Unions gear up to sell deal to staff

June 9, 2006

Union bosses have a battle on their hands to sell this week's 13.1 per cent pay deal to members amid early indications that the agreement made with employers fell short of rank-and-file expectations.

The 13.1 per cent three-year deal cut by employers and the University and College Union is certainly far higher than most public and private-sector pay offers and it includes the promise of a pay review to report in 2008.

But after 12 weeks of an assessment boycott, in which lecturer-student relations have been sorely tested, some academics are asking why union bosses settled so far short of an original 23 per cent pay claim meant to allow academic salaries to catch up with those of comparable professionals.

The UCU will ballot members over the next three weeks. Activists told The Times Higher that many UCU members would vote "no".

Sue Blackwell, a UCU branch officer at Birmingham University, said: "Everyone I have spoken to so far says they intend to vote "no" in the ballot.

"We believe that the UCU negotiators have seriously misjudged the mood of the membership. There is widespread disbelief that a repackaged form of the same appalling offer is now being put to the membership."

Chris Talbot, a senior UCU member at Leicester University, said: "I am glad that the disruption to the students can now cease. But the local committee are mostly very annoyed by this outcome, as am I."

Dr Talbot said that the amount in the third year was insufficient and that the situation with the independent review was a "joke".

One UCU member at Oxford Brookes University said: "In a show of hands at Brookes today, the vast majority of members indicated that they would oppose the offer when the real ballot takes place."

An UCU official at Aston University said: "There is relief that the action is over but disappointment in the terms of the offer, and several intend to vote 'no' in the ballot."

Ron Mendel, a union member at Northampton University, said: "There is disappointment because it does not carry a significant catch-up element."

A Nottingham University UCU official said: "Nobody will see it as a major victory."

Sally Hunt, joint general secretary of the fledgling UCU, admitted that the deal was not perfect but she was adamant that it was the best that could be achieved at this point.

Ms Hunt highlighted a key concession wrung from employers that means that academics will see pay rise by 10.37 per cent between 2006 and 2008.

"The employers had to shift 2 per cent out of the third year into the second year so we get 10.37 per cent. This is up from the original offer of 6 per cent over two years," she said.

"I think that's a good start. And I think it's right that members have a right to a view on this."

Ms Hunt also pointed to the union's success in getting the employers to agree to an academic pay and university funding review, due to report in 2008.

She said this would inform pay negotiations for 2009-10. But crucially, the review may provide evidence that employers could have paid staff more in 2008-09, in which case this will be included in the 2009-10 negotiations.

Ms Hunt said: "The key point for me was that I was not agreeing to be handcuffed in year three."

In a statement with Ms Hunt, Paul Mackney, joint secretary of the UCU, said: "No settlement ever provides everything that you want, but we believe that this is the best that can be achieved within the current national negotiating environment."

A separate review of the Joint National Committee for Higher Education Staff is due to start later this year, to report in 2007.


August 2006 greater of 3% or £515

February 2007 1%

August 2007 3%

May 2008 greater of 3% or £420

October 2008 greater of 2.5% or RPI (as at September 2008)

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