Union confronts strike threat from its own workforce

The UCU is accused of hypocrisy over its post-merger restructuring plans. Melanie Newman reports.

January 31, 2008

The University and College Union is facing the threat of industrial action from its own employees over its restructuring plans.

Trade unions representing UCU staff have accused the UCU leadership of hypocrisy in treating them in a manner that would be considered unacceptable if carried out by universities.

Restructuring was inevitable after the merger of lecturers' union Natfhe and the Association of University Teachers to form the UCU last year. A paper by UCU general secretary Sally Hunt, a former AUT head, said that existing management structures were "over-complex and confused" and that support to branches needed improvement.

But the GMB, Amicus and ACTS, which represent UCU employees, are united in opposing the plans. Amicus said they would have a "disastrously de-motivating effect".

"Our members are astonished that the (UCU) proposals appear to downgrade the pay, pensions and responsibility of every member who is not a regional officer," it said.

The three unions believe that disproportionate numbers of former Natfhe staff face downgrading under the proposals. They also argue that the proposed implementation date of 1 July 2008 would mean that UCU staff had to reapply for posts before their job descriptions or salary levels were agreed. "This would not be acceptable in institutions we deal with," Amicus said.

Amicus added that the process for drawing up the proposals had not been "properly inclusive", and it claimed that decision-making was being put in the "hands of a much smaller group of people".

A plan to merge further and higher education national pay bargaining into a single secretariat also raised concerns, with Amicus warning that "further education members will perceive this as an undermining of their future in the union".

The UCU employs the equivalent of 177 full-time staff; 175 full-time posts will be required after restructuring. Amicus noted a "strong possibility" that two solicitors employed by the union would be made compulsorily redundant. "Amicus is clear that it will take industrial action if any of its members face compulsory redundancy," it said.

In her paper setting out the proposals, Ms Hunt said "displaced staff" for whom a substantive post could not be found could remain in the union as part of a recruitment task force.


The country's biggest branch of the University and College Union is recommending that its members reject proposals to reform the national pay bargaining structure.

Manchester University's UCU executive voted overwhelmingly to recommend a "no" vote in a national ballot of all UCU members in February. Employers warned last week that national bargaining might end if the proposals were rejected.

The reforms would create a single bargaining table for all campus unions and set a new timetable for pay talks.

David Beale, Manchester UCU communications officer, said the branch was in favour of national bargaining but was concerned that clauses in the proposed agreement on the timing of pay talks would prevent it taking effective industrial action.

"The university employers have threatened to abandon national pay bargaining if we don't accept these clauses, but this is tantamount to putting a gun to our heads. As a union, we simply can't afford to be intimidated."

Jocelyn Prudence, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said: "The new constitution absolutely does not remove anyone's right to take industrial action; it sets out parameters within which negotiations should be concluded, as is common practice in all major organisations and in industry."

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