Union calls off its ballot for industrial action

May 21, 2009

The University and College Union has called off its ballot for industrial action after universities threatened to challenge the legality of the vote.

The ballot may resume in the autumn term, the union said.

The UCU was balloting for action over employers' refusal to discuss a redundancy-avoidance agreement and their offer of a 0.3 per cent pay rise for next year. The UCU is seeking an 8 per cent increase.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association (Ucea) threatened to bring the legal action on behalf of 78 institutions that claimed to have been supplied with inaccurate details of staff being balloted, in a breach of the law on trade union ballots.

Sally Hunt, UCU general secretary, accused Ucea of using "anti-trade union laws" to "thwart the right of UCU members to make a decision".

In a letter to members, she said: "I am concerned that there may have been a software problem with our central membership records. Urgent action to solve the problem is being taken.

"Because of this, I have agreed that we should postpone the ballot until the autumn term."

The UCU Left, a powerful faction, said that the threat of injunction "was not and would not be sufficient grounds for suspending this or any other ballot". Rather, the ballot was called off because the inaccuracies in membership records meant that the union ran a risk of "disenfranchising parts of the electorate".

Other commentators have sugested the 8 per cent pay claim had little support among members and the withdrawal would save the uniions from the ignominy of a no-vote.

A Ucea spokesman said that universities had been "deeply concerned" by the union's "complacency" over the errors. "Significant numbers of staff were listed in an 'unknown' category and 'other' category, making it impossible for employers to deduce the numbers, categories and workplaces of employees that would be called to take action," he said. "One university even had a campus included that belongs to the local FE college."

National pay negotiations will resume this week.

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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