UCU to ballot for strike action

Ucea ‘bewildered’ as move is announced less than halfway through an agreed timetable for negotiations. Melanie Newman reports

April 23, 2009

The University and College Union is to ballot for industrial action.

The union wrote to the Universities and Colleges Employers Association on 22 April, saying it would hold a ballot after Ucea failed to make a pay offer by the union’s deadline of 20 April or agree to its demands to formulate a policy to avoid redundancies.

Michael MacNeil, the UCU’s head of higher education, wrote: “We have still not received a credible offer from Ucea in response to the claims submitted and, given the employers’ side statements about balancing job security and remuneration, the need to reach a new national agreement on the avoidance of redundancies.

“In our view, Ucea’s position does not recognise the seriousness and urgency of the situation.”

In response, Ucea said it was “bewildered” by the union’s announcement, pointing out that the letter came three weeks into an agreed eight-week timetable for pay negotiations and days before the second meeting of the Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff (JNCHES).

Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of Ucea, said: “We are at the beginning of the pay- negotiation process and we have made clear to all the unions that [our] position and the offer will be set out on April.

“Higher education institutions’ sustainability must be the key priority for staff, students and employers; it would be unwise to negotiate without full knowledge of the sector’s financial position.

“Moreover, the unions have yet to indicate the priorities of the 13 different elements of their pay claim, which include the UCU claim for 8 per cent.

“We refer the UCU to the formal dispute procedure of JNCHES, which should be the first port of call for any disagreement.”

Unison and the campus unions said they had asked for and expected to receive a pay offer from Ucea on April and would continue the negotiation process.

On 23 April, the UCU said that ballot papers for a vote on industrial action will be issued to members from 1 May and the ballot will conclude on 22 May.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the UCU, added: “Ucea has indicated that up to 100 universities, about two thirds of participating institutions, are looking to lose people, and our own research indicates that the scale of job cuts is substantial.

“In this situation of great uncertainty for staff across the UK, national negotiations are required to protect jobs.

“The UCU has therefore asked Ucea to sit down with the unions now to reach a national agreement on the avoidance of redundancies by its member institutions.

“It is the failure of the employers to react to the growing crisis that has forced our hand. We need to get an agreement sorted now to stop a wide-ranging cull of academic jobs without proper alternatives being considered. Given the urgency of the situation, the union’s officers have agreed to ballot for industrial action.”

Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, said: “Given the effects of the current economic climate on the graduate-jobs market, students need industrial action by university staff like a hole in the head.”

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com

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