Regional fears rock 'super-union' merger

January 21, 2005

Plans to create an academic super-union may unravel unless regional officials are more fully involved, the Association of University Teachers and lecturers' union Natfhe were warned this week.

The AUT and Natfhe held talks last weekend and said in a statement that the prospect of a 110,000-strong union for further and higher education was one step closer. But regional secretaries of Natfhe fear that the new super-union will bypass their layer of representation in favour of the AUT structure where branch members are elected straight to national positions.

The AUT does have representative regional officials, and it said it had been given little information on the merger to date.

Cliff Snaith, Natfhe regional secretary for London, said: "The Natfhe regional structure is very important for further education colleges in particular."

Liz Lawrence, regional secretary for Yorkshire and Humberside, added:

"These negotiations are about sharing experience. We hope our AUT colleagues will see the value of our regional bodies."

Natfhe is aware of these concerns and is set to bring regional activists together in early February.

Paul Bennett, Natfhe national official and joint secretary of the committee overseeing the merger, said: "We want to give members the chance to express their views." He added that Natfhe would post as much information on its website as possible.

The proposals will go to the national executive committees of both unions before being debated at the AUT council in late April and the Natfhe conference in late May. If proposals are agreed, members will be balloted in autumn.

Many activists are concerned at the speed of the merger process. Mr Snaith said: "I do not see why everything has to be rushed through in 2005-06. The precedent is for these mergers to fail."

Christine Cheesman, AUT's regional official for the South, said: "I cannot comment on the merger as I have been given no details to date."

A spokesman for the AUT said: "We have involved lay members in the proposals to date and have had positive feedback."

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