UCU fears employer bid to block action over pay

October 12, 2007

Negotiators reject Ucea draft pay guidance that all unions be bound by majority view. Melanie Newman reports. The lecturers' union fears that it will be prevented from taking industrial action without the support of the non-academic campus trade unions under employers' plans for new negotiating structures.

In a briefing note sent to members this week, University and College Union negotiators say they would oppose "any agreement that in any way restricts our freedom to ballot members on pay settlements and industrial action".

Malcolm Keight, national head of the UCU's higher education committee, said there was a "lack of clarity" in draft proposals from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, which the union will discuss at a special conference next month.

"It isn't clear from the (Ucea) document what happens if all the unions bar one accept a pay deal. The UCU believes that if a deal is unacceptable to our members we would be honour-bound to reject it and to take industrial action if necessary - hopefully with the support of the other trade unions but if not, (then) on our own," Mr Keight said.

The Ucea document, obtained by The Times Higher , says that "all matters will be negotiated within the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff (JNCHES) as a whole". It adds: "Where certain issues are exclusive to particular staff groups it is expected that the dialogue within the JNCHES will be principally between the employers' representatives and those unions representing the staff concerned."

At a UCU higher education committee meeting this week, negotiators agreed to put forward an amendment to the wording. It reads: "Where matters relate to the pay and/or conditions of particular staff then negotiations will be between Ucea and the union(s) representing these staff, with observer status for the other unions." The revised wording will be discussed at a UCU conference on November 9.

In the briefing note, the negotiators say they are also seeking acknowledgement by all parties that any agreement that the academic and non-academic unions negotiate around a single table does not imply that single tables are necessary in negotiations on local issues specific to forms of employment.

The employers also want meetings to discuss pay to be held in March and May, with pay claims submitted before the March meeting. This represents a concession by Ucea, which originally wanted pay talks to continue until June. The UCU had originally argued for a February deadline. It is unhappy with the May proposal, as this would limit its ability to take industrial action before the end of the exam period.

A third sticking point is the employers' view that no ballot on industrial action should take place before dispute procedures are exhausted. The union negotiators have unanimously rejected this proposal. They believe the UCU should be free to hold a ballot while dispute procedures are continuing but agree that it should not take action until they are completed.



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