Splits spur call to merge

April 2, 2004

Phil Baty reports from the AUT's annual conference in Scarborough

A single higher education super-union should be created through a merger between lecturers' union Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers, Natfhe general secretary Paul Mackney told the AUT annual conference.

Following the schism between the two trade unions over the plans to modernise pay arrangements, Mr Mackney said: "Some have said these difficulties just go to prove that organisational unity between Natfhe and the AUT is a long way off. I say quite the contrary: this experience shows the necessity of one union for lecturers, researchers and - in old universities - academic-related staff.

"As one union we could have avoided any splits the employers have been exploiting," he added.

Mr Mackney sought to play down splits between the two unions over their approach to the pay modernisation, which brings Natfhe members in new universities together with AUT members in old universities onto a single pay spine. But behind the scenes, tensions have been enormous over conflicting views of this year's pay deal and over campaigning tactics.

While the AUT has taken industrial action over the plans - suspended this week while the union ballots members with a recommendation to accept an improved offer - Natfhe has preferred to remain in negotiations, unaffected by the AUT's two main concerns.

Before the employers agreed last week to offer a "no detriment" clause to the AUT, moving to the new pay spine would have reduced the career earnings of AUT members by adding additional pay hurdles, while Natfhe members would not have been hit in the same way.

Natfhe members are also largely oblivious to the AUT's campaign to keep their academic-related members, such as librarians and technicians, under national pay bargaining, as such staff are represented by Unison in the Natfhe-dominated new universities.

Backing Mr Mackney's demands for unity, the AUT council passed a motion from the union's executive calling for "maximum unity between AUT, Natfhe and the other education unions".

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