A joint membership scheme has been agreed by the MSF and AUT which the unions hope will end embarrassing defections from one to the other, writes David Charter.
The agreement, announced at the Trades Union Congress, follows the decision by MSF members at Abertay University to switch en masse to the AUT last year.
There are 1,000 or so academic and health visitor members of the MSF who will be offered joint representation under the deal. Many are in Scotland but there are also pockets of eligible MSF members at English institutions including the University of East Anglia and Birkbeck College.
"The intention is to minimise the kind of conflict which arises if members are beginning to move in an unplanned way," said AUT general secretary David Triesman.
"It happens from time to time with small groups of people. But I am delighted to say, and this is a tribute to the MSF, that they have not allowed it to become a row. They knew we had not attempted to recruit," he said.
"In every institution where we have got people who are joint members we will make new bargaining arrangements to ensure everybody is properly represented. We are not suggesting they should turn their backs on MSF."
The agreement was announced as MSF-affiliated academics at Birkbeck voted by a three-to-one majority for industrial action to back their own call for recognition alongside the AUT. The vote was taken by lecturers in the Extra- Mural Part-Time Lecturers Association (EMPTLA), which affiliated with the MSF last summer because they believed it was best placed to represent their interests.
EMPTLA chairman Peter Storfer said: "The college is dealing with the AUT and they represent two part-time lecturers. We have something in the area of 100."
Baroness Blackstone, master of Birkbeck and former Labour education spokeswoman in the Lords, said the college stuck by its procedural agreement with the AUT. She said: "The Centre for Extra-Mural Studies has regular meetings with part-time teachers and they are represented at their departmental meetings for full-time staff, so they have every opportunity to talk about their concerns.
"The college has refused to recognise the MSF as an appropriate union to represent teaching staff and the AUT are very happy to represent these part-time teachers. If they want to join the MSF it is their right to do so but we cannot negotiate with two different unions about the same matters."