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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