Second union backs 0.5% pay increase

Negotiations with employers also produce 'digest' on avoiding redundancies. John Morgan writes

December 3, 2009

Another union has recommended accepting employers' long-resisted 0.5 per cent pay offer, with talks also producing a proposed "digest" advising institutions how to avoid redundancies.

Negotiations between the Universities and Colleges Employers Association and the five higher education trade unions finally closed at a meeting on 24 November.

With no improvement on Ucea's 0.5 per cent offer, Unite's education conference recommended on 26 November that members accept the deal. The result of a ballot on the issue is expected in the next two weeks.

The University and College Union's higher education committee is scheduled to meet on 4 December, while the GMB said its higher education committee was likely to make a recommendation to members before the end of this week.

The Education Institute of Scotland rejected the offer on 25 November and has invoked the dispute resolution procedure, while Unison has already accepted the offer.

The talks, held under the new Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff mechanism, also covered the unions' request for a national agreement on avoiding redundancies.

Although there was no formal agreement, the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service has now produced a Digest on job security, billed as a "reference document" for institutions and featuring advice from Ucea and the unions. All parties must now decide whether they want to sign up to the document.

The digest, seen by Times Higher Education, includes a passage in which Ucea notes guidance from Acas and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

"Remember that making people redundant and recruiting again later when the market picks up is expensive," it says.

The employers' association is scheduled to hold a board meeting on 3 December, when its position on the document will be decided.

Keith Burnett, chair of Ucea and vice-chancellor of the University of Sheffield, described the outcome of negotiations as "potentially positive". Ucea had reiterated "that there is no mandate on behalf of higher education employers to enter into a national agreement in the area of job security and that the management of all staffing matters is for each institution as an independent employer", he said.

But he added that the digest "could be of benefit to the wider sector because it encourages vital dialogue and understanding of important issues, such as long-term financial sustainability and the growing challenges facing institutions".

Mike Robinson, Unite's national officer for education, said the digest was "not a formal agreement" and that institutions would not be compelled to follow it. "It's useful, but it's not what we set out for," he said.

He added that the pay deal was a "bitter disappointment" for low-paid workers in particular. "Our intention is to come back on the issue of the low paid in 2010. We won't let this matter rest," he said.

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