Union set to ignore institutions' pleas and press for above-inflation rise

Confrontation looks inevitable as UCU rejects more moderate demand. Melanie Newman reports

October 30, 2008

Academics are set to demand a pay rise of at least 2 per cent above inflation for 2009 despite warnings from university finance directors that they should expect a "nil uplift".

The higher education committee of the University and College Union (UCU) last week rejected a motion that would have demanded a rise in line with the retail prices index (RPI) inflation figure for July 2009 plus an additional 2 per cent. It is understood that the motion was rejected on the grounds that the figure was not high enough.

The committee instead approved a pay claim that calls for a pay rise in line with RPI for July 2009 plus "X", where X is a percentage to be decided at the union's special higher education sector conference on 7 November.

The increases would be effective from 1 August 2009 and "no later".

The claim comes just weeks after it was confirmed that staff would receive a 5 per cent pay rise this month - in line with September's RPI figure.

Philip Harding, chair of the British Universities Finance Directors Group, told Times Higher Education in September that as the RPI figure was unexpectedly high, paying the 2008 rise in full and on time would mean that "we start with an expectation of nil uplift for next year".

Malcolm Keight, UCU national head of higher education, said that 0 per cent pay rises would damage recruitment and retention.

"University lecturers have paid for recessions in the past; they are not going to pay for this one," he said. "University pay must not be allowed to slip back the way it did in the Eighties and Nineties."

Some employers have suggested that the 5 per cent rise this year would have to be paid for with job cuts. "We will deal with redundancies at a local level if they happen," Mr Keight said. "We will not respond to generalised statements aimed at arguing down any pay offer."

The timing of the union's claim is likely to be contentious. The UCU is not formally taking part in Joint Negotiating Committee for Higher Education Staff discussions with employers after the breakdown of talks on reforms to the negotiating process earlier this year.

The Universities and Colleges Employers Association has said it will not consider any pay claim before March next year. But Mr Keight said the UCU "certainly would not be waiting until March" before submitting its claim.

- Language teachers at the School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas), University of London, are considering industrial action over changes to fractional contracts.

In September, staff in the department of international foundation courses and English language studies (IFCELS) were advised that they would be receiving fractional contracts that would be worth up to 40 per cent less than the figures they had been told to expect in July.

One lecturer said: "I was originally offered a 0.71 contract. At a meeting on 18 September, I was informed this would be reduced to 0.48 - a drop of about £7,500."

When the union threatened industrial action, Soas offered new contracts, but these still represented a 20 per cent drop in hours for some staff and were rejected.

The UCU is now seeking further negotiation.

A Soas spokesperson said that there was a "pressing need" to reduce an £800,000 deficit in the IFCELS by 2010. "The school's proposals are intended to contribute to the achievement of that aim while protecting the position of individual staff."

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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