Members of the University and College Union have voted narrowly to reject a 1 per cent pay offer.
In a consultative ballot of UCU members, some 53.5 per cent of voters said no to the 1 per cent final pay offer for 2015-16 made by employers in May, which includes uplifts of up to 2.65 per cent for the lowest paid staff.
The ballot also asked members to declare if they would be willing to take part in industrial action over the pay offer.
Members voted in favour of action short of a strike by 55.7 per cent to 44.3 per cent, but against full strike action (47 per cent in favour versus 53 per cent against).
Overall, the turnout for the ballot was 32 per cent of those eligible to vote.
However, the sector’s second largest union – Unison – has voted in favour of the deal, with 72 per cent of voters backing it.
The GMB has also voted to accept the offer, by a ratio of 2 to 1, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association reports.
The employers group also reports that Unite, which represents mainly support staff, has rejected the offer after a branch consultation.
The fifth trade union involved in higher education – EIS, which represents staff at a small number of Scottish universities – is not in a position to provide feedback on its consultation, Ucea says.
In light of the UCU ballot result, the union’s Higher Education Committee has said that the UCU will write to Ucea to invoke an official dispute resolution procedure.
It adds that “given the results of the consultative ballot at this time there are major risks in proceeding to a statutory ballot for industrial action now”.
Instead, the UCU will organise four national and regional consultation meetings towards the end of September and will report back to the Higher Education Committee on 9 October.
This means that the 1 per cent pay uplift – which would have been due to come into effect in August – will not be introduced then. However, pay deals are normally backdated by institutions when they are introduced.
In a statement, Ucea said that it was “pleased to learn that the members of Unison and GMB have voted emphatically to accept this year's above-inflation pay offer”.
“However, this outcome makes the recent narrow rejection by a turnout of less than a third of UCU members and a rejection by Unite branches particularly disappointing,” it added.
Ucea stated that the UCU members who voted to reject the pay offer comprise less than 7.5 per cent of the staff covered by negotiations and said that lower paid staff in particular would be affected by any delay in receiving a rise.
The offer, when combined with progression-related pay rises, was “at the limits of what is realistic and affordable” for the sector as “higher education institutions [are] experiencing or anticipating in-year funding cuts alongside further financial challenges expected in the coming comprehensive spending review”, Ucea said.