UCU bides its time over national strike action

September 9, 2010

Higher education's biggest union has withdrawn its threat to ballot for national strike action over pay and job security "for the present".

The University and College Union's higher education committee made the decision at a meeting on 3 September.

Michael MacNeil, the UCU head of higher education, said: "With all that is due to happen in the next few weeks, the committee decided to hold back on a full ballot for industrial action at the present time."

The last meeting between employers, the UCU and the four other higher education unions was held on 28 July, when there was no change to the employers' offer of a 0.4 per cent pay rise. The employers also refused to negotiate on a national deal for redundancy avoidance.

The other higher education unions have yet to decide on what seems to be the final offer. That, and the possibility that the government's Comprehensive Spending Review on 20 October could elicit united union action across the public sector, has prompted the UCU's decision to delay.

But some members, particularly in the UCU Left group, are disappointed by the decision.

In May, the UCU's HE sector conference agreed to ballot for industrial action "should no satisfactory offer" be made by the Universities and Colleges Employers Association.

The July edition of the union's HE News publication notes the result of a previous higher education committee meeting: "The committee has agreed that in the absence of an agreement, there will be a ballot for industrial action in September."

In its most recent newsletter, UCU Left notes a summer survey of members' attitudes by Sally Hunt, the UCU general secretary.

It says that "if there is an un-enthusiastic response, there are those in the union who would attempt to use such a response to flout the policy adopted by the delegates at the HE sector conference ... (and) derail the ballot for industrial action".

Some suggest that the UCU believes that a ballot for industrial action over pension reform is a better bet for member support.

The union's May conference mandated the UCU to ballot over employers' plans to cut benefits in the Universities Superannuation Scheme.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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