Talks see UCU withdraw threat of strike ballot

March 19, 2009

The University and College Union has called off a threatened ballot for industrial action after weeks of talks with employers.

The union said it had considered action over four issues: employer threats of a pay freeze for 2009-10; the undermining of national pay bargaining by allowing universities to opt out of national negotiating machinery; the threat to the UCU's ability to take industrial action at a time of its choosing by a new negotiating timetable; and the "lack of opportunity for unions to discuss issues relevant to distinct occupations across higher education", under a planned single bargaining table for all campus unions.

On 13 March, following the last of a series of talks mediated by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas), the UCU issued a press release saying it will not ballot for industrial action as the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) had "ruled out a pay freeze" for August 2009.

Ucea immediately issued its own release, saying this was inaccurate. "Ucea has no policy in relation to the 2009 pay position," it says. "That policy is ... being formulated through a consultation process with Ucea members, and will not be completed until late March."

Ucea writes that other points of "clarification" agreed with the UCU are also "subject to approval by all other higher education unions and the Ucea board", which was continuing as Times Higher Education went to press.

Michael MacNeil, the UCU's national head of higher education, said that under the agreed arrangements, the union would be able to take industrial action whenever it wanted. The earlier proposals prevented balloting for industrial action during the disputes procedure. A review of the negotiating timetable will now take place in June, facilitated by Acas.

The union had persuaded Ucea to "soften" its stance in opposition to a separate subcommittee for academics, Mr MacNeil said. "We've introduced a notion of 'reasonableness'. If representatives of a distinct occupational group want to set up a subcommittee to discuss a matter that relates to them, the other parties will accede to that ... request."

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