The Trades Union Congress will intervene to calm hostilities between university trade unions after open warfare broke out this week over pay.
Chris Kaufman, who chairs the joint trade unions' negotiating team, has called on the TUC to host a meeting of all seven campus unions to review relations after deep splits over the current two-year 6.44 per cent offer.
Although Mr Kaufman, who is national secretary at the Transport and General Workers' Union, said this week that the meeting had been mooted before Christmas as a general review of relations, the TUC will be called in amid bitter recriminations between unions.
While all the non-academic unions have accepted the package and lecturers'
union Natfhe still hopes to be able to recommend the deal to members, the Association of University Teachers has rejected the offer and is seeking a mandate for strike action in a ballot of its members that closes next week.
Already strained relations between Natfhe and the AUT plummeted this week as it emerged that the AUT, which primarily represents academics in old universities, sent a campaign message to its 4,000 members in the post-1992 sector, where Natfhe predominates, listing "eight reasons" why they should reject the offer.
The message claims that some post-92 staff would lose £17,751 over 13 years under the deal and that the national contract setting national terms and conditions in new universities was under threat.
A senior Natfhe source said this was "very, very misleading".
"If our negotiations on improvements are successful, academic staff in the new universities will have faster pay progression," the source said.
He added that Natfhe saw "no threat whatsoever" to the national contract.
"There is still work to do... but we are confident of negotiating significant improvements to the new national pay system."
Relations between the AUT and the non-academic unions are even worse. Late last year, Unison, Amicus and the TGWU issued a statement to their members refuting claims the AUT made about the impact of the deal as "misleading".
Hostilities worsened after final pay talks, when the AUT wrote to vice-chancellors blaming Unison's opposition to a key AUT demand for preventing the AUT reaching a deal.
In an angry response sent to vice-chancellors, Dave Prentis, Unison general secretary, said: "While I would like to think that we have this level of control over the actions of (the employers) this is clearly not the case."
He repeated his claim that the AUT's analysis of how staff will be affected was "disingenuous to say the least".
In a widely distributed circular letter that has been received by a number of Unison members, Matt Waddup, AUT assistant general secretary, says that the Unison letter is "unhelpful" and accuses Unison of "seeking to undermine another union's dispute".
"Nationally, the AUT has taken this conduct up with the TUC at the highest level," he says.
Christine McAnea, Unison's higher education chief, said: "I'm surprised and saddened it has got to this point. All we have ever done is respond to misleading information put out by the AUT and to defend ourselves against public attacks by the AUT. We always respect other unions' decisions without interfering."
Malcolm Keight, AUT assistant general secretary, said: "All we're doing is standing up for the pay and conditions of academic and related staff - and, as such, ensuring that every single AUT member who works in higher education is being given the chance to vote on the employers' far-reaching proposals.
"We've been working constructively with Natfhe during the pay negotiations.
However, there will, of course, be differences of emphasis between the two unions' positions."
WAR OF WORDS - THE STORY SO FAR...
- Natfhe alleges that the AUT has spread "very, very misleading" information about the impact of the deal in Natfhe-dominated new universities
- Public-sector union Unison alleges that the AUT has unfairly denigrated its probity and professionalism in a missive sent to Unison members among other higher education staff
- The AUT has complained to the TUC that Unison is deliberately "seeking to undermine" the AUT's campaign against the deal
- Three non-academic unions that have accepted the offer allege that the AUT has been circulating "misleading" information about the negative effects of the deal.