The ‘day of dissent’

Academy’s unions aim to step up pressure over job security and pay, but stop short of industrial action. John Morgan reports

May 8, 2010

Union members at higher education institutions across the UK are set to mount a “day of dissent” as part of their campaign for better pay and job security.

Local branches will be asked to mount lunchtime protests as well as leafleting students and the public on 10 June.

The action has been agreed by the five higher education unions – the Educational Institute of Scotland, the GMB, Unison, Unite and the University and College Union.

They are becoming increasingly frustrated with the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which this week upped its pay offer to a one-off increase of 0.4 per cent for 2010-11 in response to the unions’ 4 per cent claim.

Ucea has also repeatedly rebuffed the unions’ requests for a national agreement committing institutions to avoiding compulsory redundancies – a bid to address the wave of job losses hitting higher education.

Following a meeting on 5 May at which Ucea increased its non-consolidated pay offer from 0.25 per cent to 0.4 per cent, Unison issued a briefing to its members.

“The joint higher education unions have discussed the need to step up our campaign for improvements in pay and against job cuts, and it was agreed that we should ask branches locally to organise at least one event to mark a UK-wide ‘day of dissent’,” the briefing says.

“This could involve lunchtime protests, silent lobbies, leafleting of students and the public and so on, depending on what branches thought best.

“This would not be industrial action but would send a message to employers across the UK that we are serious in our campaign to improve pay and defend jobs.”

Unison’s briefing describes the new pay offer as “a minuscule improvement” and says exchanges between unions and Ucea were “increasingly terse”.

Ucea offered to talk further about job security but only in a national working group, the briefing says.

In response, the unions said they “want to negotiate job security in the national negotiating body, not a sub-group”; feel the improved offer “still represents a real-terms pay cut and is far too low”; and are “not interested in non-consolidation”.

The meeting on 5 May should have been the third and final one under the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff mechanism, but the two sides have scheduled a further meeting for 28 May.

Ucea says in a statement that it has “acknowledged trade unions’ concerns about job security and re-emphasised that decisions on staffing can only be taken at individual institutions”.

On pay, it says: “The employers’ approach is set against an exceptionally difficult economic climate, with institutions facing serious financial challenges and increased concerns relating to income.”

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