UCU split over equality brief

July 14, 2006

A furious row has broken out at the very top of the University and College Union, after joint general secretary Sally Hunt was forced to cede control of equality issues to her male counterpart, Paul Mackney, writes Phil Baty.

Ms Hunt, one of the few female trade union leaders, issued a statement this week that barely concealed her fury at losing a brief she feels is one of her key strengths.

Ms Hunt's supporters said that the internal "jockeying for position" in the newly merged union was taking precedence over the interests of ordinary members.

But Mr Mackney hit back, claiming that Ms Hunt was "playing politics" and pointing out that the decision was voted on by the UCU's elected officers based on his record.

The UCU was formed from the merger last month of the Association of University Teachers, led by Ms Hunt, and lecturers' union Natfhe, led by Mr Mackney.

Ms Hunt will be standing for election as general secretary of UCU next year, and although Mr Mackney had decided not to stand on health grounds, his close colleague Roger Kline, former Natfhe head of universities, will contest the top job.

It had already been agreed that Mr Kline would take the role of head of equality and employment rights in the new UCU, but the joint general secretaries could not agree on who should be his line manager.

A memorandum of understanding indicating responsibilities, agreed by a ballot of members of both unions, showed that Ms Hunt would "provisionally" control equality.

But late last week the elected officers of both unions, including the current presidents, voted to give Mr Mackney responsibility.

Ms Hunt said: "Many women members will be surprised by this decision, especially given that my responsibility for these issues was agreed by the membership last year.

"It is for others to comment on why this has only become an issue in recent weeks. I prefer to concentrate on members, not elections." She said that the UCU "has to show that it takes us (women) seriously" and must "do more than pay lip service to equality at work".

Eight members of the former AUT national women's committee, including Jean Harrison and June Payne, wrote to The Times Higher this week to express their concern.

Mr Mackney said: "I am sorry that politics are being played with this... The decision was taken by UCU officers, and the majority of women officers decided to allocate the responsibility for equality to me.

He said he had "nothing to gain" as he was not standing for election and said that Ms Hunt could not be angry on principle, as her own first draft of top jobs had Mr Mackney in charge of equality. "Natfhe's record (on equality) is second to none."

* UCU leaders were cautiously predicting that members would accept the 13.1 per cent , three-year pay offer next week.

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