Rally for pay review

April 3, 1998

Your anonymous correspondent (THES, March ) is correct to identify our outdated system of pay determination as a major cause of declining pay levels. National collective bargaining, operating as it does within the constraints imposed by pre-determined funding limits and Treasury "advice", has had the effect of producing year-on-year lowest common denominator pay offers and settlements.

Those who support national collective bargaining on pay do so in the knowledge that it is a system that drives pay down. Between 1987 and 1993 university funding in cash terms rose 75 per cent; spending on pay rose 49 per cent. Since then, there has been a further decline of about 1 per cent per year. Clearly, national collective bargaining has produced pay settlements that have short-changed academic and related staff.

Your correspondent is, however, wrong to see local pay determination as the best solution. It is incompatible with the Dearing vision of an enhanced, genuinely national system underpinned by threshold standards, credit accumulation, transfer and professional accreditation systems.

There is a better alternative: the creation of a statutory pay review body covering all academic and related staff. Pay review can defend national pay structures against pressure for local variation caused by variable funding. It can ensure the survival of a national profession by generating the funding needed to support realistic salary rises. It has done so for others.

It is no accident that the five public sector groups that have achieved the highest salary rises in the 1980s and 1990s have pay review bodies or similar arrangements; the bottom five have relied on collective bargaining.

I am happy to be able to report that the employers' side of the National Joint Council for Academic and Related Staff has reaffirmed its support for pay review. This support will be conveyed to the independent review committee, chaired by Sir Michael Bett, which is reviewing university pay and associated issues.

But pay review requires legislation, and the campaign for this is far from won. I would appeal to your anonymous correspondent and other non-members to join AUT in order to maximise pressure for a pay review body and to ensure that its benefits are extended to all academic and related staff without exception.

Alan Carr. Chair of employment, Association of University Teachers

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